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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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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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


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Illegal vs legal wildlife trade: UK Government launches Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund

KEN07 - lion - Darwin 13-019

The last 2 weeks has seen a lot of coverage of Cecil the Lion’s demise in Zimbabwe. Conservation and hunting have had an uneasy relationship for decades though perhaps what some of the recent uproar may tell us is that the general public were largely unaware of this relationship. . We’re not going to rehash the argument for and against here but here is a good article from Professor David Macdonald, ex-Chair of the Darwin Expert Committee whose tag was on Cecil the Lion.

David has led numerous Darwin projects over the years including this project in Zimbabwe which was looking at offtake levels of Leopards to support the development of a National Leopard Management Strategy. For more details of David’s projects see the Darwin website.

Tanzania-11-007-cheetahs-Credit S.Durant (3)

One issue that was regularly being confused by commentators in the last 2 weeks was the confusion between legal and illegal wildlife trade. Not all wildlife trade is illegal – wild plants and animals from tens of thousands of species are caught and harvested from the wild then sold legitimately as pets, food, ornaments, leather, medicines etc. Legal trade is determined by CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, with parties responsible for controlling all imports, exports and introduction from the sea of species covered by the Convention. This can range from the pretty fish in your aquarium to the leather on your shoes.

Illegal wildlife trade, often discussed as poaching, operates entirely outside of these legal channels. Classic examples are the poaching of elephant tusks for the ivory trade, or the trade in tiger bones for traditional medicine. The bad news is that unlike big game hunting, illegal wildlife trade is pervasive in our society – sometimes even in plain sight as highlighted by recent articles highlighting the volume of ivory that is traded by Ebay.

Kenya-13-019-Bull elephant Darwin-Credit N Leader-Williams

As well as the devastating consequences for biodiversity and the environment, illegal wildlife trade is a serious criminal industry worth billions of pounds, which damages local communities and undermines sustainable development. There is evidence that illegal wildlife trafficking is funding organised crime including terrorism. In 2014, the UN and Interpol released a report that suggested that illegal wildlife trade worth up to $213 billion dollars a year is funding organised crime.

Also in 2014 the UK Government hosted the London Conference which brought together global leaders to discuss and agree ways to help eradicate illegal wildlife trade and better protect key species from the threat of extinction. Progress on these commitments was reviewed at a follow-up Conference in Kasane, Botswana in March 2015.

32 countries plus the EU and 9 international organisations met, and agreed the Kasane Statement. The Statement contains 15 new commitments to action on demand reduction, the legal framework for tackling money laundering linked to the illegal wildlife trade, tougher law enforcement, and involving communities in protecting their wildlife resources.

Recognising the impact illegal wildlife trade has, the UK Government launched the Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) Challenge Fund in 2014. This has funded 19 projects around the world, with total funding in the region of £5 million.

Cambodia-EIDPO030-Credit IIED (3)

Given the importance of the subject the UK government has once again announced it will be providing up to £5 million in funding to projects looking to tackle illegal wildlife trade through the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund. The Fund is open to applications until 12th October.

For more information on what the fund can support see the details here. Some of the funded projects can be viewed here as well.


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Gender equality and biodiversity

Gender and biodiversity have strong connections, especially when it comes to biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. Gender equity is shaped by social, cultural and natural environments and these realms are all relevant when considering biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction.

Depending on cultural values, and local laws, men and women can have very diverse contributions to biodiversity conservation. Men and women play different roles in communities and therefore often have different sets of knowledge and understanding. They use this knowledge in different ways and have differing levels of access to natural resources.  For example women often have few, or no, land ownership rights. This can impinge upon their access to natural resources on which they depend to feed their families. Yet, through their continued interaction with local biodiversity, women are aware of the delicate intricacies of ecosystems and are often the first to notice if there are any negative changes to local biodiversity.

Uganda-19-019-Dingolo, a Mutwa elder, shows the group a medicinal herb from the forest-Credit FFI_P Wairagala

Uganda-19-019-Dingolo, a Mutwa elder, shows the group a medicinal herb from the forest-Credit FFI_P Wairagala

Since the introduction of the International Development (Gender) Act in May 2014 including gender considerations has become compulsory for all Darwin projects.

Incorporating a gender perspective in project design is important as it widens the aspects of poverty alleviation that can be addressed by the project. Doing so helps to shed light on broader understandings of poverty alleviation including human wellbeing, an important indicator of poverty alleviation but one that is often disregarded in favour of economic indicators, which can be more simply measured.  However, improving gender equity has direct impact on human wellbeing and can heighten the impact of a project considerably.

As women are predominantly involved in the informal sector- much of this being taking care of families- they are well placed to know what really improves wellbeing and how to best demonstrate this.  Therefore, women can often be the best agents of sustainable development practices. A good example of this comes from the women of the Boni-Dodori area of Kenya (Project 20-011 ‘Community-based conservation and livelihoods development within Kenya’s Boni-Dodori forest ecosystem’). This project demonstrated that women are more likely to adapt to new technologies and initiatives such as village savings and loan schemes as they are more aware of their practical use and benefits they can provide.

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Kenya 20-011 Shortages of water means people (predominantly women) travelling long distances to fetch water Credit J Bett.

Darwin project 19-017 ‘Building capacity for participatory ecosystem-based marine conservation in Central America’ also highlights the vital role of women to wellbeing and food security at the household level. In this project women were found to have a clear role focused on fishing, and the processing and selling of fish. Yet, as is commonly the case, they have often been overlooked in local participatory governance and management structures for marine resources.

Including women in decision making can lead to more informed project design, which leads to improved management of natural resources that promote biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation. An example of this is Project 19-005: ‘Underpinning the design and management of Cambodia’s first Marine Protected Area’. Here including women in decision making revealed previously unreported roles of women, such as gleaning for molluscs to meet household food security requirements. Knowledge of this is now being used to inform zoning regulations and design livelihood enhancement support, which will help ensure the positive impact of the project on the local community and biodiversity.

By giving women a voice and including them in decision making- whether that be at a project level or higher- will improve a project’s design and its wider impact by making sure it is working appropriately in the local context. It will also help to maximise the benefits for both the local community and the environment. For more information on how Darwin projects are addressing gender issues, check out the latest edition of the Darwin newsletter.

Woman engaging in participatory impact assessment, evaluating change as a result of the project activities. Credit L Birchenough-FFI

Woman engaging in participatory impact assessment, evaluating change as a result of the project activities.

Credit L Birchenough-FFI


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Field based monitoring and evaluation – what we do and why?

I was in Kenya last week undertaking some field evaluation work for the Darwin Initiative. This blog post is intended to shed some light on what we do during these field trips, what the value is (and to whom) and how we use the material we produce.

The Darwin Initiative has an overarching M&E framework which includes all the standard things such as a Theory of Change and Programme Logframe. In essence what this boils down to is a set of objectives, indicators and assumptions for the programme. Our job, as the M&E contractor is to measure the collective progress of Darwin funded projects against these objectives and test assumptions.

This sounds straightforward until you consider the diversity of projects funded under the Darwin Initiative – both in subject matter and in geography. Each project is collecting and presenting evidence in a myriad of different forms and somehow we need to make sense of it all. Here I’ll talk through what the fieldwork element of our work focuses on.

It serves a number of purposes depending on whether the projects evaluated are ongoing or closed. For ongoing projects the purpose for field evaluation includes:

  • the verification of results
  • obtaining an independent perspective on the projects
  • troubleshooting and supporting projects to reorient themselves

For closed projects fieldwork is more centred around the full Darwin programme than the individual project. The purpose of these activities includes:

  • analysis of evidence to meet a specific programme objective i.e. gender or traditional knowledge etc.
  • an attempt to understand what the legacy is of Darwin funding i.e. what happened next
  • an attempt to understand the collective impact of multiple projects

Myanmar_ecotourism_field_training_2014_PBates

We tend to restrict fieldwork to 2 distinct periods – halfway through a project (a Mid Term Review) and after a project has finished (a Closed Project Evaluation).

Most of the time we have 5-7 days with each project depending on logistics. For all projects visited we are driven by what the project has defined as being their measures of success i.e. the project Application Form. This includes the logframe, workplans, methods, team composition etc. We additionally have a Terms of Reference that defines what questions we are looking to answer through the fieldwork. This week my terms of reference centres around 3 questions:

  • What biodiversity benefits has the project achieved?
  • What has the contribution of the project been to poverty alleviation? Poverty should be considered in the context of the MDG’s.
  • What factors have governed the project organisation’s capacity to collect appropriate evidence?

 

Collecting evidence during fieldwork in Uganda, 2013. Photo credit: M Wieland

Collecting evidence during fieldwork in Uganda, 2013. Photo credit: M Wieland

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The methods we use are partially dictated by the types of evidence available from the projects. In most cases however we will also use semi-structured key informant interviews with the project implementers, key stakeholders and beneficiaries of the projects.

We may also undertake focus group sessions that may use methods such as participatory ranking, participatory pairwise ranking, and Most Significant Change.

For most ongoing projects we generally conduct a Theory of Change session at some point during the evaluation. This is a useful tool for an evaluator to better understand what the project team consider success to look like, what assumptions this success hinges on, what measures might be available to better understand this success and who the various actors are that influence this success. As well as being useful for the evaluator, this is often a useful exercise for the project team to undergo as it allows them to reflect on their progress and what tasks they must undertake in order to best achieve success. I will talk more about Theory of Change and its uses in a subsequent blog post.

The final outputs of this field evaluation is of course a report. This report is shared with Defra and DFID for approval before being published on the Darwin Initiative website. You can see some examples here.

We also develop a shorter learning note which is intended to draw out lessons for the wider Darwin community, which you can also see here.

This is rarely the end point of these reviews since they often result in recommendations for both the projects and the programme. We may therefore use this material to refine our systems and processes within the Darwin Initiative to better ensure impact such as the refining the application forms. Additionally we use this material to help improve understanding within the wider Darwin Initiative community, through a variety of forums including this blog!

I hope this blog post is helpful in understanding what the purpose of these field evaluation visits are. We have at least 2 Mid Term Reviews to conduct later this year and a Closed Project Evaluation in September, hopefully in Kyrgyzstan, so watch this space!


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Integrating biodiversity and poverty alleviation: insights from the Darwin Initiative

Today (22nd May) is International Day for Biological Diversity 2015. This year’s theme, ‘Biodiversity for Sustainable Development’, reflects a broader shift in thinking about biodiversity (the variety of life on earth) and human development as interconnected issues.

Myanmar 19-001 Mangrove planting 1_Jeremy Holden_FFI

Historically, such issues have often been tackled separately, leading to trade-offs between economic, social, and environmental concerns. But the world’s poor, particularly in rural areas, depend on biological resources for many of their basic needs, including clean water, food, fuel, medicine, shelter and transportation. Sometimes efforts to conserve biodiversity have excluded and displaced local communities, denying them access to land and other resources, and therefore undermining poverty reduction efforts. These kinds of examples justify the need for thinking about the links between poverty and biodiversity.

Reducing poverty (often defined as a lack of well-being) isn’t just about providing a source of income, but also includes issues such as health, governance, gender and strengthening people’s capacity to act. Efforts to conserve biodiversity are increasingly tackling such issues too, for example by building capacity through education and training, changing governance structures, and developing financing mechanisms to ensure the equitable distribution of biodiversity costs and benefits.
I’m currently grappling with the complexities of these inter linkages in a review of the Darwin Initiative that I’m leading on. More specifically, we’re looking at how this UK-funded grants scheme has contributed to biodiversity and poverty alleviation.

The Darwin Initiative is a practical example of a programme trying to support both biodiversity and sustainable development. Launched in 1992 to align with the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Darwin Initiative was solely funded by Defra (the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs) until 2010. It is now jointly funded by Defra, the Department for International Development, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with poverty alleviation as an explicit objective. So what progress has been made?

Cameroon 20-007Hunters

Measuring impact is very high on funders’ agendas at the moment. Partly because it was included in the Research Excellence Framework (2014), which recently assessed the quality of research in UK higher education institutions. But more importantly for development, it provides a way of understanding the difference international aid makes to people’s lives and helps to ensure the best results possible are obtained from the money spent.

However, achieving and measuring impacts on biodiversity and poverty alleviation within the average project timeframe of three years is challenging. That said, one of the questions that keeps coming up is, yes, poverty and biodiversity are interconnected, but is addressing them simultaneously the most effective approach?

At this stage, the evidence from the Darwin Initiative review isn’t finalised, making it difficult to directly quantify and measure ‘what works’. However, it is clear that Darwin Initiative projects use a range of different approaches to contribute to biodiversity and poverty. Some focus on poverty reduction as a means to promote biodiversity, such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ work in and around the Gola rainforest in Sierra Leone. While others focus on biodiversity benefits for poverty reduction, for example Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s project on organic pesticides in Mali. Increasingly projects are integrating approaches to achieve dual objectives, for example, one project in Uganda has demonstrated that building capacity for local communities to conserve forest resources can have biodiversity benefits and local economic and social benefits both in the short and longer term.

Unfortunately it’s not clear which approaches are effective and under what conditions, and the wider literature also offers little evidence; highlighting that we’ve got lots more to learn.

There is an argument that issues of poverty and biodiversity should be tackled separately as they require different approaches and areas of expertise. However, this tends to result in significant trade-offs, with environmental concerns marginalised or excluded. Some feel the best approach is to be aware of these potential trade-offs and find compromises so that the process of achieving multiple objectives can be transparent and balanced.

It’s also important not to discount the potential for synergies in addressing both issues simultaneously. The Darwin Initiative is funding a number of projects exploring the potential for these ‘win-wins’ (for example ZSL’s work with communities on livelihoods and coastal protection in the Philippines and Mozambique). Harnessing the potential for these ’win-win’ situations is both a challenge and opportunity for achieving sustainable development.

The results of the Darwin Initiative review will be coming out in the next few months and will hopefully provide insights into how we can measure the linkages between biodiversity and poverty, and provide examples of when it has been possible to achieve benefits to both.

Uganda 19-019 Ann8.1- Batwa Cultural values assessment; ITFC staff and UOBDU site coordinator conducting research with Batwa in the forest

Read the original blog on UKCDS here