by Lic. María Marta Mokobodzki Ongaro

Protected areas constitute a fundamental strategy for the conservation of environmental goods and services provided by ecosystems. These environmental goods and services are indispensable for life, providing the necessary elements for the general well-being of the planet.

These environmental goods and services provided by protected areas are consumed by different economic agents, either in their consumption or production decisions. These consumption and production decisions are made without considering the total economic value of the environmental goods and services that protected areas provide, resulting in suboptimal conditions.

Ubicación: Parque Nacional El Palmar, provincia de  Entre Ríos, Argentina. Imagen: María Cruz Berasategui // Location: El Palmar National Park, Entre Ríos province, Argentina. Image: María Cruz Berasategui

This situation arises because there is no market where these types of environmental or ecosystem goods and services are exchanged, but this does not imply that they do not have an economic value and that conserving them is not costly. If we were to consider the total economic value of these environmental goods and services, we would realize the high price we would have to pay for their consumption.

This situation where the consumption of environmental goods and services is not reflected in the market price, from the economic point of view, is called market failure. More precisely, it is a negative externality where consumers do not pay the true value of the goods and services consumed and it is the society that bears the costs of preserving them.

This situation, in which there is no payment for the consumption of environmental goods and services offered by protected areas, together with the scarcity of budget allocations for their effective management, results in the impossibility of effective management and, therefore, in the inability to fulfill the objectives for which they were created. Emerton et al. (2006) (1) defined the concept of financial sustainability of protected areas as “the capacity to ensure stable and sufficient long-term financial resources and to distribute them in a timely and appropriate manner to cover the total costs of PAs (both direct and indirect) and to ensure that PAs are effectively and efficiently managed according to their conservation and other relevant objectives”.

Parque Provincial Aconcagua, Provincia de Mendoza, Argentina. Imagen: María Cruz Berasategui // Aconcagua Provincial Park, Mendoza Province, Argentina. Image: María Cruz BerasateguiFinancial sustainability is a strategy that requires identifying which economic actors are the consumers of the environmental goods and services of protected areas and/or protected area systems, in order to achieve, through different financial mechanisms, a solution to the negative externality by getting them to pay for their consumption.

In this way and under the economic theory that understands the environmental problem as a negative externality where instruments must be built to be able to internalize it, other alternative and complementary sources of financing to the annual governmental allocation are incorporated into the available budget and can respond to solve the problem.

These different sources of financing – alternative or complementary to governmental allocations- have different characteristics in terms of origin, stability, time horizon, ease and speed of implementation, and also the financial mechanisms that allow their management and execution.

The financial sustainability strategy should ensure that these alternative and complementary sources of financing generate a stable and long-term budget to plan and fulfill the objectives for which the protected areas were created.

To carry out the financial sustainability strategy, it is necessary to define the budget for optimal management of the protected areas and to determine the gap between the budget for optimal management and the currently available budget.

Parque Nacional El Palmar, provincia de Entre Ríos, Argentina. Imagen: María Cruz Berasategui // Location: El Palmar National Park, Entre Ríos province, Argentina. Image: María Cruz Berasategui

A study on the Financial Sustainability of Protected Areas in Latin America and the Caribbean (2) shows a financing gap of US$314 million/year for basic management activities to be undertaken. This reflects the scarcity of economic resources throughout the region. 

Some countries in the region have been building their financial sustainability strategies. For example, Herencia Colombia contributes to achieving the international goals that Colombia has set to conserve and increase its protected areas and guarantee its integration into landscapes and sectors, through the design and subsequent implementation of a long-term financing model for the National System of Protected Areas (SINAP). 

Argentina does not currently have a financial sustainability strategy for protected areas at the national level, but, for example, Natura International has carried out its first sustainability strategy study for the National Protected Areas System (SINAP) in conjunction with the Province of Salta, with a first approximation of the financial gap and the identification of potential sources of funding according to the corresponding theoretical framework. 

Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, Provincia de Santa Cruz, Argentina. Ph: María Cruz Berasategui // Los Glaciares National Park, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. Image: María Cruz Berasategui

This step taken by the Province of Salta will be a very important milestone for provincial protected area systems and a motivating element to understand that the financial sustainability of protected areas is one of the central elements in conservation strategies. Well-conserved ecosystems maximize their potential to provide environmental goods and services for present and future generations. Therefore, the financial sustainability of protected areas is sought to continue providing these environmental goods and services that generate so much well-being and satisfaction.

It is important to raise awareness that protected areas are not only an alternative for biodiversity conservation but also a way to preserve the environmental goods and services necessary for life. In this way, society will value the environmental, cultural, social, and economic benefits it receives from natural protected areas.

  1. Emerton, L., Bishop, J. and Thomas, L. (2006). Sustainable Financing of Protected Areas: A global review of challenges and options. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, and Cambridge, UK. x + 97p.
  2. Bovarnick, A., J. Fernández-Baca, J. Galindo and H. Negret, Financial Sustainability of protected areas in Latin America and the Caribbean: guide for investment policy, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC), 2010

By Alejandro Briones

Productive diversification is of utmost importance to improve the quality of life and economy of communities living in protected areas, without damaging the ecosystem. This is achieved by encouraging and empowering activities that are adapted to management guidelines that guarantee environmental, economic, and social sustainability.

To identify the various activities that can be promoted in a territory, initially a socio-environmental study should be conducted that focuses on the use of natural resources: how are they obtained, the history of that exploitation, eventual use (whether for self-consumption or sale), social organization, and obstacles or conflicts, among other analyses.


The study allows us to know the context and the background of technical interventions, as well as to inform the joint social work that is deployed: in this instance the relationship generated between the technicians and the residents is key. This relationship is built through individual and group interviews, workshops where the inhabitants are the protagonists (in short, they are the ones who will or will not conserve the territory), and where the technicians only act as facilitators.

During these meetings, discussions elaborate the community’s environment, markets, and lifestyle relationship maps, among other group dynamics. Another technique that complements the workshops or interviews is participant observation: being able to live in the communities and observe residents’ daily activities gives us the chance to observe other relationships between people and nature.

Following are examples of productive activities carried out by the inhabitants of different protected areas or potential areas to be protected that, if well managed, are compatible with environmental conservation:

  • Livestock: The problem with this activity is that it is generally carried out without any planning or sales strategy. They have cattle as capital and sell them when they need the money and/or for self-consumption. As a consequence of this, the land has a high animal load, with resulting overgrazing and degradation of the ecosystem. In many cases, the cattle are old individuals that cannot be sold because there is no market for them. It is important to work together to develop a management plan, analyze the market and strengthen the marketing chain.
    It is also important, first, to carry out a study on the carrying capacity of the territory to define the maximum amount of livestock that can be supported in that area without affecting the attributes of the ecosystem and, based on that, to evaluate the best strategies.
    By carrying out good planning and a livestock rotation system, among other good practices, it is possible to conserve ecosystems by integrating livestock farming. In this scenario, the main market demand is for calves, which is favorable for the environment since they are sold a few months after weaning, limiting their time grazing on the land.

(Alejandro Briones/Natura International)

  • Activities associated with livestock raising: In addition, livestock raising can support various complementary activities that can be promoted to eventually reduce the animal load and improve the family economy. These include leather handicrafts (ties, saddles, instruments, etc.) and cheese production. These activities can be strengthened mainly with training in packaging and sales, searching for stable markets, marketing, etc. They can also be complemented with training in food handling, and sustainability certifications, among other possibilities.
  • Beekeeping: This activity is carried out by many communities, mainly for self-consumption and without any management. Usually, they go out to collect honey from hives installed in the hollows of some trees. Many times, the beekeepers have to cut down the tree in order to extract the honey. Therefore, there is room for improvement with training, installation of boxes, using an extraction room, and other actions.
    The sale and packaging of honey is also very important, since it is generally sold in used containers (bottles and/or jars) that have not been properly sterilized, which reduces the price and lowers the quality of the product. In addition, if good management is implemented, it is possible to obtain by-products that fetch a higher price than honey, such as propolis, pollen and wax. Beekeeping also improves pollination and therefore the production of local fruits.
  • Tourism: This is one of the main sustainable activities associated with protected areas and there is a lot of information about it. It is important to encourage not only ecotourism or hiking but also rural tourism or community tourism, where visitors can interact with the communities, learn and become involved in their way of life. This is fundamental for valuing the culture of the people who live in protected areas.
    Another strategy is to develop research tourism. There are many researchers from different parts of the world who are dedicated to studying certain species found within the protected area, and they can pay the communities in exchange for lodging, food, and other services.

(Alejandro Briones)

  • Fruits of the forest: There are various native plant species with edible fruits. Unfortunately, as a result of marketing, we have become accustomed to exotic fruits, leaving aside our native fruits. Beyond direct consumption of the fruits, there are also remarkable derivatives, such as carob flour, chañar rice, and sweet willow, among many others. One can look for ways to open new markets and promote these products.
    There are also many forage species. For example, the communities of the Chaco collect the fruits of the carob tree and store them to feed livestock in critical times. This is an important native species to prioritize for restoration, since the carob tree was historically cut for timber and continues to be harvested. It is a key species in various ecosystems and is often found along the banks of watering holes.
  • Wood: The harvesting of wood for firewood, posts for fences, or house construction is an activity that, if not carried out under proper management and control, can lead to degradation of the ecosystem. For this to be a sustainable activity, it is essential to carry out a forest inventory and mapping that allows us to know the structure of the forest as a whole, of each species in particular, and their distribution. From this, it is possible to plan how many individuals of each species can be cut annually so as not to affect the attributes of the forest, establish the sites where they can be extracted each year, and promote the use of dead wood, among other practices that guarantee the survival of the forest in perpetuity.

(Alejandro Briones)

  • Medicinal plants: Almost all of our ecosystems have medicinal plants that communities use. Many communities raise the need to not lose that custom and to be able to preserve that knowledge for future generations. Also, some people take these plants to the central markets and sell them in small bags or handfuls. One can add value to medicinal plants by packing them, registering them, and doing research on the specific components of plants by relating ancestral knowledge to the scientist in order to enhance their use and therefore their market.
  • Craftwork in wood, native plant fibers, and leather: It is usual among the inhabitants of protected areas to make handicrafts with different materials from the area, which in all cases are handmade without damaging the ecosystem, so it is another very feasible activity to promote and market, as a way to bring capital into the economic system of the territory.

(Alejandro Briones/Natura International)

  • Agroecology: Most families in rural areas have their orchard and/or farm, or had it at some point and, for various reasons, abandoned it. Most of them have been turned away from their traditional forms of production and encouraged to carry out new practices that incorporate the use of chemical fertilizers, insecticides, and other compounds that damage the soil and generate dependence on these products. To solve this problem, it is important to raise awareness about ecological agriculture and to achieve some type of organic certification, among other strategies.

The activities that can be promoted or strengthened in a specific area to conserve ecosystem services are diverse, and many are directly or indirectly related to each other. Proper management is key to ensuring the sustainability of the territory.

Diversifying production and services makes it possible, to improve family economies and their quality of life, reduce risks to market changes, adapt to local biophysical conditions, make efficient use of locally available resources, avoid land degradation with consequent desertification, reduce the impact on the environment and even improve the ecosystem. In conclusion, it is a strategy that guarantees the adaptation and resilience of communities to climate and market changes and guarantees the environmental, social, and economic sustainability of a territory.