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PLOS ONE  2014 

Consequences of a Government-Controlled Agricultural Price Increase on Fishing and the Coral Reef Ecosystem in the Republic of Kiribati

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0096817

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Abstract:

Background Economic development policies may have important economic and ecological consequences beyond the sector they target. Understanding these consequences is important to improving these policies and finding opportunities to align economic development with natural resource conservation. These issues are of particular interest to governments and non-governmental organizations that have new mandates to pursue multiple benefits. In this case study, we examined the direct and indirect economic and ecological effects of an increase in the government-controlled price for the primary agricultural product in the Republic of Kiribati, Central Pacific. Methods/Principal Findings We conducted household surveys and underwater visual surveys of the coral reef to examine how the government increase in the price of copra directly affected copra labor and indirectly affected fishing and the coral reef ecosystem. The islands of Kiribati are coral reef atolls and the majority of households participate in copra agriculture and fishing on the coral reefs. Our household survey data suggest that the 30% increase in the price of copra resulted in a 32% increase in copra labor and a 38% increase in fishing labor. Households with the largest amount of land in coconut production increased copra labor the most and households with the smallest amount of land in coconut production increased fishing the most. Our ecological data suggests that increased fishing labor may result in a 20% decrease in fish stocks and 4% decrease in coral reef-builders. Conclusions/Significance We provide empirical evidence to suggest that the government increase in the copra price in Kiribati had unexpected and indirect economic and ecological consequences. In this case, the economic development policy was not in alignment with conservation. These results emphasize the importance of accounting for differences in household capital and taking a systems approach to policy design and evaluation, as advocated by sustainable livelihood and ecosystem-based management frameworks.

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