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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Community-based nature tourism by the Ayeyarwady River, Myanmar

In our most recent newsletter we invited articles from Darwin projects on the theme of Sustainable Tourism, and we are blogging some of our favourite articles here! Our last blog focused on sustainable scuba tourism in Sudan’s newly designated marine world heritage site!

This time we hear an update from a project working to develop a tourism venture with fishing communities that work alongside the iconic Irrawaddy River dolphins in Myanmar.

Community-based nature tourism by the Ayeyarwady River, Myanmar

Written by project leader Paul Bates of the Harrison Institute

The objective of this UK-Myanmar project looked simple on paper – ‘To develop two new rural destinations on the Ayeyarwady River for niche tourists interested in Myanmar’s cultural and natural heritage’. The destinations (only accessible by boat) were situated at Hsithe and Myitkangyi villages, respectively 45 and 60 km upstream of Mandalay and the aim was: to help (1) alleviate poverty in the two village communities; (2) conserve the Irrawaddy River dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) and other river wildlife; (3) preserve the culture of the fishermen and women who have traditionally fished cooperatively with the dolphins.

So how did we do? On the positive side, the destinations are up, running and beautiful; average spend per tourist (in the village) is currently between $28 and $36 and all money spent in the village stays in the village (this, in village communities where a typical wage is about $3/day). That said, the villages are remote and visitor numbers at 190 were perhaps at the lower end of our original expectations. However, in the last six months, the villages received 13 inspection tours from 41 individuals representing 10 private sector travel companies and after extensive marketing by the project’s UK and Myanmar staff, interest amongst tour companies is very encouraging and supportive for the 2017-18 season.

Meanwhile, there are many positive messages to take away from our experience so far. Numerous workshops and training programmes have sparked amazing creativity amongst the villagers, resulting in a spectacular range of handicrafts: everything from funky, off-the wall artefacts made from recycled cement bags, to beautiful carvings from drift wood, and jams and chutneys made from local fruits. There are distinctly branded bags of peanuts and spices, and locally produced honeys, to name but a few. Each month, new ideas from the villages lead to new products in the visitor centre shops – this is wonderful! Furthermore, talks are currently in progress to market the products elsewhere in Myanmar and on-line through a supplier in Yangon. We are also hopeful that a luxury Mandalay hotel will buy for its clients’ breakfasts the very tasty mango jam.

Myanmar 21012 8 Aung Ko Toe gives a cooking class in Myitkangyi, Credit Paul Bates

Aung Ko Toe gives a cooking class in Myitkangyi, Credit –  Paul Bates

The project has also led to increased community pride – pride in the remarkable culture of the fishermen and women, who have for generations fished co-operatively with the Irrawaddy River dolphins. Tourists pay 10,000 Kyat (approximately $7.50) per person to learn from the fishermen how to cast a traditional fishing net. The training takes place both on land and on the river, and is very popular. Alternatively, they can go on a fishing tour and capture for themselves this timeless, photogenic activity.

With increased community and cultural pride, comes civic pride. For three years the project team has emphasised the importance of the environment and of waste management. Workshops in the villages involved almost 1,000 children. They included talks and visual displays as well as games, colouring competitions, and competitive litter collections! These workshops brought the school children, the school teachers and a broad range of parents into the project. Hosted at the school and in the monastery, they have enabled the greater community to learn about the project aims and understand its relevance.

Although some benefits are relatively easy to measure, others are more subjective. Civic pride is one of them but so too is a change in mind-set of some of the village youth. For better, for worse, the villages have become part of the global economy. Through the project’s website and through the marketing of tour agencies they are visible throughout the world. As with all aspects of globalisation, there are positives and negatives but one of the positives is the opportunity it provides for the young. The world has come to them. To some extent, they are now living in a global village, where on any particular day, the sound of French, German, English or Spanish might be heard. They are living in a village where local guides, men and women from the village, interact with an international, well-educated audience. The guides inform the visitors about the village school, the agriculture, the monasteries, and their way of life. In return, the visitors bring a sense of importance to the village. It is also inspiring for the villagers to know that their handicrafts will end up in Paris or Picardy, in London, Berlin or Madrid. It leads to a different perspective.

Myanmar 21012 18 Myitkangyi tour guides, Credit Paul Bates

Myitkangyi tour guides, Credit – Paul Bates

And what of the challenges? This project illustrated that in this instance poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation are totally complementary. Like the fisherfolk, the visiting tourists love seeing the critically endangered dolphins, which are often sighted in the river opposite the destinations. However, being complementary does not mean that they are the same. Well managed and well directed poverty alleviation can lead to excellent long term benefits for nature.

Without doubt, the project raised awareness of the importance of the conservation of the dolphin, and associated wildlife, with the local communities of the Ayeyarwady, with the tourists, and most importantly with decision makers in the ministries in Nay Pyi Daw. It highlighted the threats to the dolphin and raised its profile (and value) as a charismatic species that draws international tourism to the river.

In the long term, having the support of the communities and decision makers is essential for meaningful dolphin conservation but so too is controlling upstream pollution and sedimentation, increasing the dwindling supply of fish and the eradication of illegal gill nets and electro-fishing.

So, is the dolphin in a better position today than it was three years ago? Yes. We have raised awareness, identified and reported on threats, trained 112 local tour guides and boat captains how to observe dolphins without disturbing them. We have trained 72 nature tourism guides and park rangers and most importantly we have shown to the decision maker and the local communities that the dolphins are not only of intrinsic and spiritual interest but also of economic benefit.

The real test of the project is not today’s or tomorrow’s results but its long term impact. In February, 2017, when we presented our results to the Minister of Hotels and Tourism, he was so enthusiastic that he immediately presented us with a donation of $5000 to begin Phase 2, overnight Bed and Breakfast accommodation at the two destinations. We believe that with such enthusiastic support from the government, from the communities, from private sector tour companies and from our own project team, there is a bright future for nature tourism on the Ayeyarwady and for the magical, charismatic Irrawaddy River dolphin.

To find out more about this project, visit its project page or its dedicated website!

2017 marks the 25th Anniversary of the Darwin Initiative! Since it was first announced in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, Darwin has gone from strength to strength. This year saw us passing the 1000th project mark, bringing the total number of funded projects to 1,055 – a fantastic legacy!

We are now inviting articles for our next newsletter celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Darwin. Are you involved in a Darwin project, or have you been in the past? If so – we’d love to hear from you! Click here for article ideas and guidance, and get in touch at Darwin-Newsletter@ltsi.co.uk.


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Promoting sustainable tourism in Sudan’s marine World Heritage site

May 22nd was the International Day for Biological Diversity, and the theme for 2017 was Biodiversity and Sustainable Tourism”. To tie in with this, in our most recent newsletter we invited articles from Darwin projects on the theme of Sustainable Tourism.

Underpinning the success and sustainability of many aspects of tourism internationally is the natural environment, from the landscape to the species level. Conservation of nature and biodiversity is therefore crucial to many tourism ventures. Revenue from tourism can help support communities living in poverty near protected areas or reliant on a depleting natural resource, and may offer a potential solution to conservation funding gaps.

However, there is a risk that high levels of, or uncontrolled practices in, tourism can do more harm than good to the natural environment. Projects must therefore ensure that they consider the sustainability of new tourism ventures so that the potential benefits can continue into the future.

In the newsletter we heard from projects working across the world – including Myanmar, Madagascar and St Helena. Although their context and approaches to sustainable tourism may differ, we hope that their stories and lessons will resonate with everyone.

We’ve picked out a few of the articles to share on our blog, and we’d encourage anyone who is interested to read further!

Promoting sustainable tourism in Sudan’s marine World Heritage site

Written by Lisa George (SUDIA) and Rebecca Klaus (Cousteau)

In July 2016, Sudan’s Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) – Sanganeb Atoll Marine National Park and Dungonab Bay and Mukkawar Island National Park – were inscribed as a UNESCO Natural World Heritage site. This is the first natural World Heritage site in Sudan and the first marine World Heritage site in the Red Sea and wider Arabian region. The Darwin Initiative (DI) project team supported the national nomination process by providing data and organising a workshop at UNESCO headquarters. The new international status will likely attract more interest in Sudan as a potential tourist destination and more visitors. To prepare for this, our DI project has been helping Sudan to plan ahead and promote sustainable and fair tourism for the MPAs.

Sudan is not a high-profile tourist destination but the country has a special reputation among the international SCUBA dive community. Between 2,500 and 4,000 divers come to Sudan every year from Europe and occasionally the USA.  The special reputation of Sudan as an elite destination among the dive community started in the early 1960s when the legendary Captain Jacques Cousteau filmed the documentary “The World Without Sun” and launched the Conshelf II experiment in Sudan to test whether humans could endure living underwater for extended periods of time. Sudan has managed to sustain this reputation due to the quality of the diving experiences, the abundance of marine wildlife, but also partly due to the small number of live-aboard dive boats operating in this challenging location.

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A taste of what divers in Sudan’s Marine Protected Areas might experience, Credit – B. Neeser

In recent years, the number of live-aboard boats has started to increase; from the 8 locally based boats that were operating in 2000 there are now 15 boats, including 7 boats that visit seasonally from outside Sudan. While this number is still low compared to other destinations, the increase is proving to be a source of tension and poses a real threat to biodiversity conservation and the sustainability of this sector. The small number of locally based dive boats has been operating under a long-agreed informal set of guiding principles. However, newer boats bringing clients to Sudan are not obligated to follow these rules. To address this issue, the DI project has been working to support the dive operators to establish a formal code of conduct. As part of this process, the DI project has designed a series of Best-Practice Guidelines for encounters with marine wildlife for both the dive boat operators and their clients.

The DI project also identified a need to increase the link between the dive operators and the local communities. As international tourism is mainly boat-based, and the local communities are not easily accessible, there are limited opportunities for them to benefit from this potentially lucrative stream of foreign income. Establishing appropriate mechanisms through which the dive boats can interact with the local communities is challenging but paramount to ensuring that the communities benefit from tourists visiting their areas. To deepen understanding of the concept of sustainable tourism among national stakeholders, the DI project provided a 3-day “Sustainable Tourism Training Workshop” at the Red Sea University in Port Sudan. The workshop enabled participants to learn more about principles of sustainable tourism, including ecotourism. It highlighted the importance of ethical and responsible tourism and how these concepts can bridge development and conservation. Currently we are preparing for an expert to visit the communities to engage local fishermen in low impact ecotourism activities, such as manta watching.

While international tourism in the Red Sea State revolves around the live-aboard dive boats, Port Sudan and Dungonab Bay and Mukkawar Island National Park are also becoming increasingly important destinations for national tourists, particularly for people coming from the capital Khartoum. However, there is a lack of awareness of the marine environment and conservation issues among the general population as demonstrated by the stalls along the seafront in Port Sudan. These stalls target national visitors and sell marine mementoes including shells, corals, turtle carapaces, and dried baby shark and other fishes. To sensitise the general public about the wealth of marine biodiversity and flagship species in Sudan, the DI project prepared a poster exhibit jointly with our local partner SUDIA. The exhibit has been displayed at various events and has been very well received.

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Marine biodiversity poster exhibit, Credit – SUDIA

You can find out more about Sudan’s marine parks on their website and read about how, on World Ocean Day on June 8th, Children from Sudan’s UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site called on world leaders to save the Ocean for future generations at the UN General Assembly.

2017 marks the 25th Anniversary of the Darwin Initiative! Since it was first announced in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, Darwin has gone from strength to strength. This year saw us passing the 1000th project mark, bringing the total number of funded projects to 1,055 – a fantastic legacy!

We are now inviting articles for our next newsletter celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Darwin. Are you involved in a Darwin project, or have you been in the past? If so – we’d love to hear from you! Click here for article ideas and guidance, and get in touch at Darwin-Newsletter@ltsi.co.uk.


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Ecotourism and biodiversity conservation – experience from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda

by Lesley King

According to the UN, tourism has become ‘one of the largest and fastest-growing economic sectors in the world’ (UNWTO 2016). Indeed if you look at the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers for many of the countries Darwin projects work in, tourism is seen as an important area of investment to support development.  International tourism represents 7% of the world’s exports in goods and services and represents a key source of future jobs and investment in things like infrastructure for developing states.

However, tourism and biodiversity conservation have a chequered history with ecotourism ventures widely touted as the silver bullet for funding conservation – predominately by the marketers of such ventures. What is often misunderstood by the general public is the impact this tourism can have on biodiversity – both directly through increased human footfall in areas of high biodiversity, but also indirectly through policies and incentives that often end up pushing local poor, often the guardians and curators of such biodiversity, into greater poverty.

It was this issue of equity and how it incentivises biodiversity conservation that came up when I visited Uganda in 2015 on an evaluation of Darwin projects.

The Darwin Initiative has funded a number of projects focusing on Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in the south-west of Uganda. It is an important park for Mountain Gorilla with roughly half the world’s population residing in the park. It is also an important source of revenue for Uganda with tourists visiting to track habituated gorillas paying over $500 per permit.

The impact of this tourism on the local communities living just outside the fence of the park is complex. When the park was gazetted in 1991, the Batwa, indigenous forest peoples residing in the forest, were removed and resettled outside the park with no compensation. The Batwa were especially disadvantaged as the forest was the basis of their livelihood and practices that defined their ethnic identity.

Uganda 19-013 Batwa children on edge of Bwindi National Park Credit L King

Batwa children on the edge of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Credit: Lesley King

In addition to the Batwa, the majority of the local population around Bwindi are poor subsistence farmers growing crops on terraces on very steep hillsides.  Whilst a proportion of the fee tourists pay to enter Bwindi is shared through a benefit-sharing scheme, there is often bad feeling towards the park; local people feel that they pay a high cost as a result of human-wildlife conflicts. They see rich tourists arriving and spending large amounts of money to access the gorillas but little of that benefit is felt by them.

During my visit in 2015 I evaluated 2 Darwin-funded projects working on different aspects of these issues.

The first, “Integrating Batwa cultural values into national parks management in Uganda”, was a project led by FFI. It supported Batwa people to increase their engagement with the park management authorities and to negotiate access into the park to engage with their spiritual values – an essential for life as a Batwa. In addition, the project supported Batwa to develop livelihood initiatives including organic farming (as traditionally forest peoples, they have limited skills in agriculture), handicrafts to sell to tourists, and the flagship Batwa Forest Experience project.

Uganda 19-019 Batwa Forest Experience guides in their new uniforms Credit L King

Batwa Forest Experience guides in their new uniforms, Credit: Lesley King

The Batwa Forest Experience is a new venture that was negotiated by the Darwin Project. It is a cultural experience directed at tourists that have already completed their gorilla tracking and looking for something else to do in the area. Tourists will be led by a Batwa guide and interpreter through the forests within the National Park and the life of the Batwa will be explained through stories, singing and dancing. Some of the tourism businesses the reviewers spoke to saw this venture as having real potential for increasing tourism revenue in this area. The biggest challenge for tourist providers is, once tourists have completed the gorilla tracking, there is little to keep them in the area. The Batwa Forest Experience was seen as a new niche product that would entice visitors.

The second project I visited, “Research to Policy – building capacity for conservation through poverty alleviation”, was led by IIED and looked to boost the capacity of Ugandan NGOs and research groups to undertake research-into-use. They used Bwindi as a case study and, in addition to boosting capacity to undertake research and advocacy work, made positive inputs to how the park was managed to the benefit of poor local communities.

One of the issues the project looked at was the issue of equity in the park’s benefit-sharing scheme. A proportion of the fee tourists pay to enter the park is shared out with local people living around the outskirts of the park. By supporting the Ugandan partners to develop their advocacy skills, the project resulted in an important agreement for the Ugandan Wildlife Authority to increase the benefits paid out to local people, in the form of the gorilla levy. Due to the work of the project, the share of revenue from tourists paid to local people was doubled (by potentially more than $100,000 per year) which is hoped to support local poor and reduce conflict between the people and the park authorities and reduce illegal incursions into the park.

The CBD chose the International Day for Biological Diversity to highlight its chosen theme for 2017 – biodiversity and sustainable tourism. In the coming months in Darwin we will be pulling out more examples of how our Darwin projects work to support sustainable tourism. The theme for the next Darwin Newsletter will be sustainable tourism – find out how to submit an article here – or if you are working on issues mentioned above and would like to write a guest blog post for us please contact darwin-newsletter@ltsi.co.uk.


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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.

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.