PhD Illar Muul
For the past 20 years, Integrated Conservation Research (ICR) has been a pioneer in developing strategies for economic support for conservation of tropical rainforests. In an article in the Washington Post (Dec. 3, 2007), Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations stated, “We stand at the threshold of another great change: the age of green economics.”
Since 1988, ICR has worked in seven countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and has completed 11 demonstration projects using easy access to the canopy of the rainforests, first for research and later for nature tourism, as an ecologically sustainable form of economic development (green economics). All of these projects, government sponsored and privately owned, have become profitable and have created substantial local employment.
ICR is now developing its most comprehensive demonstration program for rainforest conservation and reclamation in Costa Rica. The program consists of “green economic” projects in addition to nature tourism, including “Rainforest Beef,” “Rainforest Products,” and “Rainforest Residences” (in reclaimed forest). The tourism attractions being developed are:
1) “Bio-Park,” a combination of a botanical garden, and a “new zoo” (no cages) where animals can be seen because they are attracted to be there. Rainforest restoration provides abundant new food sources.
2) Interpretive Nature Trails, in organic agricultural demonstration areas, in forests being restored, and in primary (original) forest.
3) Swimming and Picnic Areas in the Tarcolitos River.
4) “Tree Top Tours,” ICR’s traditional canopy walkways connecting observation platforms 20-30m above the ground. Scarlet macaws and other birds can be seen reliably, every day.
5) “Canopy Cabins,” Overnight accommodations in tree tops for 24-hour observations in the canopy of the primary forest, which is the most dynamic part of the tropical rainforest.
6) “Night Safari,” guided tours with emphasis on nocturnal animals.
ICR is offering investment opportunities in all of these projects. The first stage in the development will be the Tree Top Tours. ICR has already invested in purchasing the land, surveys, permits, legal fees, and the planning phase, and will use its share of the profits for forest reclamation and management. A detailed “Business Plan” is available for potential “Conservation Partners.” An additional US$250,000.00 will be needed for the installation phase (equipment, materials, transportation, labor, training, and management). Partnerships can be in any percentage of the total expenses, beginning in increments of US$100 or greater.
All of our existing projects, which we developed for our clients, have become profitable to the owners, and we expect a good return on investment for ICR and for our investors also from this project. The details are in the Business Plan, but we summarize a conservative projection of the costs and income in the attached graph.
In some of our projects visitation has grown to levels that reduce the quality of the visitors’ experience because of long waiting times and overcrowding. Profits in some have exceeded
US$1 million annually with over 60,000 visitors per year. But profits are not the only measure of success, in our opinion. Therefore, in our own project we plan to limit visitation to 12,000 per year, which we expect to reach by the 5th year. At that time (or sooner), we will have sufficient income to begin phase II in another part of the forest, keeping the quality of the visitors’ experience at the highest standards.
We expect the Tree Top Tours project to become profitable by the 3rd year of operations, with profits rising rapidly in the following years.
The main purpose for investments for most people is to assure a good quality life in the future. Investments in conservation efforts (green investments) help assure that humans and other species with which we share this planet, will also have a good quality life in the future.
In many areas in the tropics, especially where forest cover has been removed, life is bleak for both humans and majority of wildlife. Income from slash-and-burn agriculture is almost always insufficient to support quality life. But, few economic alternatives have been available. I have heard high government officials of tropical countries complain that “…We get more funding from rich countries to save our wildlife, than to save our people.”
ICR’s conservation strategy strives to accomplish both. It is based on the conviction that humans can co-exist with nature, to the benefit of both.
We can have everything we need, but perhaps not always everything we want. But, often much of what we want is based on clever (sometimes devious) marketing of things we do not really need.
The question may be reduced to: Are we willing to try to provide everyone with what they want at the risk of destroying the earth’s capacity to provide everything we need? You can join us in trying to provide solutions to the problems of tropical rainforest deforestation. Your investment will help demonstrate economic alternatives that will benefit the environment, the forest inhabitants (human and other species), and you, the investor.
If together we can provide greater economic incentives for conserving and restoring rainforest, than for replacing forests with low-income agriculture (slash-and-burn; poor quality beef, etc.), economic, social, and ecological benefits will follow. Such a demonstration can have global, as well as, local effects (climate change, availability of fresh water, nutrition, public health, etc.).
“Doing well by doing good.”
Illar Muul, PhD
President and Founder
Integrated Conservation Research, Inc.
Web site: www.incores.org