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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Unexpected Achievements: Adaptation and Innovation

This blog series will focus on several Darwin Initiative projects that have thrived in the face of challenges, resulting in a number of unexpected achievements. Some projects were pleasantly surprised when they were able to accomplish more than they set out to do, whereas others soon realised that adapting their approach based on changes on the ground could help them to their changing environments was the best way forward.

The first blog will feature two groups of local people living on the edge of Protected Areas in Cameroon and Uganda, and follow their quest to secure their own livelihoods through the use of innovative approaches. Living next to a National Park may sound idealistic, however it has had several disadvantages for those on the outskirts of the Bwindi National Park, Uganda and the Dja Faunal Reserve, Cameroon. Due to the strict enforcement surrounding land usage and species conservation both villages had to embrace new methods to gain income and ensure food security.

 Life jackets improve livelihoods of communities in Cameroon

The local people living within the buffer zone of the Dja Faunal Reserve in Cameroon have always had livelihoods built on hunting, fishing, and forest clearance for crop-growing that are now no longer possible because of the need to protect the natural spaces and the wildlife the Reserve contains. It is amazing to find just how creative and adaptable human beings can be when faced with such challenges.

This means that these people will be forced to find new sources of protein such as meat or fish and find a new means of paying for this food. People who had never focused on fishing before were now keen to try out the new fishing gear. The creation of a sustainable fishing zone within the nearby Dja River was proposed so that the villagers could continue to catch fish as the numbers doubled and tripled with time.

With no local lifebuoy shop and the average cost of a life jacket being far too overpriced for someone who earns 20,000 cfa (£24) per month the villagers had to get creative.

Cameroon 24-005 Threading nylon rope through the bottles and bag, Credit - PGS, FCTV, TF-RD, AWF

Assembling a life jacket with nylon rope, bottles and a bag, Credit – PGS, FCTV, TF-RD, AWF

Through the support of the Darwin team the villagers were able to come up with an innovative recipe for making a life jacket using bits and pieces of thrown away rubbish, boat rope and a fair degree of trial and error.

Armed now with new gear, training and having created their own safety equipment, many more people in the villages are turning to fishing rather than illegal hunting. The fish can be eaten locally or even taken to market to be sold.

Cameroon 24-005 End result fully cycled life jacket from the 'boucle du nord', Credit - PGS, FCTV, TF-RD, AWF

Modelling the end product – a fully cycled life jacket, Credit – PGS, FCTV, TF-RD, AWF

It’s a big success for the people (and the project) at this stage and wouldn’t have been possible if the villagers hadn’t invented new ways of ensuring safety on the river.

Unexpected achievements whilst boosting local economic development through pro-poor gorilla tourism

In Bwindi National Park, tourists pay $600 for a permit to track gorillas, however the people living on the edges receive little to no benefit. With very few conservation jobs available to local people coupled with low levels of skill development the result has been low quality handicrafts and community-based enterprises that have attracted limited sales amongst tourists. This has strained the relationships between local people, the park authority and tourism providers and poaching, snaring and other forms of illegal resource use are prevalent.

The project over the last two years has been investing in local people’s skills to produce quality tourism products and services that tourists, tour operators and lodge managers want to buy and hence generate viable livelihoods. The project team have worked with 14 small enterprises and trained over 300 local people in basket weaving, guiding, carving, horticulture and apiculture. Through the use of a ‘forest friendly’ badge, sales have gone through the roof.

Uganda 23-023 Tina from Change a Life Bwindi, displaying baskets made by women in her cooperative, Credit - Dilys Roe

Tina from Change a Life Bwindi displaying baskets made by women in her cooperative, Credit – Dilys Roe

The above outcomes were what the project team were hoping to achieve, however there were a couple of surprise outcomes that they hadn’t planned for. The sales from weaving have been so good that the cooperative members were able to equip their homes with solar lights. A commercial honey producer called Golden Bees has opened a new honey shop in the south of the park selling honey produced by former poachers, after having been so impressed with the quality of the product on offer.

Locals and lodges alike are enjoying the locally produced fruit and vegetables now that the range, quality and reliability of supply has improved. To cap this series of unexpected achievements the team recently learnt that the project has been shortlisted for a World Responsible Tourism Award!

 

For more information on the Antwerp Zoo Centre for Research & Conservation Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp (RZSA) project 24-005 please click here and to find out more about IIED project 23-032 click here, or read the full articles in our November 2018 Newsletter

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Protected areas and ecotourism: who’s paying?

“Why do we have to pay so much more than the locals to get into the park – it isn’t fair!” a friend of mine once commented en route to a Kenyan National Park. The same could have been said for most national parks across the continent, or even worldwide.

In my mind, the logic is simple and transparent: international visitors, for the most part, have the money to pay for a higher-priced ticket whereas nationals and residents, in the majority of cases, may not. But why are these fees necessary? And where does this money go?

Ecotourism is one solution to the pervasive problem that, in developing countries worldwide, little government financing goes towards the operational costs of protected areas. Tighe Geoghegan, a recognized expert in participatory management and protected areas, said that from her experience of working with protected areas in the Caribbean:

“While the political will to establish protected areas may be strong, the will to budget for their management has shown itself to be very weak, in the face of urgent national priorities and continuous fiscal crisis”

Tighe Geoghegan 1998

In the 1990’s Government funding to protected areas globally equated to only about 24% of the estimated US$17 billion required for proper maintenance. The Durban Action Plan, launched in 2004, was an attempt to change this. However there is still a major gap in government finances for protected areas.

There are many potential solutions to this problem, such as private sector financing (e.g. through biodiversity offsetting) and private donations, to fund operational costs of parks where government finances fall short. But ecotourism is commonly viewed as a more sustainable means to make up this shortfall, whilst also involving the local community. But is it that simple?

Local communities are often negatively impacted by protected area creation and management. The eviction and exclusion of local residents in the name of conservation often results in negative perceptions of protected areas, reinforced by increased incidence of human wildlife conflict which further impact upon the well-being of local residents.

Where ecotourism initiatives are in place locals often experience negligible increases in tourism-related livelihoods benefits, further fueling local feelings of resentment. These negative perceptions of the benefits of protected areas are often accompanied by poor enforcement of regulations at the local level. For example, a study by Bennet and Dearden in 2014 discovered managers in Marine Protected Areas in Thailand often allowed local fisherman to fish, even in no-catch areas. Without proper protection, the scope of these protected areas for conserving the very species they were established to protect is jeopardised and, with the inevitable loss of biodiversity that results from a poorly managed protected area, the potential for ecotourism will also diminish.

Mountain gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, Credit: Rod Waddington via https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0

Mountain gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, Credit: Rod Waddington via https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0

 

The problem in many of these cases is the disengagement of the local communities – something that Darwin Initiative Project 19-013 is trying to address. “Research to policy – building capacity for conservation through poverty alleviation” has been working with communities surrounding Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda to ensure that communities receive direct benefit from ecotourism. A number of initiatives have been developed to this end, including increasing the proportion of money international visitors pay to visit the park’s renowned population of critically endangered mountain gorillas, and ensuring more jobs are filled by local groups. The project has made a particular effort to focus on the fairer distribution of jobs to include more marginalised groups and a more equitable gender balance.

Another project, 14-046 “Sustainable tourism supporting species conservation in the Srepok Wilderness, Cambodia”, dealt with similar issues. The project was focused on Srepok Wilderness Area (SWA) of Mondulkiri Protected Forest which, like all protected areas in Cambodia, receives little government financing. Its operational costs are therefore dependent on less predictable and often unsustainable international financing sources. Over-harvesting of wildlife and habitat loss resulted in serious declines in species populations within the park, putting at risk the survival of the park and its ability to sustain the key threatened species within its borders, as well as the human communities reliant upon it. The project worked to establish better designation of protected areas within the SWA and improve the monitoring of poaching and species populations within the park by communities and enforcement agencies, meaning that low-impact but high-profit tourism is now a feasible long-term solution.

Critically endangered vultures feeding at a ‘vulture restaurant’ set up to assess their numbers. Credit J P Delphal WWF Cambodia

Critically endangered vultures feeding at a ‘vulture restaurant’ set up to assess their numbers. Credit J P Delphal WWF Cambodia

 

Conservation worldwide is chronically underfunded and ecotourism is one approach to address this shortfall. As the Darwin projects discussed above demonstrate, ecotourism interventions that take into account local needs and engage communities in conservation limit exacerbating traditional problems faced by protected areas. If ecotourism is a viable alternative to practices which might lead to over exploitation of natural resources within national parks, then more should be done to make sure communities see this benefit (through initiatives such as Darwin project 20-010, the “Social Assessment of Protected Areas”) and, perhaps more importantly, make this process more transparent for international visitors, on whom ecotourism depends. Then perhaps, rather than asking “why are we paying so much” they’ll be asking “what more can we do?”