The Value of Small-Scale Projects in Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Rural Development in the Ecuadorian Chocó
The humid forests of the Chocó biogeographic region are characterized by high biodiversity and species endemism, as well as rapid habitat loss. This is especially the case of the Chocó forests within Ecuador. Since the second half of the twentieth century, the Ecuadorian Chocó has been reduced to less than 4% of its original forest cover, particularly as a consequence of logging, the expansion of African oil palm plantations and changing forms of land tenure since the late 1960s. Following a request from an international conservation NGO, fieldwork for this dissertation began with the aim to determine the route for a viable ecological corridor between the two largest Chocó fragments remaining in the country, the ecological reserves of Mache-Chindul and Cotacachi-Cayapas. In response to a series of incongruities observed between the NGO's assumptions and realities on the ground, this dissertation employs a matrix ecology approach and challenges deeply-entrenched notions in traditional conservation by attempting to devise more effective strategies for biodiversity conservation and sustainable development that include local populations in design and implementation. It does so through the use of two case studies, Río Muchacho and Fundación Golondrinas, which are representative of a widespread emergence of local, small-scale conservation/rural development/ecotourism projects in the landscape matrix in the Ecuadorian Chocó (and rural Ecuador in general). A detailed qualitative assessment of these projects, their relationship with members of surrounding communities and their different approaches to achieving their stated conservation and development goals is complemented by remote sensing analysis of land cover changes over the last 12 years in these study sites. Based on the aforementioned qualitative and quantitative analyses undertaken in this dissertation, a few major factors are analyzed in terms of their potential for success: ecotourism, social capital in the form of local organizations with effective networks linking to outside markets, and the formulation of any program within an appropriate local spatial context. Applications of these findings are subsequently considered in wider-ranging strategies for the development of an ecological corridor between Mache-Chindul and Cotacachi-Cayapas.