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Political Economy Analysis: Protecting Biodiversity and Reducing Unintended Consequences



To protect biodiversity, this methodology provides contextual understanding that is necessary for programs to be sensitive to conflict — from social tensions to riots to wars — yielding more appropriate and effective solutions and reducing unintended consequences.
January 2017
Polical Economy Analysis
Carl Bruch
Michael Lerner
Claudia D’Andrea
Protecng Biodiversity and Reducing
Unintended Consequences
The Environmental Law Institute (ELI) makes law work for
people, places, and the planet.
Since 1969, ELI has played a pivotal role in shaping the elds
of environmental law, policy, and management, domestically
and abroad. Today, in our fth decade, we are an internationally
recognized, nonpartisan research and education center working
to strengthen environmental protection by improving law and
governance worldwide.
The Institute’s Research and Policy (R&P) group produces
research reports and policy recommendations on critical areas of
environmental governance. Education and training programs for
public ofcials, judges, and citizens are a large part of the R&P
agenda. Our work focuses primarily on protecting water resources,
land, and biodiversity; safeguarding the global commons (earth’s
climate and oceans); and improving environmental law and its
implementation in the United States and internationally.
Cover Photo: © CEphoto, Uwe Aranas
ELI RESEARCH BRIEFS present in a concise, accessible format
the analysis and conclusions of the policy studies that ELI undertakes
to improve environmental protection.
About the Authors:
Carl Bruch is a Senior Attorney at ELI, where he directs ELI’s International
Programs. His research focuses on making environmental law work. He has
helped countries around the world develop and implement laws, policies,
and institutional frameworks to effectively manage water resources,
biodiversity, forests, and other natural resources.
Michael Lerner is a doctoral student in political science at the
University of Michigan. His current research interests include natural
resource management, disaster risk reduction, and migration induced
by environmental change. He has previously worked as an independent
environmental consultant and as a Research Associate at ELI.
Claudia D'Andrea is a social scientist and natural resource management
professional with a doctorate in Environmental Science, Policy, and
Management, a Masters in International Economics, and over 20 years
experience from community level engagement to country level strategic
planning on climate change adaptation and forest resource management
and resettlement policy compliance throughout South and Southeast Asia.
©2017 Environmental Law Institute
Political Economy Analysis
Carl Bruch
Michael Lerner
Claudia D’Andrea
1730 M Street, NW, Suite 700
Washington, DC 20036
Telephone: 202.939.3800 • Fax: 202.939.3868
E-mail: Web:
Bruch, Lerner, D'Andrea 1
ONE OF THE REASONS international aid programs often
struggle to meet their objectives is that development tends
to be treated as a rational process with technical solutions.
Since the early 1990s, though, assistance organizations
have increasingly come to recognize that they are engaged in a
fundamentally political process that entails operating in complex and
uncertain contexts in order to build and sustain relationships among
stakeholders who often have sharp differences in commitment,
capacity, and outlook. This complexity is particularly pronounced
in the context of natural resource management, where conicts of
various degrees can all undermine even the best technical solutions.
Increasingly, development agencies are using political economy
analysis, or PEA, to respond to the challenge of guring out not
only what to support, but how to provide support to whom, in ways
that respond to local interests within the constraints of a particular
political context. Like environmental impact assessment, PEA
is a tool for making more informed decisions. Based in political
economy, which The Oxford Handbook of Political Economy
denes as “the methodology of economics applied to the analysis
of political behavior and institutions,” it helps decisionmakers
understand the distribution of power and wealth between different
groups in a society, and how these relationships are created,
sustained, and transformed over time. While the potential of PEA to
inform broader reform remains nascent, experience shows that it is
a promising approach to encouraging critical reection on ways to
understand and strengthen development.
Recent experiences in applying PEA to biodiversity programs
in Africa indicate that the methodology is especially helpful in
difcult contexts, where political instability, corruption, and
other factors threaten success. As the International Institute for
2 Political Economy Analysis
Sustainable Development has noted, conservation can contribute
to armed conict (often inadvertently); conservation can be
undermined by conict; and conservation can help address conict.
Conict-sensitive programming seeks to minimize and mitigate
risks, while maximizing opportunities. PEA provides the necessary
contextual understanding.
Political economy analysis is applicable to a wide range of
contexts, including natural resource governance. International
development agencies and nongovernmental organizations apply PEA
through different frameworks at different levels, but
they all seek to improve the understanding of the
development setting. Essentially, PEA builds and
integrates understanding of the broader political and
economic context into the design of development
projects and programs through an iterative process
of identifying the interests of key stakeholders.
First, it examines the interests and incentives
of different groups and individuals; this includes
working out how both statutory requirements and
customary (social, political, and cultural) norms
contribute to the status quo in a particular context.
Second, it considers how current dynamics shape
opportunities for change, including reforms to
laws, institutions, and practices. Finally, PEA can
highlight promising approaches or areas of focus by considering
how different incentives might induce desired behavioral changes.
Although PEA has informed the design and implementation of
development programming over the past decade, it has only rarely
been applied to development challenges involving environmental and
natural resources issues generally, and it is a new tool for biodiversity
conservation. Biodiversity hotspots—from the Albertine Rift in
eastern Africa to Madagascar to the Amazon basin—are often rich in
other natural resources, but extractive activities can have signicant
effects. In addition to the well-known direct impacts of extractive
Recent experi-
ences in ap-
plying political
economy analysis to
programs in Africa
indicate that it is
especially helpful
in difcult contexts,
where political in-
stability, corruption,
and other factors
threaten success.
Bruch, Lerner, D'Andrea 3
activities, indirect impacts can have both immediate and long-term
repercussions that drive and amplify biodiversity loss.
For example, altered social, economic, and political dynamics
can undermine biodiversity conservation initiatives, disrupting local
customary management regimes and creating signicant challenges
for resource-dependent peoples. Extractive activities may threaten
access to food, water, and land, affecting local livelihoods and
even cultural identities. In politically fragile states, natural resource
extraction may expose vulnerable populations to a greater risk of
violence, displacement, and insecurity resulting from rent-seeking
behavior of political elites and criminal networks.
Three examples illustrate how PEA helps development
practitioners break down the black box of political will to improve
understanding of the political and economic drivers of biodiversity
loss. These examples are drawn from eld work conducted in 2016
by the U.S. Agency for International Development and Integra
LLC using USAID’s applied PEA framework to explore how the
methodology might increase understanding of constraints and
identify openings for developing more effective approaches to
biodiversity conservation in the context of extractive industries.
The research examined the indirect drivers of biodiversity loss
associated with artisanal gold mining in the Democratic Republic of
the Congo, oil development in Uganda, and shing in Madagascar.
CONGO is a biodiversity hotspot and a region rich in gold,
tin, and other minerals. Occupation of the Kahuzi-Biéga
National Park by armed groups engaged in artisanal mining has led
to unprecedented losses of the Grauer’s gorilla since the start of the
Congo Wars in 1996. Though the second Congo War ofcially ended
in 2003, conict persists in the region. The war continues in part
because armed groups, many of which remain in remote forested
areas like Kahuzi-Biéga, collect proceeds from mineral exploitation.
4 Political Economy Analysis
Because mining in the park is already illegal—and lucrative for
armed groups—certication and due diligence requirements for
minerals coming out of the DRC (for example, under Section 1502
of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection
Act) were assumed to provide no incentive for demobilization.
A closer examination of the various actors in the park and
their respective livelihoods enabled researchers to learn about the
historical, political, and territorial grievances that inuence local
residents’ choice of livelihoods. Research into the mining taking
place in the park conrmed there is little incentive to demobilize;
however, it also revealed that mining taking place is far less lucrative
than previously thought, even for the armed groups controlling the
mine pits. Moreover, there exists more uidity in the composition of
actors inside the park than previously thought.
These insights from the PEA revealed leverage points that might be
useful in motivating miners to leave the park. Understanding existing
incentives and talking with local experts helped formulate ideas for
more effective ways to work through this problem in collaboration
with local coalitions interested in mediating solutions. Additionally,
continued engagement on mineral taxation and regional regulation
may bolster incentives for miners to seek alternatives outside
the park. Ultimately, reconsideration of the park’s management
boundaries in response to local historical grievances may also be
needed to effectively manage its most signicant biodiversity in
the context of armed artisanal mining operations and persistent
armed conict. While these approaches lie outside of traditional
biodiversity conservation, they are critical steps in addressing the
threats to this critically endangered gorilla habitat.
Discovery of oil in the biodiverse Albertine region of Uganda
created new economic opportunities, as well as challenges to the
governance of land and biodiversity resources. While the government
has put measures in place requiring oil companies to adhere to
environmental standards, several indirect threats to biodiversity
emerged around forest encroachment and overshing. These threats
Bruch, Lerner, D'Andrea 5
were initially assumed to be linked to job seekers and oil-related
land displacements.
A PEA examined the threats to biodiversity to determine
specically where and how forests and sheries were being exploited
and who was involved. It found elite capture—in which high-level
individuals usurp resources and benets for personal gain—has been
taking place at nearly every point along the oil value chain. Indeed,
surprisingly little of the encroachment is linked to displacement or
even landless newcomers. The PEA acquired detailed information
about the ways in which political elites have benetted from land
grabbing, dispossessing customary landholders, often violently.
These elites have used the surplus of available landless laborers
to clear and occupy forested areas, and have established criminal
syndicates to capture prots from sh coming from Lake Albert.
These patterns of resource acquisition have affected customary
landholders and disrupted local resource management regimes.
Going forward, the PEA highlighted the importance of supporting
local civil society coalitions tracking these trends and holding the
government accountable. The study also agged the importance of
more inclusive and effective land-use planning that involves a wide
range of stakeholders, including local government and civil society
groups, as well as conservation organizations and the National
Forestry Authority.
Madagascar’s coastal and marine biodiversity also plays an
important role in the livelihoods and food security of the country.
Overshing, including illegal, unregulated, and unreported shing
over past decades, has led to the collapse of the country’s near-shore
sheries. Historically, Madagascar has faced high levels of political
instability and humanitarian crisis, which has affected governance of
sheries and other resources. President Hery Rajaonarimampianina,
in ofce since 2014, made a pledge to triple marine protected areas in
the country that explicitly includes a community-based model. The
government has welcomed a network of Locally Managed Marine
6 Political Economy Analysis
Areas that works with marine scientists and local government
through customary law called dina.
USAID’s PEA for Madagascar looked at the potential for
microgovernance of coastal resources through these LMMAs
to manage resources. The study found that despite robust dina,
LMMAs have little or no enforcement capacity against outsiders.
Conicts with commercial vessels are seldom resolved, due to
uneven power relations. Even local government ofcials lack the
resources to monitor and enforce regulations on foreign eets, which
are often politically connected, linked to criminal networks, or both.
Local political elites involved in trafcking of wild marine species
do so with impunity, and patronage networks reward corruption at
multiple levels.
The PEA identied the creation of effective conict-resolution
mechanisms to facilitate the enforcement of dina on outsiders as an
important goal for programming. Addressing illegal, unregulated,
and unreported shing will require national and international
cooperation with local sheries managers and law enforcement. The
PEA identied an opportunity for marine biodiversity programming
to engage with private-sector actors to secure political commitments
to dismantling criminal syndicates threatening sheries and marine
biodiversity. The PEA emphasized the importance of building on
existing livelihoods and noted that integrating health and work
considerations in the sheries sector can address coastal malnutrition.
Finally the PEA identied specic ways to support functioning of
LMMAs through customary-law institutions.
highlights broader contextual information that might not
otherwise be contemplated or addressed in sector-specic
programs. It ensures that decisionmakers consider a fundamental
question when evaluating a potential development intervention:
who wins and who loses—and why. With this in mind, development
Bruch, Lerner, D'Andrea 7
practitioners can identify levers and triggers that might change
incentives or ally the interests of key stakeholders. PEA is an
iterative process, and relevant eld work constitutes the starting
point for leveraging ndings and following dynamics so that local
initiatives can be most effectively supported.
The three examples above illustrate the value of PEA in looking
across programming sectors—from biodiversity to conict and
governance, health and food security, and livelihood development—
to improve the success of biodiversity conservation efforts. These
examples also illustrate how PEA can identify linkages across
resource sectors, such as biodiversity, mining, oil and
gas, and sheries. PEA can offer a deeper analysis
of the drivers underlying threats to biodiversity than
are typically assessed by conservation planners.
This detailed analysis can reveal patterns of elite
behavior or the involvement of powerful actors that
can affect conservation efforts, and how to identify
the actors or initiatives that can work around these
actors or work with civil society organizations
to enable biodiversity programming to succeed.
In addition, PEA explains how rules and norms,
institutions, and processes shape the outcomes of biodiversity
conservation efforts.
One of the central themes that emerge from this work is the
interconnection between different sectors in a shared geographical
area. Conservation is part of the social, political, and economic
dynamics of an area, and it can disrupt or otherwise interact with
dynamics in other sectors. Development efforts in one area might
lead to unintended consequences. In Madagascar, for example,
when initiatives to develop alternative livelihoods created valuable
stocks of sea cucumber and seaweed, criminals took advantage
of local labor and stole communities’ shared goods. As a result of
this physical insecurity, some companies have scaled back their
PEA ensures that
consider a funda-
mental question
when evaluating a
potential develop-
ment intervention:
who wins and who
loses—and why.
8 Political Economy Analysis
participation, slowing progress in reducing the communities’
reliance on near-shore sheries.
Similarly, the threat to biodiversity conservation posed by the
movement of people is best understood by looking across sectors,
a consideration that may not be captured in a typical environmental
impact assessment. In-migration to an area often creates an unmet
demand for job opportunities, so it might be assumed that people
may turn to new livelihoods, such as artisanal mining, wildlife
trafcking, timber, and shing. PEA research can reveal, however,
that the patterns of labor and livelihood are driven by political
elites, criminal syndicates, or even armed groups. Local people are
implicated, but they are not in control. In order to address the threats
posed to biodiversity, offering alternative livelihoods is insufcient
to arrest the rent-seeking behavior of powerful actors. PEA can
help reveal where cross-sectoral programming can begin to unravel
the hold these agents may have on vulnerable resource-dependent
populations, often the customary owners.
The consequences for biodiversity of failing to understand the
patterns of resource accumulation and rent-seeking are at a tipping
point for vast numbers of species. Elephants have almost been
eliminated from Kahuzi-Biéga National Park in the DRC, and gorillas
have lost 77 percent of their population. Lake Albert’s sheries
are all but collapsed, and the coastal sheries of Madagascar need
restoration. PEA can explain the pathways through which conict
can be mediated and minimized and pro-conservation coalitions can
be built.
PEA can help explain why things happen the way they do
by identifying the rules and the norms around resource use.
In Uganda, the PEA on oil development brought attention to
the patterns of government overreach evident in Lake Albert’s
sheries management. District government ofcers saw their local
management units dismantled by the central government in the
name of improving shing management around the lake, but instead
of improving management, these new units created the potential to
Bruch, Lerner, D'Andrea 9
capture rents by seizing sh and impounding the catch, then selling
it. Parallel governance structures are a common feature in Uganda,
and the PEA revealed the norms around these structures as they
apply to resource management.
Elite capture is common to all three cases, facilitating both
formalized impounding of goods and fraudulent land titling (as
in Uganda) and informal patronage networks with reciprocal
exchanges in goods and favors, and relationships with criminal
networks involved in trafcking of wildlife products (as in DRC
and in Madagascar). Where the use of customary law is well-
established, PEA can identify approaches to using such norms to
strengthen biodiversity conservation. In Madagascar’s pluralistic
legal system, for instance, dina operates at the community level to
help manage biodiversity and other natural resources. In response to
threats posed by newcomers, communities have sought government
recognition of these local dina to bolster support of marine protected
areas and other locally managed marine reserves. Dina is both
culturally accepted and effective, so much so that at times the state,
in collaboration with customary leaders, has sought to expand dina
on a regional level through the use of dinabe (or “broad dina”),
which has been a stronger deterrent to crime than other forms of law
enforcement, particularly during times of political instability.
When both customary and statutory law are in effect, PEA
can identify opportunities to strengthen biodiversity conservation
by clarifying the relationship between the two legal systems.
Although these legal systems may share common objectives, such
as the sustainable use of natural resources, there are often gaps,
inconsistencies, and even conicts in the law. Elites can use their
connections and resources to take advantage of these weaknesses.
For example, the PEA on oil development in Uganda showed how
some urban elites bribe land ofcials to obtain formal ownership of
land seized through forced eviction and unsanctioned occupation.
It also discussed how elites own shing operations that engage in
unsustainable practices by exploiting the confusion generated by the
10 Political Economy Analysis
overlap of customary law governing shery use with two codied
sets of regulations, both of which also operate in parallel. The
analysis found that future initiatives should seek to strengthen the ties
between customary and formal law to minimize such vulnerabilities.
Through the use of PEA, program designers can better
understand the motives of government ofcers responsible for
biodiversity conservation and the motives of local communities.
Thus, through the eld-based inquiry, a PEA can identify ways that
conicts between government ofcers and local communities can
be mediated. Building these relationships can profoundly inuence
outcomes. The PEA on gold mining in Kahuzi-Biéga helped draw
attention to the need to resolve local grievances over park boundaries.
In Madagascar, the PEA found that communities faced difculty in
resolving conicts with powerful commercial actors. The power
imbalances in struggles over shing resources signicantly affected
local communities, with one study nding signicant stunting in
children. These communities relied entirely on what they could
catch, and the frequent conicts meant they were not getting enough
to eat. As a result, the PEA highlighted the importance of the health
and food security as well as developing mechanisms to effectively
and credibly resolve conicts over shing. These issues will be
incorporated into program design, but they might not have been
identied without using a PEA.
There are four key areas for future use of political economy
analysis in the context of biodiversity conservation where conict
exists. First, PEA should be brought into standard institutional
processes of project development as a planning tool that complements
and builds on analyses of threats and drivers of biodiversity loss,
particularly in fragile environments. Second, the use of PEA should be
promoted for natural resource and management planning, especially
for resources that often have multiple users and multiple interests.
Minerals, oil and gas, timber, sheries, and other natural resources are
often the focus of diverse (and sometimes competing) economic and
political interests, including rent-seeking behavior and criminality
Bruch, Lerner, D'Andrea 11
as well as revenue collection and livelihood development. PEA can
provide guidance for resource governance around these interests.
Third, PEA should be used for designing more conict-sensitive
approaches, as it provides insight on the different dynamics, actors,
and interests. Finally, the focus of PEA on disaggregating groups
and interests means it can inform and strengthen efforts to promote
public participation, free and prior informed consent, and access to
environmental information.
for improving the design and implementation of effective
biodiversity conservation programs and projects, especially
in difcult contexts. PEA can provide practitioners with information
about key political, economic, and social structures, actors, and
trends on topics relevant to their work. It also describes the
arrangement and inuence of incentives, norms, and institutions
important for effective biodiversity conservation programming. By
incorporating the knowledge acquired through PEA into the design
and implementation of new and existing initiatives, development
organizations can improve the likelihood their interventions will
build on local interests—making development programs more
robust and sustainable.
The authors are grateful to John Waugh for his guidance and
1730 M Street, NW, Suite 700
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: 202.939.3800
Fax: 202.939.3868
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