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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Safeguarding our seas: Saving seis

This blog series celebrates projects across the globe working with local communities to improve conservation efforts of some of the most vulnerable marine seascapes and species. Although our series and the month of June has come to an end, we hope that you have enjoyed hearing from some of our projects working to ‘Safeguard our Seas’. In the final blog post we discover the threats faced by the third largest whale in the world – the sei whale – and hear from a project led by Falklands Conservation which is striving for the establishment of key biodiversity areas this species in the Falkland Islands.

If you have enjoyed this post and would like to read the entire series, you can follow these links for the first and second blog posts.

Establishing a key biodiversity area for endangered sei whales in the Falkland Islands

The Falkland Islands are a remote archipelago situated approximately 500 km from the southern tip of South America. With a sub-Antarctic climate and surrounded by productive shelf waters of the South Atlantic, the Falklands support a wealth of marine biodiversity. Top predators include internationally significant breeding colonies of several seabird species including black-browed albatross, southern giant petrels and penguins, large populations of South American sea lions and fur seals, and 26 documented species of cetacean. Human marine activities in the Falklands, while relatively low compared to other geographic regions, include an offshore fishing industry primarily targeting squid, tourism (cruise and expedition vessels), shipping, and oil and gas exploration. Many of these sectors are expanding, with the recent approval of a new port facility and plans for offshore oil field development. Additionally, the introduction of coastal salmon farming is under consideration.

In recent years, awareness of the need to manage and protect marine biodiversity in the Falklands has increased, with ongoing consultation around Marine Spatial Planning and Marine Protected Areas. In 2016 the European South Atlantic overseas territories were assessed as part of a BEST initiative to ascertain whether any areas may be suitable as Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs). That process highlighted the lack of systematic data on whale populations in the Falkland Islands, and recommended the onset of targeted field research.

Falklands DPLUS082 Sei whale breaks the surface Falkland Sound, Credit - Caroline Weir

A sei whale breaking the waters surface, Credit – Caroline Weir

Since 2017, Falklands Conservation has conducted systematic surveys in Falklands’ coastal waters to collect data on the distribution, abundance and ecology of baleen whales (whales with plates of keratin that are used for filter feeding) to inform the KBA process. During 2019 and 2020, with funding from Darwin Plus, Falklands Conservation has focussed on boat-based and acoustic monitoring of whales in Berkeley Sound and Falkland Sound. Information on potential threats were assessed by examining the spatial and temporal overlap between whales and human marine activities. The primary focus of the work has been the globally Endangered sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis), a species that occurs offshore and unpredictably in most regions worldwide, yet is seasonally-common in coastal waters around the Falklands. The project also focusses on wintering southern right whales (Eubalaena australis), a species classified of Least Concern globally but for which conservation status in the south-west Atlantic is of concern.

One principal aim of our project was to acquire a robust and extensive dataset on sei whales to facilitate an assessment against the standard global KBA criteria. That assessment is currently underway, and we have provided evidence that the Falklands shelf supports globally-important numbers of mature sei whales. If achieved, KBA status would influence environmental impact assessments and help to direct the subsequent Marine Spatial Planning and Marine Protected Areas processes within the Falklands to protect relevant habitat and manage potential impacts on whales. Protecting the marine environment around the Falklands also depends heavily on community engagement and stakeholder support. Our project works to raise awareness of whales with government, local community members, and school children. To date 17 volunteers have accompanied the boat surveys and assisted with spotting whales, photo-identification, and faecal sampling, and a further 20 community members attended a cetacean field training course. People take away a new enthusiasm for whales and all marine life from those opportunities, which slowly spreads across the wider community.

The scientific datasets collected during our project will provide an evidence-base for managing whales in the Falkland Islands. However, the interest and support of the local community is equally as crucial to achieving our long-term goal of sustaining these fantastic animals, and their key habitats for future decades.

For more information on project DPLUS082 led by Falklands Conservation please click here. To read the full article from this project and others that were featured in the June 2020 edition of the Darwin Newsletter, please click here.


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Safeguarding our seas: Connectivity for conservation

This blog series celebrates projects across the globe working with local communities to improve conservation efforts of some of the most vulnerable marine seascapes and species. In our second blog post of the series we hear from a Darwin project working with several communities in Honduras. Led by Fauna and Flora International, this project is encouraging collaboration between NGOs to strengthen the management and monitoring of the some of the most diverse seascapes in the Caribbean.

If you would like to read the first post of the series outlining the work of British Antarctic Survey in South Georgia tracking albatrosses to detect illegal fishing please click here.

Turning shared problems into solutions – marine conservation connects people and protected areas in Honduras

At the southern tip of the globally important Mesoamerican Barrier Reef on the Caribbean coastline of Honduras lies a vibrant and interconnected patchwork of coral reef, mangrove, seagrass, and estuary habitats. This ‘seascape’ is home to a high diversity of species, including globally threatened Antillean manatees (Trichechus manatus), hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricate) and Utilan spiny-tailed iguanas (Ctenosaura bakeri). Seventeen coastal communities depend on the integrity and productivity of these ecosystems for their livelihoods and wellbeing. Three Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) within the seascape aim to safeguard these habitats and species.

Over the years, biodiversity and fisheries have declined due to degradation of mangroves and estuaries as well as the use of harmful fishing practices and overfishing. Illegal poaching of wildlife threatens vulnerable species and pollution and sedimentation from agriculture smother coral reefs and other sensitive habitats.

Through an earlier Darwin Initiative project (19-017), Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and partners helped to strengthen participatory governance of the Cuero-Y-Salado Wildlife Refuge, one of the MPAs included under this latest project. It was clear that these threats needed to be addressed at a larger scale, however, not only for enhancing ecological connectivity but also for “social connectivity”. This refers to the need to build collaboration between protected area co-managers and the empowerment of communities by increasing dialogue and cooperation regarding their shared resources, problems and aspirations. This funding enabled FFI to launch the seascape initiative in 2016 alongside five Honduran NGO partners. The project aimed to establish an integrated management system, conserving critical habitats and species and enabling fishing communities to improve their livelihoods while increasing their management responsibilities.

DCIM100GOPROG0197685. Diving in coral reefs in Honduras

Coral seen while diving on Honduran reefs, Credit – Dan Steadman

Collaboration between NGO partners soon proved its value on practical management issues, such as fisheries management and monitoring, and also led to changes in institutional culture. The project established several bodies as mechanisms for seascape-wide collaboration. An annual ‘seascape forum’ brings authorities, the NGO partners and stakeholder representatives together to discuss seascape issues, the results of studies and priorities for action. A smaller ‘seascape committee’ meets regularly and focuses on joint management actions, while a ‘fisher roundtable’ has enabled fishers across the seascape to reach agreement on their collective priorities for improving fisheries and increasing their sustainability. Through the synthesis of existing information and new research, the project was able to inform the development of fisheries regulations and contribute the design of spatial management measures resulting in two new no-take zones.

Improved cooperation and communication across the seascape also contributed to improving community livelihoods and resilience. Participation by both women and men in the seascape committee and official government recognition of the fishers’ roundtable both represent major advances in the empowerment of coastal communities. Their voices are now being heard and are – to a large extent – unified.

Chachahuate cayo at the  Cayos Cochinos National Marine monument.

View from the National Marine Monument, Credit – Vance Russell

Following the completion of the Darwin Initiative project in March 2019, FFI and the project partners, stakeholders and authorities aim to expand the practical fisheries and ecosystem management work across the seascape. The collective strength and organisation that now exist make it possible to tackle external land-based threats to marine resources, especially sediment, chemical pollution and plastics. The most immediate challenge, however, is to recover from the impacts and after-effects of Covid-19. There is work to be done to enable communities to get through the crisis, to tackle associated threats to biodiversity, to restore fisheries markets and to adapt tourism-related livelihoods. Shared knowledge and mechanisms for cooperation can facilitate this work and are part of the legacy of the Darwin project. Unforeseen shocks will continue to occur – especially due to climate change – so FFI and partners will continue to build ecological and social resilience in this globally important area for marine biodiversity.

More information about project 23-028 led by Fauna and Flora International working in Honduras can be found here. The full article for this project and others featured in our latest newsletter on ‘Safeguarding our Seas’ is available here.


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Safeguarding our seas: Wandering radar

This blog series celebrates projects across the globe working with local communities to improve conservation efforts of some of the most vulnerable marine seascapes and species. For the month of June, we are celebrating the vast diversity found in the world’s oceans and highlighting projects that are striving to safeguard our seas for all species, from sei whales to seabirds.

The first post of the series outlines the increasing risks faced by wandering albatrosses in and around South Georgia and shares how these seabirds can help detect illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing vessels.

Reducing bycatch risk to wandering albatrosses through radar detection

There is increased global awareness that our oceans are under threat. Fishing and other human activities endanger a number of marine megafauna species such as seabirds, marine turtles, marine mammals, sharks and rays. Fisheries affect these top predators by directly competing for the same resources, deliberately targeting them for food, and through incidental capture (bycatch). Additionally, the behavioural and life-history traits of many marine megafauna populations make them particularly vulnerable. This is particularly true for these long-lived and slow-breeding species, where the smallest increases in mortality can result in significant population declines.

Falklands DPLUS092 Wandering albatross protecting nest, Credit - Alex Dodds

Wandering albatross parent protects nest, Credit – Alex Dodds

Unfortunately, this grim scenario applies to the wandering albatrosses breeding at South Georgia. The population has declined catastrophically since the 1960s, with longline fisheries playing a major threat. Despite their high levels of protection within the UK Overseas Territory, both on land and in local waters, many of these albatrosses fall victim to bycatch from longline fishing in their broader foraging range. Scavenging seabirds, lured by the prospect of an easy meal, are attracted towards fishing vessels by the bait and fish discards. Seabird bycatch in longline fisheries mainly occurs when they attack baited hooks, and become hooked and drowned as the line sinks.

The good news is that we already know what needs to be done to turn things around. If appropriate measures such as seasonal closures, heavier line-weighting, night setting, and the deployment of bird-scaring lines are implemented, bycatch can be reduced significantly in the future. In order for these mitigation measures to be effective, they need to be introduced in combination with close monitoring of compliance. Gaining a greater understanding of where, when and which fleets the wandering albatrosses are most likely to interact with will help stakeholders and policymakers to allocate the limited resources available to improve regulations. These efforts, coupled with targeting observer programmes, will enable bycatch rates and vessels’ compliance to be monitored.

Falklands DPLUS092 Wandering albatross couple, Credit - Ana Carneiro

A wandering albatross couple, Credit – Ana Carneiro

The overall objective of our project is to link habitat preference, at-sea activity patterns and detections from novel bird-borne radars to better understand the interactions of tracked wandering albatrosses with legal and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing vessels. Thanks to Darwin Plus funding we have now partially completed our data collection at Bird Island, South Georgia. In November 2019, we deployed state-of-the-art loggers and transmitters on wandering albatrosses of different ages and sexes to quantify interactions of tracked birds with fishing vessels in the South Atlantic. Using our loggers we are able to monitor fisheries in remote areas in near-real time, with one of the biggest game changers being their capacity to identify IUU fishing. Much like other tracking devices, they are attached to the animal’s back feathers, and record GPS location during foraging trips. However, the devices we use also have something novel – they regularly scan the surroundings to detect the presence of a vessel radar. All ships at sea use radar for safety and operational reasons, which can be used to determine their proximity to our tracked birds. With these results, we hope to greatly improve our knowledge of where and when wandering albatrosses and other seabirds are at particular risk of bycatch.

Next year, after completing data collection and analysis, we will gather relevant stakeholders including representatives of fisheries management bodies and NGOs to discuss how the results of the project can feed into better targeting of bycatch mitigation, and monitoring of compliance and bycatch rates in the southwest Atlantic and elsewhere. We hope that our results will contribute to making all of the waters used by these ocean wanderers as safe as those around South Georgia.

For more information on project DPLUS092 led by British Antarctic Survey working in South Georgia please click here. The full article for this project can be found in the June 2020 edition of the Darwin Newsletter here.


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Early career researchers: Tackling the sargassum situation in Turks and Caicos

Darwin projects provide a wealth of opportunities for scientists to gain first hand, applied experience. In the first post of this series we heard from an early career researcher working alongside the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology project team in Cyprus on their citizen science programme.

Our second and final post shares the story of an MSc student from the University of Greenwich and her involvement in tackling the sargassum situation head-on in Turks and Caicos.

A sargassum situation

As an MSc student studying Environmental Conservation at the University of Greenwich, it was always an ambition of mine to contribute my final MSc project to a valuable cause. To take part in genuine research, collaborate with academics and to make a positive change to the environment and livelihoods. I was interested to hear that about the MSc opportunities as part of the Darwin Plus project led by my University. The project, based in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) is a collaborative effort with the Department of Environmental and Coastal Resource, the School for Field Studies, South Caicos, and the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environment Management Overseas Territory Special Interest Group.

In recent years the TCI along with the wider Caribbean region has been experiencing sudden strandings of large seaweed masses on coastlines. This seaweed is understood to be of the sargassum genus, a brown macroalgae that is found in many different forms. The most common strandings have been made up of Sargassum fluitans and Sargassum natans. The aim of the project I worked on is to explore the impact these recent inundations are having on the island and to investigate the potential to exploit the macro-algae as bio-fuel or compost.

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The constant wash of sargassum on Providenciales, Credit – Kirsty Lee

Prior to my trip to TCI and after the completion of an extensive desk study, a picture of the islands began to take shape. From the UK I was inspired by the bird life of the stark pink ancient salt pans, and excited by the infinite blue of sea and sky. On day one of the field trip we were soon exposed to the sargassum blight and the proposition of time spent on sandy beaches was exchanged for a thick mass of seaweed which in some parts was as high as my waist.

During the 16-day trip 100 questionnaires were completed through a combination of face to face interviews and focus groups. These questionnaires aimed to identify impact, management techniques and the frequency of removal of sargassum. These interviews brought together key stakeholders, strengthened relationships and encouraged seaweed monitoring by business owners, fisher-folk and local schools alike. The hope was that through these monitoring efforts we would be able to explore patterns, quantities and seasonal changes. For part of our trip we were hosted by the School for Field Studies, which meant we had access to a lab where we were able to create sorting methods, sample study sites and generate identification guides that are now available on SargNet to enable further data collection.

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Large mats of sargassum on Grand Turk, Credit – Kirsty Lee

Moving through the islands not only enabled us to carry out field work but also gave us an opportunity to explore the front-line crisis and observe how communities were adapting to the sargassum influx. Our final challenge was collecting fresh samples before our flight home – thankfully they made it back to the UK safely and the results of the extensive analysis carried out by the Bio-algal Technology Group at the University of Greenwich is due to be issued in 2020.

Having now completed my MSc I feel grateful to have had such a unique opportunity. It enabled me to build new skills and working alongside other professionals and local people within the environment to meet wider global targets.

For more information on project DPLUS100 led by the University of Greenwich working in Turks and Caicos, please click here.


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Early career researchers: Collaborating in Cyprus

One of the integral aspects of many Darwin Initiative projects is their focus on research into the drivers of biodiversity loss and the development of innovative solutions. Many projects offer a unique and insightful opportunity for early career researchers to get hand-on experience – not only in core scientific techniques, such as data collection and analysis, but also in community engagement and awareness raising. Through involving young scientists in Darwin projects they not only support the project but build their own skills and experience under the guidance of an experienced project team.

In this blog series, we share will share the experiences from two MSc students that were recently involved in Darwin Plus projects in Cyprus and Turks and Caicos. In this first post we hear from an early career researcher and her involvement in the Risky project led by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

“Risky” research

As an early career researcher, I had the opportunity to be involved in the Darwin funded Risky project (www.ris-ky.eu) and the Pollinator Monitoring Scheme Kýpros (Poms-ký). My involvement in these projects was equally empowering and very interesting. As part of my MSc thesis I was able to work alongside my supervisors, Prof. Helen Roy, Dr. Kelly Martinou, Dr. Marc Botham and Jodey Payton during this wonderful opportunity.

Poms-ký is a citizen science programme which aims to provide a scientific evidence base for assessing changes in pollinator populations and communities and their interactions with native and non-native plants in Cyprus. It is a monitoring project designed to raise the awareness of citizens of all ages about pollinators while gathering data. It is the first scheme of its kind in Cyprus for monitoring pollinating insects that visit crops and wild plants.

Organising and running a monitoring programme requires teamwork. In an effort to modify the British Pollinator Monitoring Scheme to better fit the needs of Cyprus the Poms-ký team had to work together to design a recording form, flower and insect guide. These guides would be used to enable citizens involved in the project to carry out flower-insect times (FIT) counts. Furthermore, in collaboration with the teachers of the Environmental Centre of Akrotiri, in Cyprus, we decided to design a pollinator monitoring scheme programme similar to Poms-ký, which would help to raise awareness about the importance of pollinators to children.

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Ioanna demonstrating how to monitor pollinating insects on the Akrotiri wetland, Credit – Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

During my involvement in the project we organised two workshops to inform and involve the communities in the Akrotiri Peninsula area. My main tasks were to check and test the recording form and make sure it was user friendly. To do that, I carried out FIT counts for eight months, in different areas around Akrotiri Peninsula, Limassol, Kyrenia, Ammohostos and Troodos. In addition, one of my tasks was to meet with community members and explain the importance of pollinating insects and to show them the correct way to collect data using the FIT count approach. Overall, I found that working with the communities was the most enjoyable part of my experience. I believe that citizen science plays an important role in the future of science and is an excellent way to ensure that communities understand and support nature.

My involvement in this programme gave me the opportunity to meet and collaborate with experienced scientists, and has helped me to gain confidence in teamwork and as a researcher. In addition, I gained greater understanding of the power of citizen science and greater appreciation of how much can be achieved when we work together. I feel very happy to have been part of this project and I believe that it was a great opportunity for me, and I would like definitely do it again. I would strongly encourage other early career scientists to get involved in Darwin projects or other research focused projects.

For further information on project DPLUS088 led by the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology working in Cyprus, please click here.


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Gender equality and empowerment: Empowered ambassadors

We hope that you have enjoyed our ‘Gender equality and empowerment’ blog series and are pleased to welcome you to the final post of the series. If you would like to read the entire series, you can follow these links for the first and second blog posts.

In our final post we feature the Marine Ambassadors programme introduced by SEED Madagascar. This programme works to empower female community members in Anosy to take more of an active role in the management of the lobster fisheries that they are reliant on.

Empowering women in community-based fisheries management in Madagascar

In the remote coastal communities of Anosy, southeastern Madagascar, fishing provides a vital source of nutrition and income where few livelihood alternatives exist. For example, in the community of Sainte Luce, 83% of households are dependent on lobster fishing as their main source of income. However, the local lobster stock is declining as a consequence of overfishing, which is threatening livelihoods, food security, and biodiversity.

SEED Madagascar is working to identify a sustainable solution through Project Oratsimba. Working with local fishers in the three rural communities of Sainte Luce, Elodrato, and Itapera in rural Anosy, the project supports community-based, sustainable lobster fishery management designed to increase both income and food security.

The main catch - a spiny lobster (c) SEED Madagascar

The main catch – a spiny lobster, Credit – SEED Madagascar

As part of the project, SEED aims to increase recognition of the important role women play in fisheries management, shedding light on the crucial contribution to lobster fishing made by local women in Anosy. Based on traditional gender roles, men and women carry out different tasks related to lobster fishing. Without the combined efforts of both men and women, the lobster fishing supply chain would be severely disrupted. Despite this, there remains a lack of understanding of the critical role that women play.

Lobster catching is performed by men, fishing from hollowed-out canoes called pirogues. However, these fishers use bait that is caught mainly by women, who use river nets or scrape shellfish from shallow rocks off the beach, with the lobster pots themselves often woven by women. On the beach, women collect and weigh the morning’s catch, before the lobsters are passed onto the export companies via local middlemen. In terms of generating household income, credited on the catch itself, the essential roles women carry out are too often overlooked, undervalued, and relegated to part of a woman’s household duties – ultimately undermining their economic contribution. This, coupled with the perception of lobster fishing as “men’s work” by both men and women, has led to women being excluded from the lobster fisheries management process.

Nevertheless, there is a clear demand from local women to engage more actively in decision-making regarding the lobster fisheries management. A female project participant from a fishing household in Elodrato told SEED that “Women should be invited to participate; women should be able stand and talk in front of everyone. Women have different ideas than men.”

Women are involved in weighing caught lobsters on the beach (c) SEED Madagascar

A local woman involved in weighing lobsters on the beach, Credit – SEED Madagascar

To empower the women of the target communities, and to encourage them to participate more actively in the management of their fisheries, SEED is training Women Marine Ambassadors. The training is focused on increasing confidence and improving public speaking skills of the Ambassadors, as well as their knowledge of community-based fisheries management.

The training aims to impart the Ambassadors with the knowledge and skills necessary to inspire other women in their community. After completing their training, the Ambassadors will lead women-only education sessions on fisheries management, instilling the confidence required to have a stronger voice in fishery management decision-making.

Through shedding light on the essential roles women play in the lobster fishing supply chain, this project hopes that others will be empowered to become more actively involved in community-based fisheries management.

For more information on project 25-016 led by SEED Madagascar please click here. To read the full article from this project and others that were featured in our ‘Gender equality and empowerment’ edition of the Darwin Newsletter, please click here.


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Gender equality and empowerment: Micro-enterprises encourage major involvement

Welcome to the second post of the blog series! This post highlights the inequalities of the coffee value chains in Ethiopia and the work that the University of Huddersfield is doing to create a brighter future for women through female-led micro enterprises.

If you would like to read about the work of RSPB and Nature Kenya that was featured in our first blog post, please click here.

Non-Timber Forest Product micro-enterprises for competitive forests and livelihoods in Ethiopia

Wokinesh Danil beams broadly, showing off the certificate, presented to her by the woreda (district) Officer for Women and Children, that states the micro-enterprise she is a member of. The micro-enterprise was established in Gide Bench woreda in southwest Ethiopia is one of eleven set up to develop more diverse livelihood incomes from a wide variety of Non-Timber Forest Product (NTFP) value chains, with an emphasis on benefiting women.

Initiated with the support of the Darwin Initiative, Wokinesh’s micro-enterprise is involved in the sustainable harvesting and processing of forest spices such as timiz (long pepper) and kororemia (Ethiopian cardamom) for the local, national and potentially international markets.

Selling black peppercorns in the local market, Bench Sheko Zone, SNNRPS, Ethiopia

Black peppercorns being sold in the local market, Credit – Indrias Kassaye

Previous work in the southwest through an earlier Darwin project 19-025 focused on the protection of these forests and the wild coffee gene pool found within them. Through the work achieved by the previous project it was recognised that the beneficiaries of the coffee value chains were predominantly men. In order to maintain reduced rates of deforestation and to promote sustainable livelihoods through cooperatives and forest groups it was clear that a broader range of forest products that benefited both men and women was needed. This is being addressed by focusing on developing value chains which enable economically excluded local women to create micro-enterprises targeting new local, national and international markets.

Ethiopia is a highly patriarchal society and previous projects have struggled to actively involve women. The traditional role of women, coupled with their family and household responsibilities, have acted as a barrier against their active participation. Changing cultural norms takes time and these issues are still impacting on levels of project participation and the empowerment of women. To tackle these challenges, the project has encouraged increased involvement from women by actively working with the staff team on the ground to ensure that women are the central focus of the project, and through engagement with the Women and Children’s Office (WCO) at the woreda level. In addition to the women-only micro-enterprises trading in honey (traditionally seen as a man’s crop), ten other mixed gender micro-enterprises have been established in which a minimum of 51% of the membership is female. By contrast, existing coffee co-ops have an average female participation rate of only 18%.

Through this project the WCO has actively participated in project consultation and training sessions. The active engagement of the WCO office has reassured women members, and has promoted the idea that women should be able to express their opinion ‘without fear or hesitation’.

Farmer Tirunesh Shenka Aity is the female chair of the Abyi Angisken honey micro-enterprise which was established in 2019. Tirunesh participated in a ‘training for trainers’ course led by Apinec Agro Industries, a private sector project partner, on bee keeping and the use of transitional bee hives. These transitional hives are made from locally available materials (wood, mud and straw), and can be easily built and due to their location (on the forest fringe) are more accessible for women.

1 Tirunesh orverseeing a tansitional bee hive making session

Tirunesh overseeing a transitional bee hive making session, Credit – Hailemariam Nadew

Tirunesh was selected by Apinec as ‘best trainee’ for her participation in the classroom and practical engagement in making transitional hives with other male participants Returning from the training, she has recruited and trained the other female micro-enterprise members and collected 8,000 birr that will enable her to buy the best quality honey next season.

The use of participatory methods to identify which NTFPs should be developed and which private sector partners should be involved in training has helped to ensure that women’s voices are heard and that their experiences are taken into account. As well as having a positive impact on women’s lives and providing leadership opportunities for women such as Tirunesh and Wokinesh, work to date has also succeeded in changing gender-based assumptions of project staff. One of the project staff members stated that “we have learnt that when we give the chance for women to participate in activities they can do better than men members… so we have learnt from this project to give the chance to [women to] participate for other projects too”.

More information about project 25-013 led by the University of Huddersfield working in Ethiopia can be found here. The full article for this project and others featured in our latest newsletter on ‘Gender equality and empowerment’ is available here.


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Gender equality and empowerment: Changing cultural roles

Darwin projects need to consider how they can work to reduce inequality between people of different genders. This blog series focuses on how projects do this and aims to bring attention to the integral role women and girls play in their communities. Through this series we will feature Darwin projects that have challenged cultural norms, empowered communities and helped women secure a brighter future for themselves and their families.

This first blog post shares the inspirational story of how women in Tana Delta, Kenya are now able to have their voices heard on conservation and development issues due to greater representation in the Tana Delta Conservation Network.

The changing position and role of women in Tana Delta

The Tana River Delta is a vast wetland, inhabited by communities with interests and economic activities that are as diverse as they are. There are farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolk and a few hunter gatherer communities. Despite their differences, one common thing among these communities is their patriarchal nature. The women are hardly involved in decision making, even when these decisions influence themselves and their families directly. This was true even for the few, well educated women in the society.

Ozi women fish farmers cleaning their fish ponds Photo credit G. Odera

Ozi women fish farmers cleaning their fish ponds, Credit – G. Odera

In 2013 the Tana Delta Conservation network (TDCN) was formed. This was spurred on after the communities realised that they needed to mobilise themselves to save their land from investors who had little to no regard for the environment or the local people. At that time, the involvement of women in any decision making was poor. The initial TDCN interim committee had no women representation, probably because women did not realise they had a stake and say in solving the issues faced by their communities. Nature Kenya recognised that the contribution of women was very important to the management of the delta. Women are major collectors of environmental goods such as firewood, herbs, medicines, thatch material, and water – however through this direct relationship with the environment women often suffer the most when it begins to degrade. The loss of a healthy ecosystem means that women often have to travel further to collect these goods, risking their health and wellbeing in remote areas.

The Kenyan constitution requires that people of one gender (men or women) should not represent more than two thirds of membership at any level of governance. To encourage female participation in the conservation and development agenda in the Tana Delta, Nature Kenya started by capacity building the initial team emphasising the important role women would play in leadership. Through these training sessions, the interim team alongside Nature Kenya field staff embarked on awareness exercises that culminated in the first ever democratic elections of TDCN in 2014. That election resulted in an office where women had 40% representation in the executive committee. Under our current Darwin Initiative project we have seen an increase in female representation, with 50% of the TDCN leadership now made up of women.

When asked why they kept a low profile initially, Zainab Gobu, the first elected group treasurer says “It’s not like we were unaware that our land was going to be taken from us and that our natural resources were at risk. The problem was that back then, nobody explained to our husbands what roles we could play as they believed our place was in the kitchen. We thank God that today our contributions are appreciated at all levels. Even the county government consults us by virtue of the positions we hold in TDCN”.

TDCN members during biodiversity monitoring training Photo credit G. Odera

TDCN members during biodiversity monitoring training, Credit – G. Odera

TDCN is now at the centre of community representation and is recognised as the official community voice on conservation and development matters in Tana Delta. The female leadership has empowered other women in the community to get involved in various nature-based enterprises. “This has given the local woman a chance to contribute economically to the well-being of their families and it makes the woman be respected by their husbands and other immediate family members” says Dolphin Komora, the secretary to TDCN.

The main activity of the TDCN is the establishment and strengthening of indigenous community conserved areas. This involves the management and administration of natural resources at the village level – originally this would have been seen as the men’s responsibility however through the TDCN women leaders have become involved and now make up 30% of the committee.

Empowered women have over time built up the courage to venture into activities that have been traditionally male dominated. Originally women in Tana Delta relied on men to provide them with fish. Through our project we have helped women set up six aquaculture ponds. Despite the recent recurrent floods that have reduced the availability of fish markets, the women have already harvested 96kg of fish valued at Ksh. 28,800 (£215). These fish are one of the main sources of protein for these women and their families.

Nature Kenya will keep working with communities and give special attention to the women and other vulnerable groups to ensure that their voices are heard and that their issues are adequately addressed.

For more information on project 24-013 led by RSPB working with Nature Kenya please click here. The full article for this project can be found in the March 2020 edition of the Darwin Newsletter here.


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Tradition, culture and conservation: The cocoa crisis

Welcome to the final post of the ‘Tradition, Culture and Conservation’ blog series! We hope that you have found this series enjoyable. If you would like to read the entire series you can follow these links to the first and second blog posts.

Our last post features a Darwin project that has encouraged collaboration between farmers, local authorities and neighbouring villages to support livelihoods and conserve local plants that play a significant role in traditional medicine within Taï National Park.

Respecting tradition through community-led conservation in the Ivorian Rainforest

Taï National Park in Ivory Coast is one of the last remaining areas of the vast rainforest that once stretched from Guinea to Togo. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park is home to stunning tropical flora and many endangered species. But human activities are rapidly encroaching on the park, putting the forest and its iconic wildlife at risk. In response to these threats, cocoa farmers from the neighbouring villages have banded together to develop a community-led landscape action plan.

Ivory Coast produces 30% of the world’s cocoa, most of which is produced by smallholders living in severe poverty. The struggle to make a living is getting increasingly tougher as farmers grapple with ageing trees, low soil fertility, and climate change. In Taï, this pressure is pushing some farmers to expand into the national park, cutting down pristine rainforest to make room for new cropland.

At the same time, hunting for “bushmeat” has hit crisis point. Meat from wild animals – including endangered species – has long provided an important source of supplementary income for farmers across West Africa. But as increased demand drives a massive surge in the trade, commercial poachers are moving into protected areas – with dire consequences for Taï’s chimpanzees.

Bee-keeping program in south-west Tai, Ivory Coast (2)

Bee-keeping programme run in South-west Taï, Ivory Coast, Credit – Rainforest Alliance

With financial support from the Darwin Initiative, and on-the-ground guidance from the Rainforest Alliance, six cocoa farming communities on the park’s southern edge have united to defend the forest. Over the past three years, more than 500 farmers have participated in field trainings in sustainable agricultural practices such as agroforestry and integrated pest management. These methods are not only “climate-smart,” helping farmers increase resilience to changing weather, but also support habitat conservation by restoring degraded ecosystems and boosting productivity on existing farmland – thereby removing the impetus to expand into nearby forests.

Representatives of the neighbouring Kroumen and Mossi tribes – together with local authorities, the forest management agency and Olam International – formed a Landscape Management Board (LMB). In an effort to advance conservation through sustainable livelihoods, more than 80 farmers are now participating in a successful chicken-rearing and bee-keeping programme which provides an alternative to bushmeat as both a source of income and protein.

The LMB’s efforts to stop habitat destruction have also been mindful of the importance of local plants in traditional medicine and spiritual practices. While threatened species used for these purposes – such as Salvadora persica, the famous “toothbrush plant” – need to be protected from over-exploitation, blanket bans are ineffective. Instead, the LMB has been raising awareness of the need to manage natural resources more sustainably.

For Thé Laurent Gnaoue, a local farmer who helped develop the landscape action plan, this community approach has been critical. Culture and tradition have “a huge impact” on any decisions taken by the local villages, notes Gnaoue. The strength of the action plan, he explains, is that it brings cohesion between conservation goals and cultural beliefs and traditions.

Further information on project 24-021 led by Rainforest Alliance in the Ivory Coast can be found here. To read the full article from this project and others that were featured in our ‘Tradition, Culture and Conservation’ edition of the Darwin Newsletter, please click here.


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Tradition, culture and conservation: Respecting forests and equality

In the first blog of the series we heard about the cultural and traditional importance of birds in the Yala Swamp and how local guides have improved their livelihoods through spreading the importance of conservation.

In this blog post we explore how gender equality is being introduced and encouraged within the community-based forest management in Tanzania through a Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh led project.

Community forests in Tanzania: can they contribute to gender equaity?

Kilwa Masoko is located approximately five hours directly south on the main road from Dar es Salaam. Approximately an hour away, you turn east and begin a gradual descent to the Indian Ocean. The scent of the sea hangs heavy in the air and the road becomes dotted with the occasional flag, each one raised indicating a catch for sale. Kilwa Masoko is the home of the non-governmental organisation, Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative (MCDI) which was established in 2004 to promote forest conservation through community-based forest management.

The organisation’s name is indicative of its origin; the mpingo (Dalbergia melanoxylon) or African blackwood is native to this region and is one of the most valuable timbers in the world. Its wood is prized for the creation of woodwind instruments but has been severely depleted due to unsustainable extraction, which sparked the establishment of the MCDI. Although mpingo is a species of particular interest to MCDI’s work, the southern part of Tanzania also houses a significant portion of the country’s forest and woodland ecosystems, the majority of which are located on village lands. Furthermore, it is one of the most sparsely populated and economically-poor areas. These characteristics combine to create an area ripe for the conservation and development initiatives promoted by the MCDI.

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Local woman and her children, Credit – Lasima Nzao

Community-based forest management (CBFM) had been present in the country prior to the MCDI’s formation, driven in large part by external donors, but embedded and strongly supported by the Tanzanian government. The foundation of CBFM was born in central Tanzania near Iringa where areas that had been heavily deforested were legally-transferred to community-management through the Forest Act No. 14. In contrast, the CBFM areas formed in partnership with MCDI have been more selectively degraded whilst retaining the potential to generate revenue for communities if managed sustainably.

The Darwin Initiative RESPeCT project (realising equitable, sustainable and profitable community-based forestry in Tanzania), was launched in May 2018 and showcases a collaborative research effort between the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, MCDI, and Allegheny College. The main project focus is on the provision of empirical evidence of the socio-ecological contributions that CBFM makes to the communities in which they are formed. Prior research has indicated the importance of differentiating people’s experience of CBFM. Men and women differ in their use of natural resources with growing evidence that greater gender equity in the management of a natural resource can lead to better conservation outcomes.

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Local woman preparing food, Credit – Lasima Nzao

The RESPeCT project has been tracking gender issues and assessing the potential role that CBFM plays in attaining a more equitable playing field. In particular, we utilise a quasi-experimental design and have matched ten selected villages where CBFM is present with non-CBFM sites using relevant socio-demographic and environmental characteristics. Our preliminary results suggest that women are faring less well than men regardless of the type of governance – that is, CBFM has no effect. Women were shown to have significantly lower levels of hope and felt less confident than men in making decisions that impact their lives (agency). Women have been better represented in local government since the 35% female constituency was mandated in 1982, but the change has been slow and representation does not necessarily correlate with participation. What appears clear is that if CBFM is to contribute to gender equity, there must be an explicit incorporation of these objectives into its implementation and management practices.

More information on project 25-019 led by Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) can be found here. The full article for this project and others can be found in the Darwin Newsletter: Tradition, Culture & Conservation here.