Central Africa's protected areas and the purported displacement of people: a first critical review of existing data

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This paper examines the validity of data from the 12 case studies in six Central African parks cited by Cernea and Schmidt-Soltau (2003, 2006) and Schmidt-Soltau (2003). The same data are used for multiple papers to support the authors' arguments relating to the human welfare costs of protected area establishment, which is, in turn, being uncritically cited by others also questioning whether such trade-offs are acceptable (e.g., Hutton et al. 2005; Tiani and Diaw 2006). All the data were collected by Schmidt-Soltau alone. To avoid multiple citations of the same data in the various publications, the authors refer to the data source as "Schmidt-Soltau." The sites concerned range from protected areas established in colonial times to new ones established in the last five years. These papers provide an overview of the surface areas of the different countries, area of original forest cover, rate and extent of tropical forest loss, and the extent of protected areas in each country. The data on the specific sites presented include: 1) park area, 2) whether there is a resettlement policy, 3) the population in or around the parks, 4) whether people were expelled from parks or denied access to previously used land, 5) whether there is a compensation strategy, and 6) whether there was any demonstrable "success."1. The authors echo the call of Wilkie et al. (2006) for the use of sound science to examine these issues, as the perceived conflict of poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation is creating polarized viewpoints that are, at times, based more in the halls of academia than in real-life village and park situations. The presentation of detailed and accurate data is essential when constructing and testing hypotheses about cause and effect. In this paper the accuracy of the data presented in the Schmidt-Soltau articles is examined and found wanting in various ways; more precise data are offered instead to demonstrate a more accurate picture of what is happening on the ground, and in the communities around these protected areas in Central Africa.

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