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 power of community

Welcome to the third instalment of the “Collaborations in Conservation” series. This blog post features a project in the Moroccan High Atlas that through collaboration with Dar Taliba boarding school has created a community garden. The once vacant school garden is now teaming with life and encourages younger community members to get involved and improve their knowledge of local plants.

If you would like to read the full “Collaborations in Conservation” series, follow these links for the first and second blog posts.

Co-creating an ethnobotanical school garden for Amazigh girls in the High Atlas, Morocco

The landscapes of the Moroccan High Atlas have been shaped by the close relationship between humans and the environment over the course of millennia. They are maintained by contemporary cultural practices that support a regional biodiversity hotspot and ensure ecological resilience. Through this project the Darwin Initiative co-funds Global Diversity Foundation’s High Atlas Cultural Landscapes Programme, which seeks to strengthen these traditional practices while enhancing sustainable land-based economies and wellbeing.

Foundational to this programme is our focus on capacity-building, particularly for the younger generation. One of our core training grounds is the ethnobotanical school garden at Dar Taliba, an all-girls boarding house in the Ourika Valley which was set up to enable students from remote villages to continue their education beyond primary school. What started out as a modest school garden has grown into a multifunctional garden and outdoor training space for students to develop new skills and knowledge in plant conservation, plant uses, permaculture techniques, beekeeping and indigenous practices. The garden also provides organic herbs, fruits and vegetables, which are used to prepare school meals for the 142 girls currently in residence – at least 15 of whom are able to attend Dar Taliba thanks to the funding from Darwin Initiative.

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Dar Taliba students watering newly planted seeds in greenhouse, Credit – Pommelien da Silva Cosme

Today’s success of the Dar Taliba school garden is the result of strong partnerships built during the co-creation of this green space, including collaboration with the students who were actively involved throughout its construction process. In 2016, the Moroccan Biodiversity and Livelihoods Association (MBLA), a local non-profit that implements integrated in-situ and ex-situ conservation measures through community-based research, provided invaluable input in identifying the first steps of reviving the old school garden.

We have also been long-time partners of the Association de Bienfaisance pour le Développement du Bassin de l’Ourika (ABDBO), the Moroccan association dedicated to rural girls’ education that established the Dar Taliba boarding house in 1998. Together, we elaborated a strategy for the creation of the garden with the direct involvement of the students. We then began working with a team of local permaculture design specialists, Radiant Design, who created a multifunctional garden using permaculture principles. The garden now includes a plant nursery, green house, ethnobotanical garden, vegetable garden, aromatic and medicinal plant garden and a recreational space for students to study.

Morocco 24-010 Students in garden during a planting session, Credit - Fabien Tournan

Students in school garden during a planting session, Credit – Fabien Tournan

In 2017, all of our partners’ hard work and joint efforts were rewarded when the Dar Taliba students started to spend a lot of their time in the garden. We continued to work with MBLA and Radiant Design, using the space to deliver weekly permaculture trainings. Since then, the students have been learning more about indigenous plant botany and sustainable agriculture techniques while practicing new skills such as seed saving, making organic fertiliser and composting. Through these capacity building activities, the girls are rediscovering their local cultural heritage related to plants and actively engaging in local biodiversity conservation efforts. They also have begun engaging in their traditional knowledge and practices when they return home to their communities, setting the stage for the long-term sustainability of our programme.

More information on the Global Diversity Foundation project 24-010 in the Moroccan High Atlas can be found by clicking here. The full article for this project and many others have been featured in the February 2019 Darwin Initiative newsletter that can be found here.

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Collaborations in Conservation: Combining Science, Education and Art

Our latest Darwin Initiative blog series highlights the importance of collaboration between project organisations and local communities, Governments and NGOs. We feature projects which have benefited from strong relationships between project partners and stakeholders, and who work together to achieve their goals.

This first blog post shares the success of a project working to protect the Manumea (Didunculus strigirostris) in Samoa. The project leader teamed up with a local school teacher and artist and through the combination of science, art and education they published a children’s book to raise awareness and promote the conservation of Samoa’s national bird.

Can a story save the little dodo?

The Manumea or the little dodo is the last of its kind, found nowhere else in the world apart from Samoa. The national bird of Samoa is seen by locals and visitors to the Pacific nation every day on the 50 sene coin and $20 tala note, yet it is a rare sight in its natural forest habitat. The Manumea is often referred to as the ‘princess of the forest’ and is one of the rarest birds in the world. It is considered as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Research funded through this Darwin project has allowed scientists and researchers from the Samoan Government Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and local conservation NGOs to undertake research to determine the reasoning behind the disappearance of this symbolic bird.

Unfortunately, the results from this critical study were not as wide reaching as was originally anticipated and the scientific publication did not attract many readers. The complex jargon and lengthy nature of the publication meant that the information was not easily shared with a wide audience – a solution was needed.

Project leader Dr. Rebecca Stirnemann summed up the dilemma – “To prevent the species’ decline, the science needed to be in the hearts of everyone”. Because the aim of the study was to prevent a further decline in species numbers, the results needed to accessible to everyone and in a format that was suitable for both adults and children in the community.

Samoa 21-001 Miss Samoa 2018 reading to school children, Credit - Jane Vaafanga

Miss Samoa 2018 reading ‘Mose and the Manumea’ to a group of local school children, Credit – Jane Va’afusuaga

Aiming to create awareness around the decline of Samoa’s national bird, as well as increase literacy among Samoan children and adults, the two authors – Rebecca Stirnemann and Jane Va’afusuaga – joined forces to write “Mose and the Manumea”. Prior to the publication of the book, the authors contemplated making a poster or a brochure but decided to write a children’s book that would be available in both Samoan and English.

Mose and the Manumea

The cover and illustrations for ‘Mose and the Manumea’ were done by artist Christina Brady and represent the colours and beauty of Samoa, Credit – Christina Brady.

It was important to the authors that the beauty and colours of the Pacific Island were accurately represented in the story and artist Christina Brady was recruited to the team as the illustrator. As a team they combined science, education and art and through dedication and teamwork were able to publish “Mose and the Manumea”.

The creation of the book is the true definition of collaboration. Author Jane is a school teacher and even the children in Samoa helped. In order to make a book that children would love the authors made several visits to local schools and had 8-10 year olds critique the text and help shape the book. The book is complete and has been published by Little Island Press and is a prime example of the success that can occur through collaboration. The book will fund active conservation on the ground to save the iconic species.

“Mose and the Manumea” is available on Amazon and all royalties are donated to the conservation of the Manumea by the authors.

For more information on project 21-001 lead by the Australian National University please click here. This article is featured in the February 2019 edition of the Darwin Initiative Newsletter, you can read the full newsletter here.


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Darwin for Climate Action – improving watershed management from Morocco to Bolivia

In the second of our climate resilience themed blog posts (read out first one here!), we take a look at the different watershed management approaches used by projects to address both climate change adaptation and mitigation. First, we visit Morocco for an introduction to the adaptation work undertaken by the Global Diversity Foundation’s plant conservation programme in the Atlas Mountains. We then travel half way around the world to see the Natural Bolivia Foundation’s watershed project and the impact it is having on livelihoods, deforestation and climate resilience in the Chaco.

Conserving threatened plant species to support community adaptation and resilience to climate change in the High Atlas

The Mediterranean ecosystem of the High Atlas in southern Morocco is home to significant plant biodiversity – including endemic, endangered and economically important species – that has been sustained for millennia by Indigenous Amazigh communities. However, High Atlas cultural landscapes are under increasing threat from interrelated socio-ecological problems that include overharvesting of endemic useful plants, intensive grazing, inadequate water management and the erosion of cultural practices of conservation and sustainable land use management. The effects of climate change, heightened in fragile montane ecosystems, are compounding the impact of all these factors.

Morocco 24-010 Irrigated thyme, Credit Global Diversity Foundation

Irrigated Thyme, Credit: Global Diversity Foundation

In April 2017, Global Diversity Foundation began implementing a three-year Darwin Initiative project. One of the ways the project is seeking to improve the resilience and adaptation of local communities to climate change is by building and restoring water management infrastructure to provide more efficient irrigation of large tracts of agricultural land and community nurseries in partner communities. This contributes to climate change adaptation in partner communities whilst also ensuring that precious water resources are used wisely and can therefore continue to sustain the broader ecosystems within which these agricultural terraces are embedded. To support this work, the project team collaborate with diverse partners to provide training courses for local communities and associations on cultivating drought resilient crops and using water economically to improve resilience to climate change and increasingly arid conditions.

As part of this programme, the Global Diversity Foundation are establishing community seed banks to secure improved availability of locally adapted plant species, and carrying out research on the impact of climate change on the High Atlas flora to identify potential new climate change refugia for target endangered or endemic plant species. The results of this research will inform our ongoing conservation actions in the High Atlas. All of these activities enrich partnerships with Amazigh people, who continually assess the impacts of climate change on their cultural landscapes and devise further strategies to lessen its effects on their socio-ecological wellbeing.

If you want to find out more about this project, visit their project page here.

Watershared: adaptation, mitigation, watershed protection and economic development in the Bolivian Chaco

Bolivia’s Gran Chaco encompasses swamps, salt flats, scrublands, and the largest virgin dry forest on earth. Although the region offers high soil fertility, it receives minimal rainfall. Most of the economic activity in Chaco requires water, so there is an urgent need to increase water efficiency and, most importantly, ensure that the water arrives in the lowlands in the first place.

Upper watershed farmers in the Chaco often have no economic alternative other than to deforest their land for agriculture. Forests are destroyed and cows enter streambeds to drink, forage, urinate and defecate. The subsistence agriculture of upper watershed farmers is unproductive, while downstream water sources are contaminated. Children miss school with diarrhoea as a result of contaminated water, and waterholes dry up.

Bolivia 21-008 Compensation in the Chaco, Credit - Natura Bolivia

Compensation in the Chaco, Credit: Natura Bolivia

Reciprocal watershed agreements – otherwise known as Watershared agreements – are simple, grassroots versions of incentive-based conservation. They help upper watershed forest and land managers to sustainably manage their forest and water resources to benefit both themselves and downstream water users. Watershared agreements focus on changing behaviour through economic and non-economic incentives and building institutional capacity: in other words, by showing local authorities and water users that watershed protection is in their own interests, and then facilitate the creation of the institutional framework needed to plan and implement it.

The Watershared model was first developed in 2003, in the Bolivian village of Los Negros. Six downstream irrigators negotiated a ground-breaking deal with their upstream counterparts. “For every 10 hectares [ha] of forest you conserve for a year,” Andrés Rojas told Serafín Carrasco, “we will give you a beehive and training in how to produce honey.” And so the first reciprocal watershed agreement was struck. The Reciprocal Watershed Agreements Darwin Project helped another six municipal governments create and consolidate Local Water Funds. These funds were designed to catalyse local investment in the upstream “Water Factories” of the Chaco and thereby simultaneously:

  1.  Mitigate climate change (conserve old growth forests);
  2.  Adapt to climate change (maintain water sources);
  3. Increase food security (maintain quantity of irrigation water and diversify upstream production systems); and
  4. Improve human health (enhance water quality).
Bolivia 21-008 Handing out conservation incentives, Credit - Natura Bolivia

Handing out conservation incentives, Credit: Natura Bolivia

Most importantly, by having water users and municipal governments pay for the conservation activities, the project developed the institutional framework for sustainable financing of climate change mitigation and adaptation activities. In addition to the 96,510ha that the project conserved under Reciprocal Watershared Agreements, there was a high demand from local authorities for the creation of new municipal protected areas. The project used Darwin Initiative funds, along with counterpart support, to help create three new municipal protected areas. The creation of these areas protected another 500,000 ha of the Chaco’s forests.

If you want to find out more about this project, visit their project page here. To read more articles about how Darwin projects are working towards improving climate resilience in developing countries worldwide, see our special edition of the newsletter from November 2017.


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Darwin for Climate Action – Mainstreaming biodiversity conservation at Yayu Biosphere Reserve

In honour of the 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties (CoP23) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that was held in Bonn in November 2017, the Darwin Initiative blog will be running a series highlighting a few of our most innovative and interesting climate change focused projects.

The first entry in this series looks at the climate resilience and biodiversity project in the Yayu Biosphere Reserve in Ethiopia. This project, led by Dr Aaron Davis of RBG Kew, took an approach to climate resilience which focused on empowering the communities living near the reserve. The Yayu team believed that improving the income and livelihoods of local coffee farmers would limit forest loss through land conversion and empower the farmers to put more climate resilient practices in place – and evidence to date suggests they have been successful. The project has had a number of positive impacts over its three-year lifespan, and is due to end in just a few months. Below is an extract from the article the project team submitted to the Darwin Newsletter to explain more about those successes and the methods used to achieve them.

Yayu Reserve in Ethiopia covers 167,000 hectares and is one of the most important storehouses of wild genetic resources for Arabica coffee. Given that these forests are suitable for wild coffee, it may come as no surprise that coffee farming occurs within the forests of the buffer zone and transition areas of the reserve, generating up to 70% of the cash income for over 90% of the local population.

Despite the popularity of Ethiopian coffee, most coffee farmers at Yayu are struggling to make sufficient income. This drives forest loss through land use conversion, leading to a reduction in biodiversity, deterioration of ecosystem services, and a narrowing of income diversity. In the longer term, coffee farming at Yayu has been identified as climatically sensitive and thus low coffee prices are also problematic, because farmers have a reduced capacity to adapt to increasing climate variability and change.

The overarching model of the project is to increase the income for the farmers who grow, harvest and process the coffee at Yayu, via improving coffee quality and providing sustainable access to market. One of the ways the project is working towards this is by training farmers in coffee harvesting and processing techniques, as well as installing the appropriate equipment, to improve the quality of coffee they produce.  If the value of the forest-based coffee production improves, this will serve to preserve the forest at Yayu. In turn, this brings benefits for coffee production, from the ecological services (including pollinator services) provided by the forest. With improved coffee prices, farmers also have the potential to invest in coffee-farming, including adaptation to climate change.

Ethiopia 22-006, Graciano Cruz, a coffee farmer from Panama, advises on drying bed construction, Credit - Emily Garthwaite.jpg

Graciano Cruz (HiuCoffee) a coffee farmer from Panama advises on drying bed construction, essential equipment for producing high quality coffee, Credit: Emily Garthwaite

Early on in the project it became evident that farmers knew how to improve climate resilience, but there was simply not enough value in their coffee crop to pay for it. This project has supported the Yayu cooperatives by providing them with what they need to improve their coffee quality and making direct links to the markets where they can sell it.

As a direct result of the project, more than 130,000 kg of high quality project coffee has been purchased from the five Yayu cooperatives, tripling the income from coffee for several hundred households across the community.

Ethiopia 22-006 - Yayu coffee sold in Waitrose 1 Credit - Union Hand-Roasted Coffee

Yayu Forest Coffee – which has tasting notes of citrus fruit and bourbon biscuits – is now on sale in Waitrose in the UK, with 25p from each packet sold going directly back to the project, Credit: Union Hand-Roasted Coffee

With improved and stable prices it is now possible to put climate resilience experiments into practice. If farmers invest in climate adaptation measures (such as soil mulching, pruning, and better shade management) what will this mean in terms of improved resilience, coffee productivity, quality and income? Following this, farmers will be in a much better position to quantify the precise value of climate adaptation measures and target their limited resources more effectively.

If you want to find out more about this project, visit their project page here. To read more articles about how Darwin projects are working towards improving climate resilience in developing countries worldwide, see our special edition of the newsletter from November 2017.


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Darwin Initiative’s 25th Anniversary celebrated on Jersey stamps!

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!

In celebration of this anniversary, and celebrating the legacies of famous naturalists Gerald Durrell and Charles Darwin, six stamps and a miniature wooden sheet, illustrated by artist Sara Menon, were issued by Jersey Post on Wednesday 14 June. The animals and birds that feature on the stamps are subjects of conservation projects undertaken by the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust with support from the Darwin Initiative over the past quarter century. Featured on the stamps are: Livingstone’s fruit bat, Telfair’s skink, the mountain chicken, Hispaniolan solenodon, the pygmy hog and the mangrove finch. As the symbol of the Darwin initiative, the finch is the subject of our latest blog looking at the extraordinary work done by the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, with the Darwin Initiative’s support, to protect the species.

Durrell & Darwin_Mint Set
Six stamps, illustrated by Sara Menon, celebrating 25 years of Darwin, Credit: Jersey Post

In 2005, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust was invited by Galápagos Conservation Trust to look at the apparently catastrophic decline of the critically endangered mangrove finch in Galápagos, Ecuador. This endemic finch, one of Darwin’s finches and the rarest bird in the archipelago, was once found at several mangroves on the coasts of Isabela and eastern Fernandina. Since limited to two small mangrove patches on Isabela, the exact reasons for its decline were unclear. Durrell, in partnership with the Charles Darwin Foundation and Galápagos National Park, began identifying the causes of decline and establishing strategies for restoring the species while developing a much better understanding of the finch’s ecology across two Darwin supported projects.

Fundamental to the success of these projects was the identification of dedicated and experienced key personnel with the ability to work in challenging field sites, as Galápagos can be both beautiful and very hostile. Field manager Birgit Fessl had already studied the finch before taking on this role, advisor Hernan Vargas knew the bird intimately and team member Segundo Goanna had worked with Hernan at the field sites before joining Birgit’s team. This team, with support from Francesca Cunninghame who headed up the second project, and the overall project partners, can be credited with the success of these projects.

15-005 Mangrove Finch Cactospiza heliobates Galapagos 2008 Photo by Michael Dvorak (37)

Mangrove Finch, Cactospiza heliobates, on the Galápagos, Credit: Michael Dvorak

And the finch? Things move fast in conservation. The team quickly learnt that the mangrove finch is not only a specialist of mangrove, a rare habitat in Galápagos anyway, but that it only likes one specific type of mangrove, where uplifted beaches prevent the tides from removing leaf litter and where crabs are not present. The team found that invasive rats were suppressing the finch; their removal from the mangroves brought about immediate signs of recovery. This, however, threw up new problems. Where previously rats would limit the number of hatching chicks, their removal allowed invasive parasitic flies to inhibit chick survival, presenting further challenges for the finch’s protection.

The mangrove finch is still very rare and only survives through ongoing support of the Darwin projects’ partnership long after the original projects were completed. All of the key personnel from the projects remain committed to the finch’s survival – removing the chicks from their nests, hand-rearing where the flies can’t get to them and returning them safely to the mangroves. The Darwin Initiative has allowed Durrell to develop an extraordinary international partnership and team that remains committed to this remarkable bird and to ensure survival of the Darwin logo!

Many thanks for Glyn Young from Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust for his contribution to this blog. For more articles celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Darwin Initiative, please see our newsletter

Do you have a project that has been supported by the Darwin Initiative? How has the fund helped you over the last 25 years? Be sure to tweet us @Darwin_Defra, and use the #Darwin25 hashtag to celebrate this special milestone! And feel free to get in touch at darwin-newsletter@ltsi.co.uk

 


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

by Lesley King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Learning from Monitoring and Evaluation, Darwin Initiative projects in Nepal

by Simon Mercer

In our 1st blog post of 2017 Vicki gave a great account of all of the monitoring activities that keep us busy throughout the year here at LTS. With ever increasing scrutiny of the effectiveness of UK aid spending, the importance of effectively monitoring projects has never been greater. The Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL) component of the Darwin Initiative and IWT Challenge Fund programme, led by LTS International, uses a range of tools and approaches (outlined in Vicki’s article) to support projects to gather the data they need to demonstrate their impact. At the same time these activities give us the chance to identify and capture lessons on project implementation and design that can be shared across the Darwin community to foster learning.

Towards the end of 2016 I flew out to Nepal to visit two Darwin-funded projects, one based in Kathmandu led by BirdLife International, and the other by Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve in the Far West of the country, led by the Zoological Society of London. These projects were selected for Mid Term Review (MTR) based on a range of criteria, including the potential for lesson learning, the scope for M&E support, and the organisations involved. Geographical focus was also a really important consideration, as it is vital that we are able to visit more than one project at a time during these visits. This helps to keep costs down and maximises value for money.

In technical terms, MTRs are formative evaluations that follow a rigorous evaluation framework based on the DAC criteria for evaluating development assistance, focused on project effectiveness, impact and sustainability. In practice, these visits are used to assess project progress against its logframe objectives. In addition they provide an important opportunity for us to provide technical support and assistance where needed, and to engage with project teams to influence project implementation. Importantly these visits also offer a great opportunity for lesson learning.

For those of you who are interested in finding out more detail about these recent visits, the full MTR reports will soon be available on the Darwin Website. These reports will provide a detailed technical account of the MTRs including data collection methods, key findings, and recommendations. For those of you who can’t wait for these to be published a selection of key lessons is presented below.

1 – Clear logframes with SMART indicators are vital for demonstrating project progress. This was a clear lesson that emerged from both projects visited, in slightly different ways. The project in Suklaphanta was using its logframe and robust monitoring and evaluation systems to effectively track progress, making sure the project remained on course and adaptive to changing circumstances. This enabled the team to accurately report project progress. The logframe for the BirdLife project was less clear; over the years we have found that the selection of appropriate indicators is a common challenge facing Darwin projects with a strong policy component. These weaknesses in the logframe had led to reporting challenges that suggested that the project may be struggling. The MTR gave an opportunity for some focused logframe and theory of change support. The project was also able to demonstrate that progress to date has been good, the challenge created by the weak logframe was in clearly reporting and communicating this progress.

2 – Engaging partners in project formulation and design brings real benefits. With its focus at the policy level, success for the BirdLife project is dependent on the strength of interaction with Government of Nepal partners. Any risks associated with this have been significantly reduced by involving key government stakeholders right from the start. Whilst the focus of the ZSL project is very different, it has demonstrated similar benefits as a result of early engagement. Partner interactions at the national park level are working well, with different stakeholder groups working efficiently towards a single shared goal.

3 – Darwin projects can achieve more than originally planned. Interacting with other Darwin and non-Darwin projects working on similar issues can enable projects to make savings, leverage additional funding, and broaden their impact. For the BirdLife project, this was evident in the selection of project sites to complement ongoing work by Bird Conservation Nepal, the local BirdLife partner. This has allowed field level activities to get up and running quickly, whilst making sure some of the associated costs can be covered.

For the ZSL project, shared meetings with key local stakeholders including other conservation organisations and donors is allowing knowledge to be effectively shared, new funding sources explored, and impact to be extended to new sites, beyond the original scope of the project.

DSC_0512.jpg

Members of women’s cooperative, ZSL Suklaphanta project, Credit: Simon Mercer

A key personal lesson from this latest batch of MTRs is that even in its 25th year, Darwin continues to carry out vital conservation work in the most challenging of contexts, and remains at the cutting edge of conservation thinking. This blog can only provide a snapshot of the achievements and key lessons coming out of the current batch of Darwin projects – remember to keep an eye on the Darwin website for the reports of these and other MTRs.

When you think that there are well over 100 current Main Darwin Projects, and almost 1,000 have been funded since the scheme began, the achievements of the Darwin Initiative are truly staggering. Monitoring and evaluation remains the key tool for projects to demonstrate and provide evidence of these achievements more widely.