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Nature-dependent people: Mapping human direct use of nature for basic needs across the tropics

December 16, 2021
News item image 5 million household interviews across 85 tropical countries identified that 1.2 billion people, or 30% of the population across tropical countries, are highly dependent on nature.

Fedele et al. 2021

A recent study in Global Environmental Change led by Conservation International Europe investigated where people depend the most on locally available natural resources for their basic human needs, such as energy, water, housing and livelihoods. The study aimed to improve the current limited understanding of the importance of nature in directly supporting people’s basic needs, and the resulting risk of perpetuating poor or unsustainable development outcomes.

This pioneering study utilized 5 million household interviews across 85 tropical countries to identify that 1.2 billion people, or 30% of the population across tropical countries, are highly dependent on nature. Nature-dependent people were defined in the study as those that directly depend on locally available natural resources for at least three of the four basic needs considered, i.e. housing materials, water, energy, and occupation. These households were identified by assessing the amount of direct use of natural resources for basic needs, with this then used as a proxy indicator for identifying their dependencies on natural resources.

The largest number of highly nature-dependent people on the continental scale were found to live in tropical Asia-Pacific (636 million or 27% of the total population in that region), followed by Africa (478 million or 48%) and the Americas (48 million or 9%). Looking at the country level, the largest proportion of people who were found to be highly dependent on nature per country was found to be in Africa, with more than 75% of people in several African countries highly depend on nature, especially in the central and eastern regions, including Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Central African Republic, Niger, and Madagascar. The total number of nature-dependent people identified increased to 2.7 billion (or 69% of populations across tropical countries) when including people that are dependent on nature for at least one basic need.

The study also demonstrated a negative correlation between nature-dependent people and the human development index (a measure of the standard of living of a citizen which combines life expectancy, education, and income per capita indicators). Such a correlation was determined to reflect the inter-dependencies between human development and nature, empirically supporting the positive association between high poverty and high human dependency on nature, which had not been previously shown at the global level.

The authors highlight that understanding the needs of these peoples is crucial for planning conservation and development interventions, given that a high direct dependency on nature makes people particularly sensitive to changes in climate, land cover, and land tenure. The study then recommends that nature-based strategies that protect, restore or sustainably manage ecosystems must be carefully designed to promote inclusive human development alongside environmental benefits.

Read the full paper, Nature-dependent people: Mapping human direct use of nature for basic needs across the tropics, in Global Environmental Change.