A recent Washington Post headline proclaimed that “the
secrets to the world’s problems are buried in reports no one
reads.” Hyperbole? Without a doubt. But it also illustrates a
common view that, when it comes to solving the world’s challenges,
science often exists on paper rather than as real solutions.
And that’s what distinguishes the Science for Nature and People
Partnership (SNAPP) model. SNAPP takes a “science to solutions”
approach. Working groups research some of the most vexing
challenges facing the environment and human well-being. Their
cutting-edge science leads to the development of important tools to
solve these challenges.
Is this easy? Hardly. In my latest book Conservation
Planning (coauthored by Edward Game), I write: “We have only a
limited understanding of the ways that nature contributes to people
and human well-being in particular… Adding people to the
conservation planning equation in any significant manner certainly
increases the complexity of the planning process.”
I wrote those words before I became Executive Director of SNAPP,
but they remain true. Fortunately, the results of several SNAPP
working groups show that we are addressing that complexity head on.
How do you intensively develop a region the size of Italy while
also protecting human communities, large wildlife and rivers? How
can we manage global fisheries when we know so little about them?
Do wetlands really protect people from hurricanes?
These are all major issues that SNAPP working groups are
tackling, and I’m pleased to share with you possible answers to
these questions in this update. These results are made possible by
individuals and foundations that have supported the work of SNAPP.
In the future, I’ll be sharing more stories of SNAPP success, and
how your investment can create a better future for people and
Executive Director, SNAPP
Welcome New SNAPP Board Members
I’d like to welcome two new members to the SNAPP board.
Hugh Possingham recently began as the new Chief Scientist for
The Nature Conservancy, having recently moved from the University
of Queensland. There his group of 29 PhD students and 15 postdocs
worked all over the world using decision science tools from
economics and applied mathematics to formulate and solve
conservation problems in the real world.
Ben Halpern is the new director of the Natural Center for
Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS). He also holds a position
as Chair in Marine Conservation at Imperial College London and is the Director of the Center for
Marine Assessment and Planning (CMAP) at UCSB. He has been
involved with NCEAS for nearly two decades, first as a graduate
student participant and post doc and later as a Center
|Spotlight: An Agricultural Vision of Tanzania
difficult to overstate the importance of agriculture in Tanzania.
Farming provides the primary income for more than 80 percent of
people living in rural areas and contributes to
95 percent of the country’s food supply. But these figures can also be a bit misleading. Tanzania’s
agriculture is dominated by small holder farmers who achieve very
low productivity. The country remains one of the poorest in the world.
“Many people are not using best practices,” says Felix Kamau,
agriculture strategy director for The Nature Conservancy in Africa
and lead SNAPP Principal Investigator. “The government recognizes
that better-managed and more intensive agriculture could lift two
million people out of poverty.”
In 2009, Tanzania launched a strategy called “Agriculture
first.” Part of that involves developing agriculture land in
southern Tanzania over an area larger than Switzerland, now known
as the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT).
This area is home to many small farmers who rely on their fields
for subsistence. It is also home to the Selous, one of the largest
protected areas on the African continent and home to large herds of
elephants and other iconic large mammals. Can this intensive
development occur while meeting the needs of people and
Enter the SNAPP Smart Agriculture Planning working group –
whose products are useable by non-scientists – that is providing a
blueprint for productive, profitable, ecologically sustainable
agriculture in the region.
The working group focuses on clustering development in
agriculturally productive areas that minimizes ecological impacts.
It also is developing land use and water-use tools that make small
farmers more productive and sustainable.
“We’re developing a tool that assists local water boards in
distributing water to farmers properly,” Kamau cites as one
example. “This will allow farmers to use water more sustainably.
This, in turn, will ensure adequate river flows for the Selous
River, which is downstream.”
The working group has also looked at crop suitability modeling,
evaluating 23 crops by area based on climate suitability.
“Southern Tanzania will have large-scale commercial farms
alongside small-scale subsistence farms,” says Kamau. “We’re taking
a holistic approach, looking at how to achieve this agricultural
vision while meeting the needs of people and the environment.
Read the full sustainable agriculture
|Can Wetlands Reduce Storm Damage?
When SNAPP Coastal Defenses working group member Siddharth
Narayan mentions that his work involves understanding how
ecosystems like wetlands protect us from storms, he usually gets
asked, “Sure, but by how much?”
He now can answer that question, based on research conducted
jointly with the insurance industry.
They assessed storm damage
from Hurricane Sandy for two scenarios: 1) with wetlands
present as they are today, and 2) if all these wetlands
had been lost to open water. In total, coastal wetlands were estimated to have saved $625
Million in flood damages during Sandy. Wetlands reduced flood
damages to properties by 10 percent on average in the areas where
they remain. Taken together, these SNAPP results provide the hard
evidence that coastal wetlands are an effective nature-based
solution to averting damage from storms.
Read the Coastal Defenses working group’s
|The High Cost of Watershed Degradation
a watershed is degraded, it costs you. It costs the world. The
Water Security working group recently assessed how
much degraded watersheds cost cities that rely on them for their
water supply. The results were staggering: Watershed degradation has impacted
the cost of water treatment for about one in three cities globally,
increasing those costs by about half. If you add up that impact
globally, it totals around $5.4 billion a year in economic
The Water Security working group has developed a methodology to
identify the cities where watershed restoration and protection
efforts could best help mitigate degradation and secure water
supplies into the future.
Read more about water security.
|New SNAPP Working Groups
At its September 2016 meeting, the SNAPP Board approved funding for several new working groups. Three will launch soon. Co-led by WCS, TNC and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, one group will work closely with the Colombian government in the Orinoquía region – one of the remaining major agricultural frontiers for Latin America and a region known for its biodiversity. Agricultural development over this large
area also has significant implications for climate change.
A second working group will examine the role of organic matter
in soil and its relationship to soil productivity, and importantly,
its ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere and thereby
potentially mitigate the impacts of climate change. Led by TNC
NatureNet Fellow Stephen Wood and a coterie of world-class soil
scientists, the group will work closely with several on-the-ground
Conservancy projects in California.
Finally, one of the most important but contentious approaches to
nature conservation in the world involves mitigation and offsetting
which are increasingly used by companies and governments to
compensate for biodiversity losses associated with major
development projects. This working group, led by scientists from
the University of Queensland, will evaluate the best practices in
offsetting under a variety of different pilot projects around the
globe. Together with policy experts and industry representatives,
they will assess which compensatory practices will deliver the most
equitable conservation and social benefits under a range of
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Credits: Header image: Carlton Ward Jr, TNC; Sidebar
images: The Nature Conservancy & UCSB; Tanzania: Felix Kamau;
Wetlands: Scott Warren; Watershed: Island Free Press (CC BY-NC-SA
2.0); New SNAPP Groups: Cara Byington, TNC.