The Darwin Initiative Blog

Insights and personal musings from the world of biodiversity conservation and development. For more info on the Darwin Initiative see https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/the-darwin-initiative


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Learning from Monitoring and Evaluation, Darwin Initiative projects in Nepal

by Simon Mercer

In our 1st blog post of 2017 Vicki gave a great account of all of the monitoring activities that keep us busy throughout the year here at LTS. With ever increasing scrutiny of the effectiveness of UK aid spending, the importance of effectively monitoring projects has never been greater. The Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL) component of the Darwin Initiative and IWT Challenge Fund programme, led by LTS International, uses a range of tools and approaches (outlined in Vicki’s article) to support projects to gather the data they need to demonstrate their impact. At the same time these activities give us the chance to identify and capture lessons on project implementation and design that can be shared across the Darwin community to foster learning.

Towards the end of 2016 I flew out to Nepal to visit two Darwin-funded projects, one based in Kathmandu led by BirdLife International, and the other by Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve in the Far West of the country, led by the Zoological Society of London. These projects were selected for Mid Term Review (MTR) based on a range of criteria, including the potential for lesson learning, the scope for M&E support, and the organisations involved. Geographical focus was also a really important consideration, as it is vital that we are able to visit more than one project at a time during these visits. This helps to keep costs down and maximises value for money.

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Credit: Simon Mercer

In technical terms, MTRs are formative evaluations that follow a rigorous evaluation framework based on the DAC criteria for evaluating development assistance, focused on project effectiveness, impact and sustainability. In practice, these visits are used to assess project progress against its logframe objectives. In addition they provide an important opportunity for us to provide technical support and assistance where needed, and to engage with project teams to influence project implementation. Importantly these visits also offer a great opportunity for lesson learning.

For those of you who are interested in finding out more detail about these recent visits, the full MTR reports will soon be available on the Darwin Website. These reports will provide a detailed technical account of the MTRs including data collection methods, key findings, and recommendations. For those of you who can’t wait for these to be published a selection of key lessons is presented below.

1 – Clear logframes with SMART indicators are vital for demonstrating project progress. This was a clear lesson that emerged from both projects visited, in slightly different ways. The project in Suklaphanta was using its logframe and robust monitoring and evaluation systems to effectively track progress, making sure the project remained on course and adaptive to changing circumstances. This enabled the team to accurately report project progress. The logframe for the BirdLife project was less clear; over the years we have found that the selection of appropriate indicators is a common challenge facing Darwin projects with a strong policy component. These weaknesses in the logframe had led to reporting challenges that suggested that the project may be struggling. The MTR gave an opportunity for some focused logframe and theory of change support. The project was also able to demonstrate that progress to date has been good, the challenge created by the weak logframe was in clearly reporting and communicating this progress.

2 – Engaging partners in project formulation and design brings real benefits. With its focus at the policy level, success for the BirdLife project is dependent on the strength of interaction with Government of Nepal partners. Any risks associated with this have been significantly reduced by involving key government stakeholders right from the start. Whilst the focus of the ZSL project is very different, it has demonstrated similar benefits as a result of early engagement. Partner interactions at the national park level are working well, with different stakeholder groups working efficiently towards a single shared goal.

3 – Darwin projects can achieve more than originally planned. Interacting with other Darwin and non-Darwin projects working on similar issues can enable projects to make savings, leverage additional funding, and broaden their impact. For the BirdLife project, this was evident in the selection of project sites to complement ongoing work by Bird Conservation Nepal, the local BirdLife partner. This has allowed field level activities to get up and running quickly, whilst making sure some of the associated costs can be covered.

For the ZSL project, shared meetings with key local stakeholders including other conservation organisations and donors is allowing knowledge to be effectively shared, new funding sources explored, and impact to be extended to new sites, beyond the original scope of the project.

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Members of women’s cooperative, ZSL Suklaphanta project, Credit: Simon Mercer

A key personal lesson from this latest batch of MTRs is that even in its 25th year, Darwin continues to carry out vital conservation work in the most challenging of contexts, and remains at the cutting edge of conservation thinking. This blog can only provide a snapshot of the achievements and key lessons coming out of the current batch of Darwin projects – remember to keep an eye on the Darwin website for the reports of these and other MTRs.

When you think that there are well over 100 current Main Darwin Projects, and almost 1,000 have been funded since the scheme began, the achievements of the Darwin Initiative are truly staggering. Monitoring and evaluation remains the key tool for projects to demonstrate and provide evidence of these achievements more widely.


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Social forestry: new hope or new worry for biodiversity conservation in Indonesia?

Our most recent newsletter features articles from projects on conservation and conflict, and below we feature the article from “Marrying community land rights with stakeholder aspirations in Indonesian Borneo” by project leader Dr. Matthew Struebig. Read the full newsletter here!

In the coming years Indonesia is hoping to answer a question that is in the minds of many people: can local communities effectively protect forests and wildlife? Surprisingly, we don’t really know. But Indonesia is embarking on a nation-wide experiment to find out.

Under Indonesia’s social forestry policy 127,000 km² of land will be allocated to community land use. To put this in perspective, that’s similar to the size of the island of Java, or a little smaller than England. This includes forests for different types of use, including Village Forest (Hutan Desa, in Bahasa Indonesian), Community Forest (Hutan Kemasyarakatan) and Customary Forest (Hutan Adat). The forests will be under State control, but will be managed by communities.

In terms of democratic progress, this is a giant leap towards more equitable distribution of forest rights, especially for local and indigenous communities. For decades, people’s rights have been ignored, with forest management being dominated by government and corporations. However, while it seems a good way to reduce conflict and improve human rights, the potential impact of social forestry on forest loss and wildlife conservation is unknown. What will happen to the country’s forests and wildlife once they are in the hands of Indonesia’s forest communities? Or in more direct terms, are forest communities any better at protecting forest and wildlife than the previous managers, government and corporations?

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People have a long history of forest use in Indonesia, and are about to get their rights back, Credit: Gabriella Frederickson

There are quite a few examples of community-based forest management successfully supporting biodiversity conservation in Indonesia. In Wehea, East Kalimantan, for example, the indigenous Dayak community uses their traditional laws to manage 380 km² of logged forest for conservation by deterring illegal logging and poaching. Another example is in Laman Satong, West Kalimantan, in which the local community protects a remnant patch of forest from encroaching oil palm development.

But successes are only part of the story. Indeed our new Darwin Initiative Project, a collaboration between the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, Fauna and Flora International, Borneo Futures and the Universities of Kent and Queensland, is showing that the performance of community-based forest management in avoiding deforestation varies widely. With additional support from the Woodspring Trust, our preliminary data suggest that the performance of community-based forest management in Indonesian Borneo is influenced by factors such as access from forest to markets, the occurrence of peat, and distance to agricultural lands. If we wish to get the highest benefit for conservation, social forestry programs could be directed toward the areas and communities which are likely to avoid deforestation.

Another indicator that could be used to inform the selection of land for social forestry is conflict involving local communities in relation to deforestation. A recent Kalimantan-wide study suggests that communities with high dependency on forest resources are likely to strongly oppose deforestation by large-scale industries such as oil palm. These communities rely on the nearby forests for socio-cultural reasons such as to collect non-timber forest products for subsistence uses and traditional ceremonies. Therefore, the community’s opposition to deforestation could be a useful consideration when prioritizing areas for social forestry.

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2 Kenyah women working in their home gardens, Credit: Ed Pollard

 

While we have preliminary clues on the factors that could be considered in developing social forestry programmes, there are still unresolved questions. For example, do all communities that have proposed social forestry have the capacity and resources, including support from non-governmental organizations, to sustainably manage the proposed forest? How can the government, both at central and local levels, facilitate the governance of social forestry programs including in planning, approval, supervision, and monitoring? Our project is helping to address these questions in Kalimantan by providing the scientific evidence base to help allocation decisions and monitoring of community forest programmes.

Indonesia’s social forestry policy is a contemporary test of democracy and human rights, and if successful, could go on to become a showcase of community-based conservation in the world.


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Managing conflict for conservation and wellbeing

We will soon be releasing our next Darwin Newsletter, themed around Conservation and Conflict (for details keep an eye on our website and twitter, or see past editions of our newsletter here).

In advance of this, we’re pleased to feature a guest blog from the Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) Santiago Ormeno, Project Manager for their Lake Ossa Project in Cameroon:

The Lake Ossa Wildlife Reserve is a refuge for endangered fauna, among them West African manatees, freshwater turtles and crocodile populations. It is also home to an array of fish species on which surrounding fishing communities rely for their subsistence. However, overfishing, poaching and the destruction of lake habitats pose a severe threat to wildlife, and harm the livelihoods of local communities. With the support of the Darwin Initiative, ZSL works with local communities, the Ministry of Forestry (MINFOF) and local NGOs to implement a clear co-management framework for this unique freshwater ecosystem. However, bringing people together in an ecosystem-based management approach often involves managing conflicts among communities. There is also a need to address the challenge of human-wildlife conflict; manatees and freshwater turtles found in the reserve often damage fishing nets.

ZSL is working to resolve conflict in a number of ways:

Addressing conflict between protected area managers and fisher communities through local bylaws

Often, conflicts between resource-users and law enforcement agencies are due to lack of awareness of national law, or bias on how these are enforced. We are supporting communities and the Conservation Service to develop a local code of fishing. This code clarifies regulations and access to fishery resources and was developed following extensive and participatory community consultation. It was also ensured that management measures were aligned with national regulations.  The code of fishing was established in December 2015, and was revised one year later to give communities the opportunity to amend it and reflect on its implementation. Since its application, it has proven an effective tool to prevent conflicts among fishers using different fishing gear and to develop a better framework for the conservation of biodiversity. It does this by restricting certain fishing techniques and establishing no-take zones in areas where there are lots of manatees.

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Validation of the code of fishing, Credit: ZSL

Addressing conflict within fisher communities through Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) 

Conflicts among community members are another challenge tackled by the project. Disagreements frequently arise due to jealousy, a lack of dialogue between fisher leaders and fishers, elite capture (unequal access to resources across the community), or theft of fish-catch and gear. Often, the leadership and legitimacy of fisher management committees are undermined due to bad financial management, personality issues or a lack of understanding of the roles and responsibilities of committee members.

Through our project we have encouraged the creation of VSLAs in the zonal co-management committees and farmer groups in order to provide communities with a clear methodology to manage their finances. VSLAs are self-sustaining savings groups that have successfully been used by ZSL in marine and freshwater ecosystems in Cameroon and the Philippines, with the support of the Darwin Initiative. VSLAs operate with internal rules established by the members themselves, providing community members an opportunity to hold regular meetings. These meetings facilitate communication between fishers and the administration. In order to ensure that committees adequately represent fishers, community delegates and traditional chiefs are invited to participate in fisheries management debates. Also, fishers and farmers are given the opportunity to participate in income generating activities through VSLAs. As a result, conflict between these groups is reduced.

Directly addressing the cause of human wildlife conflicts 

Human wildlife conflict is also an issue. By designating 200ha of the reserve as a no-take-zone, this project has helped protect important grazing and breeding sites for the West African manatee. In doing so it has helped to limit the risk that manatees destroy fishing nets – a key cause of human wildlife conflict in the area.   

Do you work on a project that deals with conflict? How do you mitigate and manage against this? To find out more about this project, “Community-based conservation for livelihood development in Lake Ossa Manatee Reserve”, visit its page on our website here.


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Tracking Darwin project progress – lobsters and logframes

For anyone who is involved with a Darwin project, the below probably won’t come as much of a surprise but for everyone else – have you ever wondered how we track how Darwin projects are getting on? It may be more exciting than you think!

Twice annually, we ask Darwin Initiative projects to submit reports (believe me, it gets more exciting…), updating us on their progress towards their expected outcomes and sharing any lessons or challenges. At any one time, there are over one hundred active projects (145 right now), quite a lot for any one person to get their head around! We rely on a team of experts with experience from all over the World and across a huge array of conservation and development themes – necessary to match the diversity of the Darwin portfolio.

As each project has its own context, barriers, and often innovative methods, writing a paper report that captures everything it needs to is a challenge in itself. And the reviewers have a job on their hands, too, using the report and evidence provided to independently verify and track project progress against the project’s logical framework, or logframe (see our information note on logical frameworks here). These reviews are then shared with the project, and can include recommendations to help the project team achieve their overall aims.

But, here’s where it really gets interesting. In addition to the dozens of independent, desk-based reviews carried out annually, it is valuable for both the programme as a whole, and for individual projects, to carry out a field-based review of a few projects at their mid-way point (i.e. at 18 months of a three-year project). Projects are chosen for mid-term reviews using a number of criteria and visited by an independent reviewer for a week-long field trip. These trips provide opportunities for progress, challenges and lessons to be discussed not just with the project team, but with project partners, stakeholders, and beneficiaries. This helps the reviewer gain a much better perspective of how the project is truly progressing.

This year, I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in such a review, and visited the beautiful country of Belize in November. One of the projects visited, “Maximizing Benefits of Marine Reserves and Fisheries Management in Belize”, is led by Wildlife Conservation Society and partnered with the Belize Fisheries Department, Environmental Defense Fund, The Nature Conservancy and the University of Miami. The project is part of a broader programme that is revolutionizing the sustainable fisheries management in Belize through “Managed Access” licensing and zoning of fisheries in Belize, and increasing the area under “no-take” zones, with a focus on lobster and conch fisheries.

The review team spent the week with the project team, discussing their key successes and barriers  as well as watching them in action carrying out boat-based surveys at Glover’s Reef Atoll (find out more about WCS’s broader research programme at Glover’s here: http://www.wcsgloversreef.org/).

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View from the watchtower at Glover’s Reef Research Station, Credit: Victoria Pinion

We also had the opportunity to meet with project partners, and a range of project stakeholders. For example, we were even invited into the home of Mr and Mrs Thomson, both fishers, who spoke to us about how the recent changes under the project, and broader programme, were affecting their livelihoods – and what they thought were the continued challenges to sustainable fisheries in Belize.

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Mr. and Mrs. Thomson, both members of the Warafu Fishers Association in Dangriga, show off their boat license, Credit: Victoria Pinion

Big changes don’t come easily or quickly, and this project really demonstrates how proper engagement with stakeholder communities is crucial to success of rights based access schemes, and perhaps all conservation initiatives. We were particularly struck by one of the innovative tools the project uses to engage with the community, which has already been recognized by winning the Millbank Social Marketing Award for Innovation in the Environmental Field. “Punta Fuego” is a radio drama and call in show, and hugely popular across the country. It has just finished its second season, and has already changed the attitudes of those who listen to it to respect the no-take fishing zones being proposed under the project. The project team spoke to one fisher, who after listening to the first season said: “I will be honest, I used to fish in the [no-take] zones from time to time. Now I think about what I hear in the show and I don’t think I will be doing that again.” Listen to Episode 1 of Punta Fuego on YouTube: https://youtu.be/7f4qIqq4hGU

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Vonetta Dawson (maybe Punta Fuego’s biggest fan!) shows off her “legal size” haul of red snapper ahead of the Garifuna Settlement Day celebrations on November 19th, Credit: Victoria Pinion

Visiting this project on the ground enabled us to generate wider lessons that could be shared with other projects, which is more challenging to do with just the desk-based reviews. Additionally,  it provides an opportunity to feedback recommendations to the project about how they could make some small changes to improve upon what is already a fantastic project.


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Securing marine fisheries, livelihoods and biodiversity in Burma through co-management

In the build up to CITES CoP17 we have been sharing articles from our upcoming newsletter themed around the Conference. We have heard how learning about trends in the illegal ivory trade can inform decision making on elephants and how robust legal protection has the power to reverse population declines.

In our final taster before the full newsletter is released, we hear about fisheries co-management in Burma. Alongside their work with communities developing sustainable co-management plans, the project team is gathering data on shark and ray catches and trade. This can then feed in to international policy making, and support Governments in developing their national conservation strategies.

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Rakhine Coastal Association facilitating a stakeholder workshop, June 2016, Credit: Martin Callow, WCS

Burma’s marine resources have long provided sustenance to its coastal people. Over 25,000 small-scale fishing vessels are registered to fish its coastline and nearly half of the country’s population lives in coastal states and regions. Despite fisheries’ importance, Burma has limited capacity for sustainable management.

This overexploitation has resulted in drastic declines of stocks; a 2014 marine survey carried out by Norway showed that pelagic stocks are currently only 10% of their 1979 biomass, with similar estimates for inshore fisheries. Inshore fisheries are of particular concern as the decline directly influences local livelihoods and food security. The impacts of fishing practices on protected marine species, such as dugong, turtles, sharks and rays, are also evident.

Fortunately, the tide is on the turn. The newly elected government of Burma is in the process of decentralising authority of the inshore fisheries sector to its states and regions, a development that provides the platform for empowering local people and enabling fisheries co-management.

In support of this process, WCS is working in southern Rakhine state, and harnessing the needs of local fishers and fish-workers to explore how to rebuild their resources. By working in partnership with the Rakhine Coastal Association, Department of Fisheries, Pyoe Pin and our academic and technical implementing partners (University of Exeter, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) respectively), we are implementing a participatory process to document catch and effort, and collect social and value chain data (with a reach of over 1,200 fishers). Combined with outreach and training, we are working to improve coastal fisheries governance, secure fishers’ tenure for sustainable fisheries management and develop a spatially explicit sustainable co-management plan.

Owing to the political shift towards federalism, the model has significant potential to scale in Rakhine state, and beyond. Working in partnership with EDF, we are assessing additional sites across Burma to ensure our resources offer value for money and impact. Similarly, our work is enabling us to improve knowledge of shark and ray catches and trade. In addition, this is enabling us to support the government of Burma with preparations for CITES CoP17, and to build links with our broader efforts (funded by the UK Government’s IWT Challenge Fund) to combat illegal wildlife trade and support the national plan of action for the conservation of sharks.

For more information about Burmese fisheries, see: https://myanmarbiodiversity.org/portfolio-items/marine-fisheries

by Martin Callow, Project Leader, Wildlife Conservation Society. To find out more about project 23-024, click here.

We hope you’ve enjoyed these first few articles! Be sure to follow us on Twitter @Darwin_Defra and add us on Facebook to be the first to hear when the full newsletter is released!

 


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Ascension Island’s new CITES Ordinance receives Category 1 status

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Ascension Island Green Turtle Cover Up, Credit: Sam Weber, AIG Conservation Department

We hope you enjoyed our first peek into our upcoming CITES CoP17-themed newsletter! In her article, Learning about trends in the illegal ivory trade to inform decision making on elephants, Dr. Fiona Underwood discussed the legacy of her project and its impact on decision making.

In this next article, Dr. Nicola Weber of the Ascension Island Government Conservation and Fisheries Department discusses work under various Darwin Plus projects, a scheme that funds environmental projects in the UK Overseas Territories. These projects have helped develop the legal framework for wildlife trade on Ascension Island, and the Island’s fascinating history highlights the transformative power of robust legal protection.

Over the past 4 years, through projects funded by the Darwin Initiative and with support and expertise from overseas partners, Ascension Island Government Conservation and Fisheries Department (AIGCD) has undertaken a major strategic planning exercise. This has resulted in the development of a National Biodiversity Action Plan (NBAP), a scientific roadmap for the designation of an evidence-based marine protected area at Ascension Island, and the enactment of four Ordinances relating to the protection of Ascension’s biodiversity. These can all be accessed here: www.ascension-island.gov.ac/government/conservation/projects/bap.

The most recent piece of legislation to be enacted is the Control of Trade in Endangered Species Ordinance 2015 that has just received Category 1 status from the CITES Secretariat. This Ordinance makes provision for the regulation of trade in endangered species by Ascension Island Government. While the import and export of species listed by CITES occurs very infrequently at Ascension Island, having the legislation in place provides the legal framework to ensure that this remains the case. Ascension Island is famous for the green turtles Chelonia mydas (CITES listing: Appendix 1) that nest upon its beaches and until the 1920s provided fresh meat for residents and passing ships.

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Credit: Ascension Island Heritage Society

Now, over 70 years after legal protection and the cessation of commercial turtle harvesting, the average number of green turtle clutches deposited annually at Ascension Island has increased six fold since monitoring began in 1977, from approximately 3,700 to 23,700 clutches per annum. This highlights the need for the robust legal protection of threatened species and shows that with the correct measures and conservation actions in place, population declines can be reversed.

by Dr. Nicola Weber,  Ascension Island Government Conservation and Fisheries Department

 


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Learning about trends in the illegal ivory trade to inform decision making on elephants

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From Saturday 24th September, experts from all over the World will gather in Johannesburg for the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties for the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species, or CITES CoP17 for short.

CITES is one of the core conventions that Darwin Initiative projects support, and we wanted to highlight this with our upcoming newsletter by inviting articles from projects working on illegal or legal trade of species. In advance of the full newsletter being published next week, we wanted to share a sneak peak!

The article below comes from Darwin project 17-020 “Enhancing the Elephant Trade Information System to guide CITES policy, led by the University of Reading. Although the project finished in 2012, its legacy is ongoing. Find out more below!

At the upcoming CITES CoP, trends in the illegal ivory trade will be a key focus of discussions. These discussions will be based around a report using data on illegal ivory seizures collected by the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS). ETIS is one of two global monitoring systems for elephants that were mandated by CITES in 1997 and it is managed by TRAFFIC International (the other being MIKE – Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants).

Clearly, it is the results that are of most interest to the audience (of policy makers and NGOs) to help inform decision making about elephants but some work is needed to obtain these results. To turn ivory seizures data into useful information about trends in the illegal ivory trade requires quite a complex statistical analysis; the analysis is complex because of the inherent biases in seizures data. Specifically, countries differ in their ability to make and report seizures – so an increase in seizures might be because of increased law enforcement, or countries getting better at reporting their seizures to ETIS, not because the illegal ivory trade is increasing. Thus, strategies for accounting for differences in the ability of countries to make and report seizures must be accounted for when trying to describe the trends in the trade.

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Three elephants eating at Mana Pools in Zimbabawe, Credit: Fiona Underwood

In 2009, there were no off-the-shelf statistical methods for analyzing these data and so some analyses were ad-hoc without a coherent and robust framework. This is a major challenge for many monitoring programmes. It is often relatively easy to obtain resources to collect data, including training of those collecting data and building database to store the data. In comparison, it can be much harder to obtain funding to help turn this data into usable information for policy makers.

One component of Darwin Initiative Project 17-020 “Enhancing the Elephant Trade Information System to Guide CITES Policy”, which ran from 2009 – 2012, was to develop a methodological framework for making sense of the ETIS data. This project was a collaboration between statisticians, then at the University of Reading, and TRAFFIC International. A further project aim was to translate these statistically complex findings into simple language and concepts that could be communicated to a non-technical decision-making audience. Two indicators were developed (Transactions Index and Weights Index).

This framework is now being used routinely to produce indicators of the illegal ivory trade to inform decision making by CITES and others, on elephants. It was first used to produce indicators of the ivory trade for the previous CoP in 2013 using data from 1996 – 2011. Since then the methodology has been used to update these trends every year and most recently for the upcoming CoP. Such analyses have provided key pieces of information for the development of National Ivory Action Plans for eight CITES Parties and will continue to be useful in monitoring their progress.

by Dr. Fiona Underwood, Project Leader