African symposium to focus on how nature can help alleviate poverty

Protecting biodiversity crucial to sustainable development

Antananarivo, Madagascar – An unprecedented international conference in June will examine how conserving Africa's unmatched biodiversity can help alleviate poverty, fight disease and improve the quality of life of hundreds of millions of people across the continent.

Called ''Defying Nature's End: The African Context," the symposium from June 20-24 in Madagascar's capital will be attended by government leaders, international organizations, conservation groups and local communities. Major themes include the importance and status of African biodiversity; assessing and valuing the ecosystem services it provides; and using debt relief to properly manage natural capital and reduce poverty.

"No one can argue that nature provides the cheapest and most effective source of clean water, food, natural resources and other benefits of ecosystem services," said Russell A. Mittermeier, president of Conservation International, which is organizing the conference. "The challenge is how to maximize these benefits in a sustainable way through biodiversity conservation, so that they exist in perpetuity. That is exactly what the Madagascar symposium will be tackling."

The symposium will present the latest research on links between the environment, poverty and health, and new strategies on resource management and governance to realize the greatest benefits from nature. A major theme will be how biodiversity conservation can help Africa reach the Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations in 2000 to achieve significant progress in alleviating poverty worldwide by 2015. Among the symposium speakers will be Madagascar President Marc Ravalomanana; Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the U.N. Millennium Project; World Bank Environment Director Warren Evans; and environmental leaders from around the world, particularly Africa.

Madagascar, renowned for its lemurs and other exotic wildlife found nowhere else, in recent years has reversed a legacy of deforestation by protecting its unique biodiversity. In 2003, President Ravalomanana committed to tripling his island-nation's total protected areas to 6 million hectares (14.82 million acres or 23,000 square miles) by 2008. As part of that program, the government in December expanded Madagascar's protected territory by a combined area larger than Cyprus.

"It is important to stress the positive impact biodiversity conservation has on economic development," said President Ravalomanana, the symposium's patron. Madagascar's program is a model for developing world governments faced with the choice of exploiting natural resources for a one-time payoff or conserving natural assets so the economy and local communities benefit from them forever. Other nations opting for conservation and long-term benefits include Costa Rica, Suriname and Equatorial Guinea.

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Journalists must register with Conservation International to attend the conference. There is no registration fee, but hotel space and media facilities are limited. A pre-conference media trip to a protected area is being arranged.

Contact: Tom Cohen, media relations director, 202-912-1532, tcohen@conservation.org

Conservation International (CI) applies innovations in science, economics, policy and community participation to protect the Earth's richest regions of plant and animal diversity and demonstrate that human societies can live harmoniously with nature. Founded in 1987, CI works in more than 40 countries on four continents to help people find economic alternatives without harming their natural environments. For more information about CI, visit www.conservation.org.


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