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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International Day of Biodiversity – Community Engagement

2018 marks the 25th Anniversary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, signed into force less than a matter of months after the announcement of the Darwin Initiative. With such close creations, it is unsurprising that the CBD has helped shape the nature of Darwin Initiative projects over the past 25 years, embodying core biodiversity values and objectives that the Darwin Initiative seeks to achieve. The latest edition of the Darwin Newsletter, released on the International Day for Biological Diversity, is a celebration of this Anniversary, exploring how current projects are trying to meet CBD objectives 25 years later.

The core objectives of the CBD are: the conservation of biological diversity; the sustainable use of biodiversity components; and the fair and equitable use of any benefits arising from the use of biodiversity resources. In this series of blogs, we will be looking at projects which exemplify these objectives. In our first blog, we will be looking at two projects in Africa focused on conservation of biological diversity through community engagement and collaborative efforts. Our second blog will focus on sustainable usage of biodiversity components, visiting a sustainable hunting project in Cameroon and a water management project in Kenya’s Tana River Delta. Finally, our third blog of the series will look at the award-winning benefit sharing programme in Myanmar supported by the Darwin Initiative.

Community conservation of wild Arabica coffee – people and the Convention on Biological Diversity

Arabica coffee is found growing wild only in Ethiopia, and an adjoining area of South Sudan. Hence it is a genetic resource for which Ethiopia is responsible under the Convention on Biological Diversity. One of the last remaining major blocks of natural forests, in the south-west of the country, is one area where this wild coffee is found.

With support from the Darwin Initiative, the University of Huddersfield and Ethio Wetlands and Natural Resources Association undertook an analysis of the causes of forest loss. From this analysis, the Wild Coffee Conservation by Participatory Forest Management (PFM) project was developed to assist the government in revising the regional forest policy to give communities forest-based rights and responsibilities.

Ethiopia 19-025 Basket of ripe coffee cherries picked off mountain forest plots cleared for coffee cultivation, Credit - Sheko Woreda, SNNPR

Basket of ripe coffee cherries picked off mountain forest plots cleared for coffee cultivation, Credit – Sheko Woreda, SNNPR

PFM was developed at the village communities as they were found to be most knowledgeable about the forest and have strong links to specific areas. At that level, forest management groups were elected to undertake management and monitoring. The communities also established cooperatives to market sustainably harvested forest produce, the income from which helps cover the costs of the monitoring and protection of the forest.

This work has slowed forest loss from 2.6% per year outside the PFM forest to 0.18% per year inside the PFM forest, with over 76,000ha of forest now under PFM. Analysis using the Shannon Diversity Index showed that biodiversity has been maintained within natural forest, which contains the wild coffee stands. The wild coffee is now mapped and included in the community forest management plans which are jointly monitored each year with the government.

By getting forest rights and livelihood benefits for the forest fringe dwelling communities Darwin support has helped turn degraded, “open access” forest into actively managed forests where communities protect a unique global genetic resource – your morning Arabica coffee.

Elephant conservation through community empowerment in Mali

Mali 23-022, Elephants Pans 8x10_1, Credit - Carlton Ward Photography

Elephant migration, Credit – Carlton Ward Photography

An internationally important population, the Mali elephants are remarkable for how they have managed to survive when all others around them have disappeared. They make the longest annual migration of all elephants, picking their way through this harsh environment to find the resources they require, and avoiding human activity as much as possible.

After studying their migration for 3 years it became clear that they were at the limit of their ability to adapt any further. Their migration route needed to be preserved in its entirety, although conflict was rising as human activity was spreading and intensifying throughout the range. As this covered approximately 32,000km (somewhere between the size of Belgium and Switzerland) a landscape approach that involved the local people was essential.

The award-winning Mali Elephant Project has received two grants from the Darwin Initiative, the first of which supported the development of a model of community empowerment in resource management. Its work is to bring all parts of the community together to create a common perception of the problems they face before determining solutions.

The second grant of these grants currently supports the development of women-led initiatives to generate income from practices that encourage the wise use of natural resources in key areas in the elephant range. Working with women is a quietly powerful way of providing strong support, influence, and additional incentives as an alternative to often-destructive, traditionally male-dominated natural resource management structures. The training empowers women to collectively generate additional income enabling them to take an active role in local decisions relating to resource use by promoting the protection of sustainable use zones and regeneration of degraded land.

Mali 23-022, Womens association harvesting medicinale plants, Credit - WILD Foundation

Women’s association harvesting medicinal plants, Credit – WILD Foundation

Empowering local people to prevent outsiders and urban commercial interests from abusive resource extraction is popular and the local benefits of “elephant-centred” resource management have provided the foundation for a successful anti-poaching strategy and the creation of a protected area based on the biosphere reserve model.

For the full version of both these articles, please see the May 2018 edition of the Darwin Newsletter. For more information on the Ethiopia Coffee Participatory Forest Management Project click here. Mali Elephant Project is a joint initiative of the WILD Foundation and the International Conservation Fund of Canada. See https://www.wild.org/mali-elephants/ and http://icfcanada.org/our-projects/projects/mali_elephants . If you are interested in learning more about the Darwin projects click here: 19-010 or 23-022.

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Life Below Water – Darwin in the Coral Triangle

In the February 2018 Darwin Newsletter we explored some of the amazing Darwin supported projects contributing to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 14 – “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”. Darwin projects work towards SDG14 in a range of ways, including improving coastal ecosystem management, combatting overfishing, and expanding scientific understanding of marine species and ecosystems.

The articles below provide an insight into two Darwin projects working in the Western Pacific’s Coral Triangle – one an effort to protect sharks from overfishing, the other a collaborative approach to managing seagrass beds.

Sustainably managing shark fishing for livelihoods and food security in Indonesia

Lying at the heart of the Coral Triangle, Indonesia is a global hotspot for marine biodiversity with high levels of shark richness and endemism. It is also the world’s largest shark fishing nation, with average annual catch exceeding 100,000 tonnes per year.

Shark fisheries have existed in Indonesia for centuries. Fisheries are often small-scale, mixed-species and difficult to monitor due to their informal nature and widespread distribution. High value fins are exported to international markets, while non-fin products including meat and skin are consumed domestically. This million-dollar industry employs thousands of people, from fishers to processors to traders, and holds significant social value as a tradition, culture and ‘safety-net’ source of animal protein.

Indonesia 22-008 Dried fin on Muncar, Java, Credit - Benaya Simeon (WCS-IP2)

Dried fin on Muncar, Java, Credit – Benaya Simeon (WCS-IP2)

Tanjung Luar, a small village in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara province, has drawn attention because of its open shark landings, proximity to high-end tourism resorts, and negative portrayal of local fishers in the international media. More than 6,000 individual sharks and rays across 82 different species are landed in Tanjung Luar each year, by a targeted long-line fishing fleet of roughly 50 vessels. High grade shark fins from some of these species can fetch more than USD $100 per kg for the first buyer. This high price, and a lack of other legal, sustainable alternatives, makes implementing shark conservation in Tanjung Luar extremely challenging.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Indonesia, with financial support from the Darwin Initiative, is seeking to balance the complex trade-offs between shark conservation and socioeconomics through a nuanced, pragmatic, and ethical approach. They support the government and fishing communities to implement fisheries management and marine protected area interventions at the local level. In Tanjung Luar they are helping to identify and incentivise the adoption of more selective and sustainable fishing practices, whilst also reducing barriers to more sustainable livelihoods. They believe that these site based efforts will set an example for shark conservation efforts in other parts of Indonesia, the Coral Triangle and throughout the world.

Collaborating to save seagrass: communities in Timor-Leste embrace a new opportunity for conservation

Monda Costa stands chest deep in the sea. The baking mid-morning sun illuminates the blue water as she peers at a square on the seafloor. Two others from Monda’s home island of Ataúro and a Blue Ventures volunteer assess the same ground.

Where an untrained eye would only see drab plants, the team recognises and records two species of seagrass – Thalassia hemprichii and Syringodium isoetifolium. Their work is part of a community-based monitoring (CBM) programme established by Blue Ventures to involve Ataúro’s residents in collecting baseline data on seagrass beds – a first step in longer-term efforts to empower communities to protect these and other threatened habitats.

Seagrass survey © Blue Ventures Christina Saylor

Ataúro’s community members take part in a seagrass survey, Credit – Christina Saylor, Blue Ventures

Seagrasses are flowering plants that form meadows in shallow waters. These meadows are ecological superstars. They trap carbon and produce oxygen, act as nurseries for young reef fish and provide grazing grounds for crowd-pleasing animals like green turtles and dugongs. Protecting these valuable habitats is a priority in Timor Leste, but scientists, community members and decision makers need more information about the location, composition and use of existing seagrass beds.

In Timor-Leste, the power for change lies within each community. Establishing locally-managed marine areas is a decision made and enforced by villages through the customary law of tara bandu. Informed voices are a critical part of this decision-making.

CBM participants receive training on the ecological role and the economic value of seagrass meadows. They also learn technical skills for conducting surveys – from laying measuring tape on the seafloor to identifying species and sediment types. Training is voluntary, but once they pass certification tests, surveyors are paid for their time.

“I can now tell my community about why seagrass is important for the fish and why it’s good to protect the seagrass beds. Seagrasses provide food for fish, turtles and other animals. And one day more tourists will come and want to see the seagrass and the fish and turtles,” says Monda. “We don’t want people from outside to decide how our resources are used. We need to control and protect our resources.”

Monda and team conducting a survey © Blue Ventures Christina Saylor

Monda and team conducting a survey, Credit – Christina Saylor, Blue Ventures

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 Indonesia’s work on sustainable fishing see here, and to find out more about Monda Costa and the Blue Ventures’ Community Based Monitoring Programme, see here.

Tune in for our upcoming blog posts exploring new marine reserves and protected areas, and to learn all about the International Year of the Reef.


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Community-based nature tourism by the Ayeyarwady River, Myanmar

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

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

Community-based nature tourism by the Ayeyarwady River, Myanmar

Written by project leader Paul Bates of the Harrison Institute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myanmar 21012 18 Myitkangyi tour guides, Credit Paul Bates

Myitkangyi tour guides, Credit – Paul Bates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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