Conservation Scholars: Bruce Campbell

19 11 2008

This series on takes a page out of our book Tropical Conservation Biology (Sodhi, Brook & Bradshaw) – therein we produced a series of ‘Spotlights’ describing the contributions of great thinkers to conservation science. Each highlight of a Conservation Scholar includes a small biography, a list of major scientific publications and a Q & A on the person’s particular area of expertise.

Our sixth Conservation Scholar is Bruce Campbell


I was trained as an ecologist, going into ecology because of the enthusiasm of a mentor who really believed in the ability of individuals to make a difference in the world. But after moving to Zimbabwe and initiating work in the tropical savannas, where humans have had an impact for 1000s of years, I found that a purely ecological perspective limited my ability to grapple with complex conservation issues. So I branched out into resource economics, and into institutional arrangements for common property management – I did this by reading basic texts, but more importantly, by working closely with some world-class resource economists and sociologists – they were important in shaping my career. For about twenty years I focussed mainly on African tropical woodlands and savannas, but then joined the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) based in Indonesia, and started work in the humid tropics on three continents. CIFOR, with sites throughout the tropics, offers a wonderful environment for in-depth cases studies combined with synthesis based on a global perspective. Now at Charles Darwin University [Editor’s note: Prof. Campbell has recently returned full time to CIFOR although he still collaborates with colleagues at Charles Darwin University], I have started work on Aboriginal natural resource management, while still working with teams of researchers in some 20 developing countries. My work currently covers household economics (can natural resources lead to pathways out of poverty?), conservation and development dynamics (can there be win-win situations for forests and livelihoods?), and common property management (can collective action and community-based management lead to improved outcomes for forests and livelihoods?).

Major Publications

Questions and Answers

1. Is big industry such as logging companies, or expanding human populations the more important threat to tropical ecosystems?

This depends on the context – but in general I believe that population, especially local population is not a major driver. Colleagues and I work in the Brazilian Amazon, in the forests of central Africa and in Indonesian Borneo. In the Amazon site the most important threat relates to the expansion of commercial agriculture (soya beans and livestock), resulting in considerable forest loss. In Central Africa forest is not really being lost – but the bush-meat trade for expanding urban populations, is impacting negatively on biodiversity. At the Indonesian site forest destruction is driven by logging companies and those issuing the permits. Context, context, context…

2. Why is the bush-meat trade, an ancient human activity, no longer sustainable in many tropical areas?

The scale of hunting is now much higher than before – to supply the expanding urban markets. But I should also note that areas far from roads (and there are many of those) are not that severely impacted. But as roads further penetrate into the forest, bush-meat exploitation will follow.

3. In what way can small-scale enterprises, which rely on the exploitation of tropical forest products, be beneficial to conservation?

Many conservation agencies will spend considerable resources to improve the livelihoods of those living in and around protected areas. Small-scale enterprises can be used to build good will among local people towards conservation areas. Where local people value a particular enterprise and want it to be maintained, they can themselves institute management measures to ensure sustainable harvest. Some of the best examples of this are in southern Africa where wildlife hunting is proving a win-win situation for people and conservation (but even there, context is important – some schemes will not work because of a number of factors, e.g., too many people, too few prized hunting animals, discord in communities).

4. How can cross-disciplinary co-operation and facilitation in conservation be made to work given the lack of incentives for such teamwork from bureaucracies?

I think there are a number of success factors for cross-disciplinarity. Questions posed by conservation biologists that require expertise from another discipline don’t generally provide enough excitement to that other discipline. To engage other disciplines in any real sense, one must invite resource economists, sociologists, etc. to the initial meetings where the research questions are defined. Respect is key – with the different languages and approaches of different disciplines it is easy to find fault – there must be a high degree of mutual respect in a team. To build respect and derive common visions about the research requires time. There are bureaucratic hurdles but I think these can be broken down by committed teams.

5. How is the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) being effective in changing policy and having an on-ground impact?

CIFOR has a very conscious approach to achieving impact. This can be broken down into five elements. 1) Understanding where impact is possible and getting focus on a few topics. 2) Building impact strategies so that one clearly understands, for each programme of work, the kinds of research that will be produced, who the users of that research will be, what formats are needed for the research outputs, and what processes need to be engaged with (e.g., if impact is sought at the international convention level, how do we interface with the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity?). 3) Building partnerships with agencies that are crucial for the uptake of the research. 4) Making sure that there is time and budget for the necessary processes and products after the formal research is completed (e.g., media campaigns, policy briefs, key stakeholder meetings).

CJA Bradshaw

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(with thanks to Navjot Sodhi, Barry Brook, Ward Cooper, Wiley-Blackwell and Bruce Campbell for permission to reproduce the text – buy your copy of Tropical Conservation Biology here)



One response

3 02 2010

Bruce Campbell is now Director of the Challenge Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) launched by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP)

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