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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Collaborations in Conservation: The value of a promise

Welcome to the fourth and final instalment of the Darwin Initiative “Collaborations in Conservation” blog series. The project featured in this blog post is working with communities in the Dja Faunal Reserve, Cameroon to reduce the occurrence of illegal hunting. This article highlights that strong partnerships can only be established through a secure foundation of trust and mutual understanding between local communities and NGOs.

To read the full series please follow the links for the first, second and third blog posts.

Managing expectations in development and conservation

Ask anyone who has been working in international development or wildlife conservation in the past thirty years what the main challenges of working with the rural poor are, and the chances are that they would list “managing expectations” in their top three.

With the introduction of integrated conservation and development projects, participatory processes and trying to find ‘win-wins’ for people and wildlife has come the recognition that if people are being asked to modify their working practices, then they should receive some sort of benefit. What the benefits actually are, the amount of time they take, and the value of the benefit are areas where often there is a difference in perception between the ‘donor’ and the ‘beneficiaries’ and the direction they are heading.

Cameroon 24-005 Manfred Epanda introducing format to villagers, Credit - FCTV

Manfred Epanda from AWF presenting the format of the signing of reciprocal environment agreements to Ekom villagers, Credit – FCTV

This can often be the case when well-resourced NGOs interact with people living in poverty and aim to change situations based on principles of ‘doing the right thing’. All very admirable, but in order to change, people need options, and incentives. It can’t just be stick and no carrot.

The situation gets worse if expectations of the benefits are not met. In our experience, engaging with a community that has been a ‘partner’ in interventions where local communities felt ‘let down’ or promised more than what was actually delivered, is a far harder task than working with people who have no previous interactions with well-meaning NGOs.

One model that we increasingly rely on is based on working under some sort of agreement. We can call them ‘Conservation Partnerships’ or ‘Reciprocal Environmental Agreements’ the idea being – that if we’re asking for change, we need to pay. The payment is rarely monetary based, but from the very beginning of the project we are clear about what we want to see happen and what the benefits will be if people engage. Working under written agreements is part of the process because it helps to deliver clarity, responsibility, and commitment to action – from both the donor and the beneficiary.

Cameroon 24-005 Alternative protein source support signed for, Credit - FCTV

Reciprocal environment agreements were signing for alternative protein source support (effective fishing and cocoa production) Credit – FCTV

The people living in the northern buffer zone of the Dja Faunal Reserve (DFR) have had many years’ experience of working with Government agencies and NGOs, all looking to stop illegal hunting. Almost all of these interactions have been around conflict. Yes, it’s true that people have been breaking the law; it’s illegal to hunt anything in the DFR, or set snares, or take out trees. But when options are limited, law enforcement is weak or corrupt, and there are no incentives other than punishment if caught, it isn’t a surprise that tensions and conflict are a part of the daily struggle for survival.

After 16 months of discussions with the villagers that live alongside the DFR, agreements were signed that committed both sides of the party to various obligations. One of the very first things we had to do in order to show that we were genuine in our understanding of their circumstances was to deliver benefit. In return for agreeing to shift from hunting, we have taught them how to grow cocoa and market it so that they can earn an income. We have given them new fishing materials and taught them about water safety so that they can obtain more animal protein from fish, rather than just bushmeat. We know this will not completely solve the problem of illegal hunting, but it’s a start based on a clear understanding of what each party expects from one another.

For more information on project 24-005 led by Royal Zoological Society Antwerp in the Dja Faunal Reserve please click here. The full article for this project and many others have been features in the February 2019 Darwin Initiative newsletter that can be found here.

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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.