The recent US-Africa Leaders Summit brought attention to several initiatives that seek to improve resilience and biodiversity in Central Africa—and illuminated opportunities and challenges for future development in this region.
The theme of the summit in Washington was “Investing in the Next Generation”—and two summit sessions were of particular relevance to the next generation of communities and forests of the Congo Basin.
One session sought to address the problems of wildlife trafficking in Africa, a rampant problem that threatens the biodiversity of continent—and especially the Congo Basin, an area of critical biodiversity.
This session was an occasion for the US to underscore its efforts in trying to combat illegal trafficking, including its Wildlife Enforcement Network (WEN) in the Horn of Africa. The US is seeking to eventually extend the WEN to Central Africa. An important aspect of this initiative—and a fitting approach to the “next generation” theme of the summit—is the recruitment of youths as park rangers and in natural resources management.
Challenges remain to biodiversity conservation in this region, however. In Central Africa, the wildlife sector has not yet generated enough funding to ensure its effective management, security and sustainability. Moreover, criminalizing smallholders who are hunting for wildlife for sustenance—as is currently the case throughout much of Central Africa—will not help to solve the crisis of unsustainable hunting of bushmeat. Without a permanent source of income to sustain biodiversity conservation in and around protected areas, it remains difficult to effectively combat wildlife trafficking in Central Africa and to halt declining wildlife populations.
The second session of note dealt with resilience and food security in a changing climate. US efforts in this realm are rooted in the “New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition,” which aims to lift 50 million people out of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa by 2022—similar to efforts by the African Union, with its own milestone of 2025.
Climate-smart agriculture was pitched as a way forward for the continent. The challenge for the Congo Basin and Central Africa in general is to find a way to mainstream agriculture in natural resource management at the national and regional scales. In the landscape planning process, agriculture needs to be seen as a business that can be sustainable. Instead of vilifying agriculture (particularly smallholder agriculture) as a driver of deforestation, stakeholders in this sector need to be involved in the planning and execution of biodiversity conservation and management initiatives.
The agricultural sector in the Congo Basin can also help to achieve both mitigation and adaptation to climate change—but efforts to do this in other parts of the continent often miss the region. On climate change resilience, the US-backed Global Resilience Partnership focuses primarily on the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, for example. Despite the recent reaffirmation of African Union that “adaptation is a priority in all actions on climate change in Africa,” climate-change responses are different in the heart of the continent. In Central Africa, besides Lake Chad (where droughts illustrate how climate change is silently impacting ecosystems), the Congo Basin is not yet a subject of high interest for continental resilience initiatives.
This is partly due to lack of information on the vulnerability of communities and forests in this region: Meteorological and hydrological stations inherited from the colonial period are now obsolete, for example, and less research is taking place in Central Africa than in other parts of Africa. Gradual information/outputs from the Cofcca and Cobam projects are helping to correct this, though, filling information gaps and revealing that this part of the continent also deserves attention for adaptation to climate change.
The summit, true to its name, put the future generation at the center of the discussion. Institutions such as the University of California-Berkeley received youths participating in the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) in the lead-up to the summit. But as CIFOR researchers and colleagues of the University of Prince Edward Island (Canada) found recently, at the local level, youths are not included in the decision-making process in rural areas. Actions to rectify this are under way, though: Recognizing that youths are the next frontier of forest management, an entire session at the Global Landscapes Forum, a side event to the UNFCCC COP in Warsaw last year, was dedicated to youths. On achieving food security and climate change resilience in Central Africa, the potential of youths must not be left untapped.
At its heart, though, the summit was an occasion to reflect on US-Africa relations and how they relate to environmental issues in the Congo Basin. The CARPE initiative as well as US facilitation of the CBFP constituted milestones in the cooperation between the US and Central African states in the environmental sector.
Alongside interest in wildlife trafficking, adaptation to climate change and food security (particularly climate-smart agriculture) constitutes untapped opportunities to alleviate the vulnerabilities of forests and communities in the heart of Africa.
by Claudia Havranek, United Kingdom, ELP 2014
Written on August 7, 2014.
We are currently faced with a global food crisis: nearly one in eight people are starving, and approximately two billion people are lacking micronutrients. The severity of this crisis is set to increase, as food demand is predicted to double by 2050 from a predicted population rise to 9 billion, as well as changes in demand.
Alongside the food crisis, we are also faced with the threat of an anthropogenically induced 6th mass extinction. Throughout the world, species ranges are contracting, leading to local extinctions, associated with a loss of ecosystem function and community resilience. Economically and ecologically, loss of biodiversity has implications for both the sustainability and yield of food production.
Threats to biodiversity, especially of habitat loss and pollution, are linked to farming and so solutions for conservation must not ignore the need for food production. With 38.2% of land committed to agriculture, there are two proposed strategies for the management of agricultural land: land-sparing and land-sharing. Land-sparing involves managing land for farming and nature separately, and is often associated with intensive farming methods. Land-sharing involves the use of wildlife-friendly farming to share farmland with nature.
Identifying the conditions under which land-sharing and land-sparing maximizes the yield-conservation trade-off, as well as understanding the logistical consequences of the implementation of each strategy may be crucial to solutions to both malnourishment and extinction rates. However, as is often the case, there is no unanimous solution.
Insufficient research on yield-conservation tradeoffs limits the extent to which policies may sensibly be based on this data. From the information we do have however, the more beneficial conservation and yield trade-off from land-sparing is countered with lower crop resilience. Land-sharing appears to offer a more long-term solution to improving food production and maintaining biodiversity. Despite lower yield from land-sharing, increased sustainability and resilience may make biodiversity and yield more secure in the long term.
However, drawing firm conclusions, and assuming an antagonism between land-sparing and land-sharing fails to address the real-world complexity. A continuum combining biodiversity conservation and agriculture with land-sparing at one extreme and land-sharing at the other may reflect the changes in biodiversity across different agricultural intensities better, as well as providing the opportunity to tailor management techniques specifically to both biotic and abiotic features of a landscape.
Priorities currently lie in getting food to the malnourished, through improving distribution chains, or improving yield for those least well off, rather than simply increasing global production. Potential for improvements in global food security is therefore at the level of smallholder farming, rather than large-scale intensive farming. At this level, creating sustainable ecosystem-based agriculture for subsistence farmers through land-sharing is likely to have the greatest impact, supported by successful examples in Ethiopia, Brazil and the Philippines where management methods were initially intended for conservation. The benefits of land-sharing for global food security on a logistical level may therefore result in the implementation of this strategy, supported by the limited biological data available.
Despite the complexity of this issue, the outlook is not altogether gloomy: as has been here discussed, the apparent conflict between conservation and yield may not be as contradictory as they initially appear. In a world driven by economics and political decisions, the fact that we are addressing the possibility of integrating food security and conservation, may it be through land-sharing, land-sparing or something in between, is reason enough to feel optimistic.
by Victoria Pilbeam, Australia, ELP 2014
Written on July 15, 2014.
At over 6 feet tall stands a participant whom many of the ELP participants refer to affectionately as “Docteur,” Dr. Mountaga Dia a trained doctor and public health specialist from the West African country of Senegal. I recently sat down with Dr. Dia and in a mixture of English and French we discussed his work, his background, his interest in taking part in the ELP and how he sees the connections between health and the environment.
When describing how he came to work in Public Health, Dr. Dia is pragmatic and contextualizes his own career path within the relative poverty of Senegal. As the fifth of ten children, in a family of modest means, Dr. Dia states matter of factly, “I knew that I was going to have to work to support myself and my family,” and it was this desire for financial security which initially motivated him to study medicine. However, it was the 1994 arrival of International Monetary Fund and World Bank Structural Adjustments Program in Senegal that pushed Dr. Dia to focus on improving Public Health in disadvantaged rural communities.
This program, by devaluing local currencies, led to a sharp increase in the prices of import goods like medicine and milk, which are crucial to health outcomes. As a medical student having then completed his thesis working with rural Senegalese community health centers on low birth weight, Dr. Dia was well placed to foresee the consequences of this policy, and 20 years later he still becomes visibly aggravated as we discuss its imposition. It was in response to this that Dr. Dia joined SIGGI (a word which literally translates to “rectification”) in 1994, an initiative supported by Enda Tiers Monde and Terre des Homme which sought to build capacity among largely untrained rural community health workers in Senegal. Dr. Dia described the yearlong process, “We met in a local primary school every Wednesday and there we would train them how to [give] basic medicines like paracetamol, aspirin, betadine and eventually injectibles. Then we would also provide supervision”.
It was this strong background in community health mobilization that led him to his current work in pesticides. In particular, Dr. Dia cites one 2002 Senegalese study as being catalytic, “Enda [Tiers Monde], with GEF [Global Environment Facility] and FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization], did a small study with toxicologists on the level of pesticides in local market foods and they found results that were way out there, so much so that they were too afraid to publish. After that, they realized there was a serious problem and Enda asked me to work on it”. From there, Dr. Dia helped run a series of studies on how people use pesticides in Senegal, “we asked: how do you use pesticides? How do you measure them out? Because many people just use old Nescafe tins or water bottles. When do you use them? Do you wear protective clothes? Do your wife and children help?” From this platform, Dr. Dia was able to help shape a regional plan for pesticides management that includes prevention, water monitoring and creating a network of communities along the Senegal River. However, due to the lack of funds, implementation has stalled. Dr. Dia remains hopeful about this project however, and now through his position at the University of Bambey, he is trying to create networks to support this project and has had increasing international interest.
This interest in creating networks for sustainable change is largely what drew him to ELP. Dr. Dia posits, “We are here to build a network and especially in my area, environment and health, there has not been enough of this.” Given this, Dr. Dia questions the logic of some academics who choose to address health or environment to the exclusion of the other. “These days, having an interest in environment is the obligatory pathway if you want to work in health. As we do studies, we find that more and more, there are clear links between the environment and health.” Keenly interested in getting as much knowledge out of every session, Dr. Dia is often spotted filming key ELP sessions on his phone.
by Domoina Rakotobe, Madagascar, ELP 2014
Written on July 20, 2014.
Madagascar is considered one of the world’s hotspots for biodiversity, with unique fauna and flora embedded in fragile ecosystems. Since 2003, the Network of Conservation Educators and Practitioners (NCEP) has worked to strengthen conservation capacity in Madagascar, which is facing severe threats and a lack of trained individuals to meet them. Through a system-wide approach, we have convened key players to develop long-term strategies and worked collaboratively to implement solutions at the individual, organizational, and national levels. We have pioneered open-access educational materials tailored to the Malagasy context and improved the breadth and quality of conservation training available. Our work on assessing capacity development needs, developing competence standards for conservation professionals, designing complimentary training programs, and setting up systems of certifying professionals has set an important precedent and foundation in the country.
Despite my long experience in training, my experience as a trainee in my turn at the Environmental Leadership Program (ELP) shed light on potential progress of conservation capacity development in Madagascar and namely for NCEP.
Most of the ELP courses were dealing with prediction of the future. The haunting question is what might happen if…? Then, how could we, as environmental leaders, be better prepared to face these future challenges? What are the available options we have or need to develop to address them? Those are important questions to adequately address environmental challenges. For capacity development in Madagascar, three paths are worth considering in order to overstep the current myopic behavior. The first one is to increase exposure of local conservation professionals and educators to information, tools and skills that help better understand the future. For instance, geoengineering, land use change science or technological approaches to water management are among interesting topics that should be incorporated into academic and professional debates. Unavailability of technological resources should not impede a greater understanding of those global trends. NCEP could help organize conferences or develop training resources on such topics. The second direction would be investment in talent sustainability of conservation institutions; in other words, time and resources are invested to make sure that their staff is competent to fulfill job requirements in an attractive workplace where success is praised. This approach, more common in the private sector, should be extended to conservation. The NCEP certification program in protected area management has aimed to highlight current staff competencies and to address competency gaps. But it could, in the future, encompass institutional capacity building to optimize human resources. The third path is to increase development of leadership skills in conservation trainings either in academic or professional settings. Course content and format should better help environmentalists to be more proactive rather than only reactive. NCEP has disseminated wide use of active teaching techniques, but there is still room for training more effective conservation leaders. What might happen if Madagascar, as a main depositary of world biodiversity, does not have competent and visionary conservation agents?
by Akiko Segawa, Japan, ELP 2014
Written on July 21, 2014.
Time flies – I’ve already done 2/3 of the program. Today, I’d like to introduce one of the most interesting workshops from the 2nd week.
IDEO.org was born in 2011 as a nonprofit organization that applies human-centered design to improve health, water and sanitation, financial inclusion, agriculture and gender equity in poor communities. Its partner is other nonprofit organizations, social enterprises and foundations. It also provides an opportunity to learn and use human-centered design as a poverty-fighting tool.
Overview of Human-Centered Design
Human-centered design is a process that creates a deep understanding between the designer and the end user. There are some keys mentioned in the lecture:
Get out there: visiting the place and talking with the people who are living there is crucial
Talk to extremes: extreme participants help to understand behaviors, desires and needs of the rest of the population, but they are easier to observe and identify because they feel the effects more powerfully than others. By including both ends of people, you can hear more information from a small number of participants.
Understand and observe: observing and understanding people’s behavior and decision-making process in action is important. For example, not only asking, “What od you eat for breakfast?” but also asking, “What did you eat for breakfast yesterday morning?” enables us to get more information.
Work with other disciplines: the best team will consist of a core group of 3-8 individuals, including one facilitator. Mixing different disciplinary and educational backgrounds will maximize the chance of coming up with unexpected solutions when these people approach problems from different points of view.
Prototype early and often: sketch the idea and show it to someone who doesn’t have a single idea about the field.
Consider the system: prompt bigger, more general topics that ask the participants to think about life, business, and the future. Ask about their hopes and dreams for the future, as well as the barriers to achieving their goals. This is the chance to understand how they want to change their lives, what is standing in their way, and what they perceive the real paths to a better future might be.
I would like to implement the principles of human-centered design to a pharmaceutical industry project where I’m working with as a graduation project. The similarity between my project and IDEO’s project is the difference: I’m in an academic setting working with a pharmaceutical plant, while IDEO is a NPO working for communities. Another similarity is the distance: the plant I’m working with is far away from Tokyo so I cannot visit there very often. Because of the difference and distance, I often find it difficult to communicate with each other. Since human-centered design is a process that creates a deep understanding between the designer (me) and the end user (pharmaceutical industry), I think its principles are also useful to build a good relationship between academia and industry. It is important to visit the place as much as possible (get out there) and listen from not only managers, but also all the people who you are involved with (talk to extremes). In the plant, I have to carefully observe everything and I can’t hesitate to ask questions (understand and observe). Working with other disciplines – this might be the reason why I’m in the project. It is also important to communicate all ideas, questions and achievements. Because of the distance and difference, we tend to hesitate to communicate with each other for small things. Every big success, however, starts from small beginnings. Also we often share only numbers equations or source codes, but we might have to show the result more visually, with graphs and tables so that every worker can understand and get feedback from them (prototype early and often). Finally, drawing a big picture is crucial. Even when we are focusing on one unit operations, we have to also consider the cause and effect of upper processes and down streams (consider the system).