Putting a dollar figure on IPA values

20 October 2016

Indigenous people have looked after their country for thousands of years. Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) allow Traditional Owners to manage their land and pass on significant environmental and cultural knowledge.

IPAs provide a raft of social, cultural and economic benefits to Indigenous people, the government and the broader community. However, many of these outcomes don’t have a market price, so very little is known about their economic value.

One Hub project set out the to identify the wide range of benefits associated with IPAs and ways for stakeholders to both estimate their value and use that information to inform future investment decisions. It was part of a larger project which worked with Indigenous people to help prioritise research needs for the Hub.

“IPAS have a critical role to play in the conservation of northern Australia’s natural resources. They generate a diverse range of benefits – far and above those associated with the environment,” Professor Natalie Stoeckl from James Cook University said.

“Some of these benefits are relatively easy to quantify, for example, the number of people employed through the IPA system. However many of these benefits are intangible, making it incredibly difficult to measure their value.”

Optimized-Ancestral wisdom iStock.com sebastianbourges

Ancestral wisdom iStock.com sebastianbourges

A review of existing literature on the subject revealed that some benefits are quantified more frequently than others.

“This doesn’t mean that those benefits are more important than the ones that weren’t valued, but rather that they are easier to quantify,” Professor Stoeckl said.

“While a lack of price doesn’t mean a lack of value, it means they can be overlooked by decision makers, particularly those who are driven by economic data.”

Professor Stoeckl says while there are many different ways of trying to quantify intangible benefits in dollar terms – there is no single method capable of doing this for the very diverse range of outcomes associated with IPAs.

“Researchers will need to use a variety of different methods to improve our understanding of the value of IPAs. The information requirements of different stakeholders will determine which benefits are most important to focus on, and that will help decide which assessment techniques should be used.”

The results of this project helped inform the development of a new project, Multiple Benefits and Knowledge Systems of ILMPs – economic perspectives. This project will trial several different ways of valuing some of the diverse benefits associated with Indigenous Land Management Programs (of which IPAs are only one).

“A better understanding of the economic value of these benefits can help decision makers make smarter investments, so that resources can be truly directed in a manner that generates most benefit per dollar spent.”

Top image: Hand painted boomerang iStock.com Wyshe

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