BirdsPlus Fund: Habitat Conservation with Financial Returns for Communities and Investors
On a former pasture in Guatemala, conservation organization FUNDAECO is giving the land a new life. Using funds invested by American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and partners, they are planting cardamom and shade trees that provide habitat for dozens of migratory and resident bird species while simultaneously bringing in valuable income for additional conservation. The project has already turned a profit, but with more investment, a farm that encompasses dozens of acres today could be turned into one spanning thousands, with greater impact for land managers, investors, and birds alike.
In dozens of landscapes like this in Latin America and the Caribbean, ABC's BirdsPlus Fund, part of the BirdsPlus program, is accelerating agriculture and ranching projects that implement best management practices to support healthy populations of birds and other wildlife. Operating within key areas for migratory bird species, the Fund is playing an important role in creating and sustaining habitat conservation and restoration projects that can be scaled and replicated for greater impact.
Meeting a Growing Need
The need to conserve and restore biodiversity is greater than ever before. More than 42,000 species are threatened with extinction according to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List, including 13 percent of birds. Even species not at imminent risk of extinction are suffering heavy losses. Since 1970, global wildlife populations have declined by nearly 70 percent. In Latin America and the Caribbean losses have been even more staggering, with an estimated 94 percent average wildlife population decline.
Funding to address this biodiversity crisis has fallen far short of what is needed to reverse these trends. The estimated financial gap between what is available and what is needed to conserve biodiversity globally is a staggering $711 billion per year. Private sector support can help bridge that gap. The BirdsPlus Fund works to catalyze private investments as well as connect companies and investors looking to meet sustainability goals with projects that have the greatest conservation impact and ability to generate a return on investment.
“The situation for birds and biodiversity is urgent, so we are looking to accelerate conservation projects that can show how implementing best management practices in farms and ranches that help birds can also generate profits for communities and investors,” said Andrés Anchondo, Associate Director, Impact Investing in Latin America.
ABC, via the Fund, offers several types of support for pilot projects and enterprises, including capital and technical assistance; help from experts to develop business and financial models for BirdsPlus Fund recipients; and working capital loans during the early phases of a project.
“In addition, as part of our BirdsPlus Fund, we connect these bird-friendly projects to finance and markets that can unlock larger funding streams to scale up habitat conservation and restoration and generate benefits for birds, nature, and people,” Anchondo said. “The Fund will help develop a supply of projects to meet market investment demand.”
Encouraging Results So Far
Cacao Miskito, a small, community-led cacao processing company in the remote Honduran Moskitia region, provides a heartening example of how the BirdsPlus Fund can make a positive difference. The Agalta-Lost City BirdScape within this region provides critical wintering habitat for migratory birds such as the Wood Thrush and Golden-winged Warbler, as well as other threatened wildlife species such as jaguars and Scarlet Macaws.
ABC's BirdsPlus Fund has made and facilitated investments in the company beginning in 2021 that are already paying off. Capital loans have enabled Cacao Miskito, the only cacao company in the region, to ensure that more than 100 farmers have a buyer for their cacao at or above market prices.
“By investing in the sustainability of the local supply chain,” said Marci Eggers, Director of Migratory Bird Habitats in Latin America and the Caribbean, “we aim to improve farmers' livelihoods and prevent deforestation that occurs when farmers lack alternatives and must cut forest for unsustainable cattle ranching practices to feed their families.”
In Guatemala, ABC's pilot investment with partner FUNDAECO is restoring 60 acres (24 hectares) of former cattle pastures with shade-grown cardamom, along with nearly 30,000 native hardwoods. This project is in the Conservation Coast BirdScape, which is the first land that many southbound migratory birds encounter after their epic, nonstop journey across the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean. The project is already producing cardamom and generating profits that are being reinvested in more conservation activities.
“We now have the financial and market data on what it would take to scale this project to 3,700 acres (1,500 hectares) and create more local jobs,” Eggers said.
Information about more of our pilot projects can be found on our website.
All of the projects supported by the BirdsPlus Fund, including our pilot projects in Honduras and Guatemala, are measuring how biodiversity changes on their land over time. To enhance how biodiversity is measured and reduce costs, ABC is developing the BirdsPlus Index, a cost-effective and user-friendly tool that will use birds as an overall indicator of ecosystem health. Stay tuned to learn more about this innovative tool.
American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.org, Facebook, Instagram, and X/Twitter (@ABCbirds).
Director of Communications