Blockchain-based wildlife conservation performance payment

Conservation meets capitalism in this proof of concept project for applying blockchain technology to payments for ecosystem services in the Sobbe conservancy in Namibia. Released in 2019, Daniel Oberhauser realized that blockchain could be used to safely store information and contracts between the local communities who maintain smaller areas of land and the people or businesses who want to enter onto or use resources within these areas. In essence, blockchain would provide a hypothetically incorruptible medium where contracts between communities and users would be stored, thus lowering the risk of financial mismanagement or corruption for the community receiving financial compensation/credits from the outside user. In Namibia, it is not uncommon for companies who bring in tourists or trophy hunters to have agreements with local communities who manage the land. Such a decentralized model of land management and conservation is the norm in Namibia, and the local management community authority holds an annual meeting to distribute funds amongst households— which Oberhauser identifies as a common source of corruption. “Management” costs associated with holding an annual meeting and manually distributing funds can be overstated. In this proof of concept, Oberhauser explains that safari companies would pay the local land management community “wildlife credits” for every animal seen on expeditions, which would hypothetically give the communities the financial resources to best protect the animals that tourists come to visit and the land on which the animals depend. Blockchain would automatically distribute collected funds as laid out in an original agreement.

A common critique of payments for ecosystem services is that this system of evaluating and paying for nature both disregards non-capitalistic ways of conceptualizing land, ownership and connections to animals while also “sell[ing] nature to save nature”. It is ultimately questionable whether paying to see an elephant, giraffe, or any other native species is going to do anything to preserve and stop the exploitation of the natural environment, let alone conserve land or animals. This critique is openly acknowledged by Oberhouser but is a serious concern nonetheless. 

Oberhauser, Daniel. “Blockchain for Environmental Governance: Can Smart Contracts Reinforce Payments for Ecosystem Services in Namibia?” Frontiers in Blockchain 2, (2019).  



Biodiversity, Blockchain, Regulation