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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Life Below Water – Conserving Marine Areas

This is the second in our series of Darwin blogs celebrating the remarkable and innovative ways Darwin projects contribute to Sustainable Development Goal 14 – “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”. Our last blog explored two projects in the Western Pacific’s Coral Triangle, working to minimise unsustainable shark fishing and implementing collaborative community schemes to better manage seagrass beds.

This blog looks at projects working to establish marine protected areas. With the first project, we travel to Belize and look at a protected area in the heart of the Mesoamerican Reef. From the Caribbean Sea we then move to the South Atlantic to learn about the Ascension Island Ocean Sanctuary Project and their plans to establish the largest marine reserve in the Atlantic.

Conservation and socioeconomic benefits of a marine protected area at Glover’s Atoll, Belize

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are now common, and have evoked considerable public interest. They have become one of the more popular tools within an ecosystem-based management approach because they are able to balance environmental health and biodiversity conservation with the socio-economic needs of fishing communities across the world’s oceans.

Areas within MPAs where all extractive use is prohibited are traditionally referred to as ‘no-take areas’. However in Belize the term ‘replenishment zone’ (RZ) has recently been adopted in place of ‘no-take zone’. ‘Replenishment zone’ has a less negative connotation for resource users concerned about being restricted from fishing in traditional waters.

Belize 22-014 Spiny lobster is the most important fishery and the largest seafood export for Belize, Credit - Alex Tewfik

Spiny lobster is the most important fishery and the largest seafood export for Belize, Credit – Alex Tewfik

This Darwin project, led by the WCS Belize Programme, works with fishers in Belize to ensure the long-term sustainability of the fisheries they rely on, particularly queen conch and Caribbean spiny lobster. The cooperation of local fishers is crucial, and so their perception of the role of these protected areas is pivotal to project success. Interventions are focused on the Glover’s Reef Atoll which has an area of 350 km2 and lies approximately 42 km east of the central Belizean mainland. This atoll is 1 of 7 protected areas that comprise the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

A study carried out through the project demonstrates the positive impact of protection within the RZ. Importantly they also identify the benefits of RZs for small scale fisher livelihoods. The benefits observed following the establishment and enforcement of the RZ at Glover’s Atoll have been supported by a broader set of fisheries conservation strategies, such as size limits, closed seasons, and species bans. The sustainability of this approach will be assured by continuing long-term community consultations that support the core objectives for the management of GRMR, enhancing economic benefits for Belizean fishers.

The results of this research (published in Marine Ecology Progress Series) will also be used to inform the ever-evolving conservation and management strategies employed by WCS across Belize. Ultimately the aim is to achieve a balance between biodiversity and ecosystem services protection, including fisheries and tourism-based livelihoods. Doing so will help to secure the future of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Belize Barrier Reef System, and will generate findings with broader applicability across the Mesoamerican Reef.

Belize 22-014 A free diver searches for Queen Conch within Glover's atoll lagoon ,Credit - Alex Tewfik cropped

A free diver searches for Queen Conch within Glover’s Atoll lagoon, Credit – Alex Tewfik

The Ascension Island Ocean Sanctuary: Planning for the Atlantic’s largest marine reserve

Although many people would struggle to find it on a map, the remote UK Overseas Territory of Ascension Island is on the verge of entering the ‘big league’ of ocean conservation, joining such notable company as the Great Barrier Reef and the Galapagos Islands as home to one of the world’s largest marine reserves.

The intention to close at least 50% of Ascension’s 440,000 km2 exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to all forms of commercial fishing by 2019 was formally announced by the UK Government at the UN Our Oceans summit in September 2016 and will establish the largest fully no-take MPA in the Atlantic Ocean. Providing the scientific and technical data to support these decisions is currently the focus of a Darwin Plus project led by the Ascension Island Government Conservation & Fisheries Department and the University of Exeter.

The Ascension Island Ocean Sanctuary (ASIOS) Project aims to address many of the challenges and controversies common to all remote, large-scale MPAs: How can it be enforced? How effectively will it conserve the highly mobile species of the open ocean? How do we measure its success? The project is also responding to the mandate of local and UK Government stakeholders to assess whether an economically-viable and well-managed fishery can coexist with a future MPA in a portion of the EEZ, and, if so, which areas should be protected.

Galapagos DPLUS063 Aggregation of Galapagos sharks, Credit - Ascension Island Government Conservation and Fisheries Dept

A Galapagos shark being released after fitting acoustic tag, Credit – British Antarctic Survey

Oceanic islands and seamounts are known to be hotspots of abundance and diversity for pelagic species and are obvious focal points for the creation of marine reserves. In order to better understand the scale of their ‘bio-aggregating’ effect, the ASIOS project team surveyed the biodiversity of three previously unstudied seamounts lying 260-320 km to the south and west of Ascension. To determine how large an area needs protecting, the expedition set out to measure how the abundance and diversity of marine life at all levels of the food chain varies with distance from each mount, as well as mapping the movements of individual top predators associated with them. These datasets will hopefully provide a rare insight into the “biodiversity footprint” of a tropical seamount system that can contribute to MPA planning on Ascension and beyond.

With less than two years until designation there is still much to be done; however, with the support of Darwin Plus, the European Union’s BEST 2.0 initiative and other donors, the Ascension Island Ocean Sanctuary promises to put the Territory firmly on the map as a global leader in MPA science and management.

For the complete articles on these projects, and a variety of other interesting updates from Darwin coastal and marine projects, see the latest Darwin Newsletter themed on “Life Below Water”. For more information on WCS’s project in Belize see here, and for more information on the Ascension Island MPA see here.

Our next blog will look at the International Year of the Reef.

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New Darwin Projects – Round 22 – Part 1

The results of the 22nd round of Darwin Initiative funding has just been announced, and we are happy to introduce this year’s 34 new Darwin Main projects 1 Fellowship and 6 Scoping Awards.

Yet again, Darwin is funding a fascinating range of projects, each of which uses different but integrated approaches in order to address both poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation. This is something Darwin projects excel at, as highlighted in a recent information note – “Understanding Poverty and Biodiversity Links”. Below, and over the next couple of blogs, I will explore just a small number of new projects and the different approaches they plan to use.

Alternative livelihoods and micro-finance schemes

23-015Guinea pigs as guinea pigs, reducing bushmeat hunting while improving communities wellbeing” is a new Wildlife Conservation Society project, which will work near the Kahuzi-Biega National Park (KBNP) in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Although one of the most biodiversity rich protected areas in Africa, and home to iconic and highly threatened species such as Grauer’s gorilla – a species endemic to mountainous forests in eastern DRC – bushmeat hunting around KBNP is a very serious threat to park’s wildlife.

Grauer's gorilla, KBNP DRC Joe McKenna creative commons 2.0 licence

Grauer’s gorilla, KBNP DRC, Credit – Joe McKenna via https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Regional insecurity and historical war mean that rural communities in DRC do not have sufficient access to agricultural or livestock production, leading to often severe cases of malnutrition. Bushmeat hunting often provides a much-needed source of protein. This project’s goal is to reduce the pressures of bushmeat hunting whilst simultaneously increasing the quality of the rural poor living near KBNP.

It aims to do this by working with community members to raise awareness of biodiversity values, and provide access to micro-credit schemes and training in cavy, or guinea pig, husbandry. Although not perhaps to the appetite of the British public, cavy husbandry is an ideal livelihood option for poor households in this area as it has low start-up and upkeep costs, and guinea pigs can provide much need protein in deficient diets, as well as attracting high market prices. In doing so, this project aims to directly impact 600 poor households in rural DRC.

Vente de cobaye au marché de Mugogo 2

Grauer’s gorilla, KBNP DRC, Credit – Joe McKenna via https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Tackling illegal wildlife trade and trafficking

A previous Darwin blog touched on the important differences between legal and illegal wildlife trade, and highlighted that as well as being a criminal industry worth billions of pounds, illegal wildlife trade also damages local communities and undermines sustainable development and the security of local communities.

A new ZSL project 23-001Strengthening Cameroon’s capacity to monitor and reduce illegal wildlife trafficking” aims to address Cameroon’s status as an IWT hub. The country currently acts as both a source of illegally poached wildlife as well as a transit route for trafficked wildlife from Central African Republic, Congo and Gabon. Project interventions intend to monitor trade routes, improve site-based protection and increase enforcement capacity using an integrated approach. As a result, enforcement agencies will be better able to apply wildlife laws and increase protection of species such as the black-bellied, white-bellied and giant pangolins. In addition the project hopes to help Cameroon meet its international commitments and empower communities by strengthening ownership of their natural resources.


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Photographs and development – ethics of using images #Devpix

 

Using images to promote our work

The Darwin Initiative commonly uses photos provided by our projects to help promote the programme and its objectives. I am a keen photographer and have regularly contributed photos from my travels to Darwin publications. In fact I was very happy to get the front cover of the recent publication on SDGs and Darwin – I took this image while in the field in Kenya evaluating 2 Darwin projects.

Kenya 20-017 Mkwiro BMU 10 Credit L King.JPG

Girl carrying water in Mkwiro, Kenya 2015. Credit L King

Some of our projects are prolific in sharing photos and as a result have featured heavily in Darwin publications. It seems that as a general rule, if you share good images with the Darwin Initiative your project gets better coverage.

Great photos tell a story

Working in Monitoring and Evaluation I’ve found photographs to be a really powerful tool when portraying the results of projects. Pictures really can tell a thousand words. However pictures can also manipulate the story being told.

TalkingonTV_Myanmar_2012_PBates

Reaching a wide audience – talking on TV in Myanmar, 2012. Photo Credit: P Bates

When we ask for images from our projects we also ask that they send in a description of the photo and credits for who took the photo. In the past this was largely shots of biodiversity or project staff at work.

However, as Darwin increasingly engages in issues of poverty the types of images we receive has expanded into classic development photographs. With this move into development photography, Darwin (and by extension our Darwin projects) have an obligation to ensure the stories we tell with our images and publications are dealing ethically with the people featured.

 

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Beija man and his children – Dungonab MPA. Credit T Chekchak

Ethics of photos

Helpfully ODI hosted a Twitter chat some months ago to explore how development organisations can improve the way they use photography. It has the hashtag #Devpix if you are interested and the discussion has been helpfully curated here on Storify

This sparked a healthy debate about the pros and cons of development photos and the messages we are telling the world. From the images of helpless babies of the Liveaid era to the increasingly used ‘good news’ images of latter years showing the positive effect development work has had on people.

Comoros-17-011-Comoros Participatory analysis-Credit Kitty Brayne

Women engaging in participatory analysis in Comoros, Credit K Brayne

Helpfully the debate also resulted in participants suggesting what should be the do’s and don’ts of development photography. This included various organisations offering up their ethics statements on image use. Do’s and don’ts included:

  • Choose images and related messages based on values of respect, equality, solidarity and justice
  • Truthfully represent any image or depicted situation both in its immediate and wider context so as to improve public understanding of the realities and complexities of development
  • Avoid images and messages that potentially stereotype, sensationalise, or discriminate against people, situations or places
  • Get permission to use people’s images (or their parent/guardian)
  • Establish whether they wish to be named or identified and always act accordingly
  • Conform to the highest standards in relation to human rights and the protection of vulnerable people
  • Record their name and story as well as their image
  • Record people’s consent in the photos metadata
  • Be clear and transparent about your role and your sphere of influence in the world
  • Show tangible results. This will help avert ‘compassion fatigue’
  • Give context – explain as thoroughly as possible the underlying causes of the problems
  • Inspire people – make both your target group and audience co-owners of the solution
  • Give credit where credit is due. Success usually comes from a team effort and is rarely ascribed to one organisation
  • Communicate with dignity i.e. do not exploit the suffering of people for your own gain

Every Darwin project is expected to have developed an ethics statement – how many have also included how they use images and photos of their projects ethically? Do any of the do’s and don’ts listed above feature? Are there any that are specific to biodiversity conservation projects that are missing and should be added?

We’d love to hear about your experiences of using photographs in your Darwin projects and your thoughts on the ethics of photography in conservation and development.


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Darwin Projects in Kyrgyzstan 2

By Simon Mercer

In my last blog post I was brimming with anticipation as I prepared to head out to Kyrgyzstan to undertake a Closed Project Evaluation (CPE) of two Darwin projects. I promised to report back on my experience and on the key lessons highlighted through the evaluation, so here goes…

The first project I visited, Equitable Access to Pasture Use for Beekeepers in Kyrgyz Republic, was a two year project that finished in 2014, led by Bees for Development in conjunction with two local partners – Rural Development Fund (RDF), and the Northern Republican Association of the Beekeepers of the Kyrgyz Republic. The project aimed to help beekeepers create viable and sustainable livelihoods by improving access and use rights to contested pastures, leading to poverty alleviation, conflict mitigation, and contributing to biodiversity maintenance.

Credit - Rural Development Fund

Migratory Beekeepers (Credit – Rural Development Fund)

So what do we actually do on these evaluations?

Well for this project the evaluation kicked off in Bishkek, the capital, with meetings with the key local partner, RDF. Interviews were then held with all relevant government and national level stakeholders, before heading out to the Chon-Kemin valley to meet local project beneficiaries. A wide range of local stakeholders were then consulted, from government officials to representatives of key local institutions. Focus groups with pasture users and grant beneficiaries were also held to help gauge project impacts. Participatory ranking exercises formed a key part of these discussions and helped to uncover the relative importance of project outcomes in the eyes of its main beneficiaries.

For the second project I reviewed the work also started in Bishkek. This was a two year Post Project, ‘Participatory Management and Sustainable Use of Walnut-fruit Forests in Kyrgyzstan,’ designed to consolidate and advance the legacy of an earlier Darwin project. The project was led by Fauna and Flora International, in partnership with NGO Bioresurs, the Juniper Forest Development Foundation (JFDF), and FFI Kyrgyzstan. It aimed to take forward practical collaborative actions identified in the precursor project, to deliver conservation, promote sustainable use, diversify and develop sustainable livelihoods, and contribute to poverty reduction.

Credit - Jenny Birch

Walnut Forest (Credit – Jenny Birch)

Having spoken to key stakeholders based in Bishkek I took a short flight over the mountains to Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second city and home to the largest statue of Lenin I have ever seen! From there we travelled to Kyzyl-Unkur and then on to Kara Alma, to conduct semi-structured interviews with project beneficiaries who had used seed funding to establish small businesses. The interviews drew on a series of open ended questions designed to ensure that beneficiaries felt at ease and were able to express their thoughts about the project in their own words. A really diverse range of initiatives had been funded across the two project sites, ranging from fence making, to bakeries, to beekeeping.

Overall both projects were found to have had positive impacts on biodiversity and poverty reduction.

A particular highlight of the Bees project was its sustainability. The project established a small grants fund to ensure that local beneficiaries were able to pass on the benefits from this intervention. For example, original participants committed to pass on bee families and hives, to the value of 70% of their original loan, to new beneficiaries who signed up to be part of the fund. In doing so this new institution intends to ensure that the biodiversity and poverty benefits of the project will continue to be rolled out in the Chon-Kemin valley.

In the second project, micro grants were also provided to beneficiaries at the two project sites with interesting results. Since the completion of the Darwin project, the 11 jamaats (community-based organisations founded to implement the project’s livelihoods initiatives) visited had gone from strength to strength. All were still operating successfully with a wide range of biodiversity benefits highlighted by those I met, including reduced demand for wood sourced from the surrounding forests, and the creation of a number of fast growing woodlots. Poverty benefits, particularly relating to increased income, were also identified; some beneficiaries had even gone on to employ additional staff and begun to diversify their income streams.

A number of important lessons of relevance to both projects were identified through this CPE. The evaluation highlighted, for example, the importance of projects ensuring that they have a strong monitoring and evaluation framework in place from the outset. Where this is the case projects are not only better able to monitor and improve performance, they are more easily able to gather the data they need to be able to demonstrate their successes.

The assistance and engagement provided by the project partners in Kyrgyzstan during this evaluation trip was very much appreciated and was central to the success of this fieldwork. CPEs are designed to capture lessons learnt through project implementation that are of relevance to, and can be shared with, the wider Darwin community. More detailed results of this evaluation will be published in the coming months on the Darwin Initiative website. In the meantime keep a look out for a learning note that will be produced capturing the key lessons learnt from this evaluation.

Credit - L Birchenough-FFI

Credit – L Birchenough-FFI


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What I’ve learnt about the relationship between poverty and biodiversity, part 2…..

Part 1 in this series highlighted the importance of ecosystem differences. In part 2 I discuss some of my recent thoughts on the use of income as an indicator of poverty alleviation…

On 21st October we held an experts meeting in conjunction with Flora and Fauna International and International Institute for Environment and Development about what constitutes good evidence in the context of conservation and poverty alleviation projects. Part of the discussions focussed on how evidence fits within broader project monitoring and evaluation (M&E). Since I’ve been working on the Darwin Initiative we’ve had lots of discussions about strengthening project M&E, so the workshop provided lots of food for thought.

A recent Darwin Initiative briefing paper highlights that indicators are an essential component of any effective M&E system; they provide information to monitor performance, measure achievement and demonstrate accountability. For the Darwin Initiative, indicators are part of the framework for collecting evidence to show how projects have contributed towards poverty and biodiversity.

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Kenya 20-011 Shortages of water means people travelling far distances to fetch water Credit J Bett

Kenya 20-011 Aweer community women representatives prioritizing livelihood options. Credit Nickson Orwa

Kenya 20-011 Aweer community women representatives prioritizing  livelihood options. Credit Nickson Orwa

On the poverty side of things, projects tend to select income as an indicator of poverty alleviation. The thematic review has revealed 2 issues that are worth considering:

  • Increasing household income is difficult to achieve within 3 years (average timeframe of a Darwin Initiative project). It can also be difficult (or expensive) to measure. Also, income may increase but the household is still living in poverty. Linked to this, income does not capture wider wellbeing benefits which are often more tangible in 3 years. For example a recent evaluation in Kenya revealed that one of the benefits the beneficiaries of a project thought were most important was empowerment in particular recognising people’s access rights and supporting people to manage resources. This demonstrates that income is not always an appropriate or relevant indicator for projects to use.
  • Increasing household income may increase environmental degradation and/or have unintended social consequences. Case studies have shown that raising incomes can increase pressure on natural resources, for example if people use income to buy and graze more livestock. At the same time, household income may not benefit all members of the household, if for example it is spent on alcohol or gambling. In such circumstances additional consumption indicators may be needed to monitor how household income is being spent. Participatory methods can provide a useful way to understand how household distribution of income and monitor changes over time.

So when designing projects and selecting indicators, here’s a couple of questions that may be worth thinking about:

Diagram for learning blog_031115

Do you are have any experiences trying to measure income, wellbeing or assets that you can share?

What do you think are good indicators?

Do you have any examples of good indicators?

We’d be keen to hear from you, so let us know what you think.


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Reblog: Your Snow Leopards are Killing our Goats

 “Since you started working here, we’ve lost more livestock than ever. There are too many snow leopards. We don’t need livestock vaccination, we just need you and the cats to go away!”

By Matt Fiechter, Communications Specialist, Snow Leopard Trust

I’m stunned. Speechless. This conversation was supposed to be about how conservationists and herders in northern Pakistan could work together to protect snow leopards, and how that would help everyone. Instead, I’m suddenly forced to defend the cats, myself, and everything we do, as an angry herder levels a series of accusations against me. They’re harsh and relentless, and I’m not sure they’re completely off base.

Kyrgyzstan 22-004 Darwin-Workshop-Ali Credit Snow Leopard Trust

Thankfully, I’m not alone. Dr. Ali Nawaz, the director of the Snow Leopard Foundation Pakistan, comes to my rescue, responding to the herder respectfully, but powerfully. He shares sincere sorrow at the losses of the herders. But then he asks questions. “How many livestock did you lose? Are you sure they were taken by snow leopards? How many animals died from diseases in the same time span?”

Other villagers present at the meeting speak up, admitting that livestock losses may not necessarily have grown from previous years. One herder says he lost a dozen goats to disease last winter, and wants to know more about the vaccination program we mentioned. An elder apologizes for his hotheaded neighbor’s hostility, and asks some critical questions of his own. Slowly, the conversation takes on a more positive, constructive tone. We seem to be making some progress.

Then, the exercise is over. ‘Villagers’ put their conservationist hats back on, and I breathe a sigh of relief that this was only a role-playing session. Time to analyze what happened.

“Community Engagement for Snow Leopard Conservation”, the title of the workshop I’m participating in, sounded slightly abstract two days ago. Now, thanks to a role-playing session on negotiations that allowed me to assume the role of a field conservationist for half an hour, it has become very real and tangible.

Field teams from Kyrgyzstan, India, and Pakistan have come together for this workshop in Kyrgyzstan’s Ala-Archa National Park to discuss best practices, experiences and principles of how to engage with communities that share snow leopard habitat in order to protect the endangered cat.

Kyrgyzstan 22-004 Darwin-Workshop-Ali-Wali-Yasmeen-Charu Credit Snow Leopard Trust

The PARTNERS Principles – Our Approach to Community-Based Conservation

A Darwin Initiative grant has provided this opportunity to get the teams together. The workshop is based on the PARTNERS Principles, an acronym that describes the Snow Leopard Trust’s approach to community based conservation:

  • Presence of the conservationist in the community,
  • Aptness of conservation interventions,
  • Respect for local people,
  • Transparency in interactions,
  • Negotiation,
  • Empathy,
  • Responsiveness,
  • Strategic support.

Social scientist Juliette Young and ecologist Stephen Redpath have worked with Charu Mishra, SLT’s Science and Conservation Director, to design the workshop.

Kyrgyzstan 22-004 Partners Principles Credit Snow Leopard Trust

I’m here to learn from them, and to give inputs on how we can do a better job of communicating about this challenging work with supporters, donors, and friends – on how to bring the stories from the roof of the world into homes across the planet.

I work with the team on the principles of storytelling, on characters, plot, narrative arc, and on theory of change. I show them examples from the likes of Humans of New York or charity:water to demonstrate the powerful impact of great storytelling for a cause.

Kyrgyzstan 22-004 flyingcat Credit Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation Snow Leopard Trust,

Later, as my colleagues from Pakistan, India, and Kyrgyzstan share the stories they’ve experienced in their work, I can sense how they’re trying to employ those principles, and I feel a certain sense of pride that I imagine every teacher knows very well.

However, when we reenact some of those stories in the role-playing session, I’m very much the student, and I’m in way over my head. Looks like I’ve quite a way to go before I could be a successful field conservationist.

I know that many of the people who live in snow leopard habitat are herders, depending on livestock for their livelihoods. I’m aware that to them, the carnivorous cat can be a source of trouble, rather than a valuable species worth saving.

One of the keys of our approach is to partner with these communities and find solutions to conflicts between their interests and those of conservation.

Offsetting losses through livestock insurance schemes is one approach that has worked in many areas.Vaccinating livestock has been a successful strategy as well, particularly in regions where herders were losing more animals to disease than to predation. Generating alternative sources of income, e.g. through selling handicrafts under the Snow Leopard Enterprises label, is another well-received idea.

In all those programs, partner communities agree to protect snow leopards and wild prey species in their area from hunting or retaliation killings, while we provide the means and training to improve their livelihoods.

From a distance, these programs seem like easy win-wins.

What I wasn’t fully aware of – but learned the hard way in the exercise on ’negotiating with communities’ – is howthings can be a lot more complicated than they seem.

Kyrgyzstan 22-004 Darwin-Workshop-Hussain Credit Snow Leopard Trust“I’ve been received by some communities like a dear friend, while others met me with outright hostility”, explains Hussain Ali, a senior research associate in our Pakistan program, and the man who, a few minutes ago, so convincingly mimed the angry herder in our role-play session. “I was trying to be relatively nice to you”, he says with a smile.

As a researcher, Hussain often spends several weeks ‘embedded’ in a community – eating, praying, and talking with the locals. “Over time, a mutual trust usually develops” he says, “but in the beginning, it can be tough!”

Marginalized Communities Bear the Brunt of Conservation

“We shouldn’t be surprised by those challenges. Many of these rural communities are marginalized economically and politically, and at the same time, they bear the brunt of conservation”, explains Dr. Charu Mishra, who leads the Community Engagement workshop. “It’s up to us as conservationists to find ways to build relationships and share the costs of protecting wildlife with these people.”

The workshop was designed to help field teams cope with these challenges, develop their confidence in community engagements, and build strong, mutually beneficial partnerships with the communities they work with.

“Like every human relationship, community partnerships require empathy, respect, honesty and a lot of time,” Charu says.

There are no set rules to engaging with communities, and each village, each family, each person, is different. But in the PARTNERS document that Charu has developed from the collective experience of our field teams, eight shared principles and best practices are provided that can guide a field conservationist’s work with rural communities:

“For instance, it’s crucial for our work to not only understand the ecological challenges, but also the cultural context of a community. Even as natural scientists, we can’t lose sight of social phenomena; religion, social structures and so on. They can greatly influence attitudes towards wildlife.”

Later, Khurshid Ali Shah, who heads the Snow Leopard Foundation Pakistan’s office in Chitral, will tell a story that’ll perfectly underline Charu’s point.

Kyrgyzstan 22-04 Darwin-Workshop-Khurshid-Yasmeen Credit Snow Leopard Trust

“Once I spent a week in a remote village, trying to get the community’s support for conservation. One day, a highly respected local Muslim religious leader asked me why I was trying to protect snow leopards. He felt that the predator was causing too much damage to the community and should be gotten rid of. I explained to him that I understood my job as that of a guardian of God’s creation, and that I was perhaps sent here because God’s creations were not safe in the area. I told him that I believed we had no right to remove this cat from the world God had given us, and that I felt it was our duty to preserve it. He fell silent, reflected on what I had said, then shook my hand and told me I had his support.”

Being Immersed in Communities

“This story is more than a nice anecdote”, Charu Mishra says. “It shows how important it is to think of cultural contexts. This religious leader would not have been convinced by an economic argument, for instance. But he was open to a spiritual one”

Beyond that, Charu says, the example also demonstrates why it’s crucial to be present in partner communities: “Khurshid had spent several days in this community, eating, sleeping, praying with the people. He earned their trust with his sustained presence, his empathy, and respectful interactions. An outsider, someone who had just arrived the same morning, would perhaps not have been able to win the religious leader’s support.”

Later that day, I suddenly realize why Khurshid’s story impressed me so much.

It perfectly follows all the principles of storytelling that I’ve rambled on about a few days before. It has two memorable characters that find themselves in a situation of conflict, and it has a resolution that’s poetic and powerful. Just the kind of stuff I look for as a communications officer. The next time I hold a training on storytelling, I won’t have to think very hard about a great example.

________________________________

The workshop on community engagement was supported by a grant from the Darwin Initiative. Whitley Fund for Nature has been a long-term supporter of our community-based conservation programs, and the Acacia Conservation Fund provided support for the development of the PARTNERS document. Our Kyrgyzstan team hosted the workshop, and we are especially thankful to Kubanych Jumabay, our Program Director and Cholpon Abasova.

You can read more about this project and its other blog posts here 


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What I’ve learnt about the relationship between poverty and biodiversity….

Part of my job working on the thematic review has been looking at what we can learn from the Darwin Initiative about the relationships between poverty and biodiversity. This has involved reviewing a lot of project documents and reports, talking to project leaders and collecting evidence through focus group discussions in Kenya. At the moment, we are still making sense of all of the data and writing up the final outputs of this thematic review. Whilst this is all being finalised, there are some lessons that I wanted to share. I don’t think they are necessarily ground-breaking, but can be easily forgotten when trying to design projects that address the dual objectives of biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation. My plan is to write about one lesson at a time, so this is the first instalment.

Sudan 21-019 Sharks&Rays8

Sudanese fisherman Credit Equipe Cousteau

When conducting research we often look for trends or lessons that can be scaled up or generalised across different contexts. Such pursuit can generate valuable insights into the poverty and biodiversity, but at the same time the quest for generalizable trends and lessons must not cloud the lessons we can learn from identifying differences.

…..Differences are important

One of the key success factors in the Kenya projects that we visited as part of the recent evaluation was the speed at which fish stocks were recovering once community-managed closed fishing areas had been implemented. In around 6 months, local fishing communities were noticing differences in both the number of fish, the size of fish, and the diversity of fish species. This observation was also supported by ecological surveys carried out by projects, with support from members of the local communities trained to conduct low-cost ecological surveys.

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Fishing in Rodrigues Credit Uni of Newcastle

Uganda 19-013 the edge of Bwindi Impenetable National Park surrounded by farming land of the local communities. Credit Mariel Harrison

Edge of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Protected area, Uganda Credit M Harrison

Yet, one of the reoccurring challenges raised by organisations involved in forest projects is that it takes a long time to see or measure changes in biodiversity, even if restricted forest access has been introduced. Forest projects also describe how the time and technical expertise needed to measure changes is often beyond the scope of a 3 year project.

Contrasting these two examples shows how ecosystem characteristics and dynamics influence the rate at which an ecosystem can recover and therefore what kinds of changes a project can expect to see.

Identifying these differences is not to say that we can’t learn lessons. In fact, I think that there’s a high potential for learning. One option could be to better target events, workshops, newsletters, and learning notes on particular ecosystems and then facilitate a dialogue to identify any reoccurring lessons across ecosystems.

It may seem obvious to point out that the characteristics of marine and forest ecosystems are distinctly different. But this can be overlooked when designing projects and setting ambitious targets when the competition for funding is high. However, projects should be realistic about the types of change they can expect to see and carefully select ecosystem-appropriate indicators in order to capture such change.

This is the first in a series of blogs about lesson-learning, so follow the blog to be notified about the next instalment.

In the meantime send me your thoughts and experiences too – jami-dixon@ltsi.co.uk

PNG-15-041-community-Credit  J. Sawyer (2)

Community dancing in Papua New Guinea Credit J Sawyer