An AP article titled “Leaders Want Biodiversity Pay Off” tells us about a five-day conference put together by Conservation International where more than 400 delegates will kick around ideas for using their rich biodiversity to boost local economies. Until the advent of carbon trading, the only real option for doing that was ecotourism. The two ideas can now be combined and may one day prove to be a powerful combination. Forest that is locked away in a legally binding contract to soak up carbon for a century or so may as well be used as an ecotourism destination.

Good things are happening. The president of Madagascar intends to add 23,000 square miles of protected territory by 2008. Equatorial Guinea announced plans to create 1.2 million acres of new national forest along with a $15 million conservation trust fund to manage it. Jumping on the bandwagon, the president of Liberia announced that she is going to create a $30 million conservation trust fund to finance the creation and maintenance of new protected areas as well.

[update]Following is the text of an e-mail I just received. Here you go, Alphonse and good luck:

I was delighted to see your post on Grist Mill titled “Show Me The Monkey” about the Conservation International Global Symposium titled Defying Nature’s End: The African Context. I am currently at that event which looks likely to produce a substantive “compact” on how to tie conservation to economic and human development. We are posting news from the conference hourly on the symposium’s website http://symposium2006.conservation.org/ and are providing information for the public on our own home page http://www.conservation.org/ It would be wonderful if you could add these links to your article Thanks Alphonse Alphonse L. MacDonald Senior Director Online Communications Conservation International

Ecotourism is in its infancy. There is tremendous potential for growth. Third world governments have to get their act together to tap this potential. They have the forests full of interesting biodiversity; what they now need are local tour guides to point it out, safe food, comfortable lodging and transportation, security, and set prices (to limit theft, bribe taking, and extortion). The tourists will come. Life is to be lived. Most Americans spend their disposable income (whatever that means exactly) on status symbols (mostly expensive cars and houses). I would think that traveling the world, spreading that cash around to third world economies, would be a much better use of it. You can always bring home something cool to hang on your wall to brag about. Go here to see some photos I took on a trip a few years back.

The government of Madagascar has the right idea. As with Indonesia, their biggest hurdle is their explosive population growth (PDF). They need to get a handle on it for their sake as well as the sake of their biodiversity. Subsistence farmers are essentially small businessmen. There are few higher risk businesses. Crops fail for all kinds of reasons you cannot control. You are at war with biodiversity. You eat or the bugs and elephants do. The popular idea that subsistence farmers need to find a way to stay fed while protecting biodiversity is probably a dead end strategy. Urbanization that allows them to earn just as much and work half as hard might be a better one.