The conversion of natural land into agriculture is a key driver explaining the global collapse of biodiversity (IPBES, 2019). While protected areas remain the backbone of conservation efforts, their impact at preventing the loss of natural habitats and protecting biodiversity remains uncertain (e.g., Lindsey et al., 2020). There is a growing urgency to find complementary policies at the development-conservation nexus that promote non-agricultural employment. This study context epitomises these challenges. With 7,800 square meters of natural habitat, the Virunga National Park (VNP) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the oldest park in Africa, one of the most biodiverse parks in the world, a UNESCO world heritage site in danger, and home to endangered Mountain Gorillas and carbon rich forests (de Merode and Languy, 2006). However, poverty threatens to undermine preservation efforts, with 5M people living in its direct vicinity and many farming illegally within the park. Little is known about the effect on conservation efforts of providing access to jobs.
This research project aims to fill this gap by studying how an apprenticeship programme targeting young farmers living in the direct vicinity of VNP could accelerate local structural transformation by meeting the twin challenges of:
• generating quality jobs;
• and reducing demand for land.
Apprenticeships have been found to be effective in screening workers for firms in Ghana (Hardy and McCasland, 2020) and boosting skills development and employment rates of young jobseekers in Uganda (Alfonsi et al., 2020). However, although apprentices are common features in Europe, this policy lever remains relatively rare in sub-Saharan Africa, with evidence limited to a few studies. This is especially true for highly impoverished and conflict-affected settings, such the eastern DRC. It has also yet to be tested in the context of conservation.
With climate change and preservation of biodiversity an ever more important global priority, the challenge in conserving nature and providing livelihoods for impoverished populations (most affected by conservation) is an imperative but neglected development economics question (Alpizar and Ferraro, 2020). This study seeks to contribute evidence to this budding literature, by measuring whether apprenticeship programmes boost off-farm employment, and reduce the demand for agricultural land.