Simple simulation models have been built in remote locations with participation of local Indigenous peoples and their representatives to develop a shared understanding of the livelihood implications of conservation initiatives and the potential environmental impacts of measures to improve local livelihoods. Models were built with Ba'aka people in the Congo Basin, Punans and other Dayak groups in East Kalimantan, Indonesia and rural communities in Ghana. Recently, the program began developing landscape partnerships and modeling initiatives with Papuans in the West Papua province of Indonesia. The models facilitated discussion and negotiation between Indigenous peoples and representatives of conservationist groups, resource extraction companies and government officials and allowed exploration of different scenarios for both conservation and development interventions. The models failed to produce empirical evidence to support claims made by conservation organisations of the positive livelihood impacts of their conservation programmes. In all cases the material benefits to local Indigenous people of activities such as mineral extraction, logging, agro-industrial developments etc. greatly exceed the often hypothetical benefits postulated from the small-scale local development activities of conservation organisations. The modelling exercises also provoked debates and awareness of the broader dimensions of livelihoods as perceived by Indigenous peoples. Health care, education, infrastructure and employment consistently emerged as the highest priorities for Indigenous communities in all the study sites. Including Indigenous people in the process of participatory modelling, alongside other stakeholders such as government officials, conservation NGOs, and scientists is important in confronting the challenge of making trade-offs between human well-being and nature. Biodiversity conservation will only succeed in the long term if it is based upon approaches that fully recognize and address the inevitable trade-offs between the development needs of local people and the maintenance of areas of intact nature. Forest conservation programmes still do not give enough attention to the legitimate needs of people living within and dependent on the forests. It is all too easy to lay blame on developers, corrupt government officials, and other parties for forest destruction. Successful conservation programmes must allow for the improvement of and the stability of income streams and increasing food security.