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Hungry for Biodiversity: Domestic crops and their wild relatives

January 22, 2021

In the “Hungry for Biodiversity” series so far, in the first and second blog posts we have featured two projects working with local communities in both the Dja Faunal Reserve in Cameroon and the province of Cabo Delgabo in Mozambique.

We have reached the end of the series and in this final post we hear from a project working in Southern Africa focusing on preserving the wild relatives of domestic plants in an effort to improve sustainable food production to tackle food insecurity.

Building capacity for crop wild relative conservation in the Southern Africa

Crop wild relatives (CWR) are wild plant species closely related to modern crops and their wild ancestors. They are potential sources of beneficial crop traits such as pest and disease resistance, yield improvement, and drought and salinity tolerance. They may also contain adapted genes that are useful for coping with climate change and environmental stress. CWR trait diversity is increasingly used in breeding programs for novel cultivar (plant varieties that have been produced through selective breeding) development. Globally, the value of benefits from CWR is between USD $42 – 120 billion. Their value lies in increasing sustainable food production, mitigating climate change impact, enhancing long-term food and nutrition security, and contributing to poverty alleviation.

Southern Africa is a diverse CWR region with more than 1,900 species related to crops that are cultivated for a wide variety of reasons, including nutritional, ornamental and medicinal uses. Despite their importance, the conservation of CWR species remains a challenge, with many species believed to be under threat due to habitat degradation, deforestation, climate change and the introduction of invasive species. One of the main issues is the current lack of technical capacity within the region to undertake in situ conservation targeted to CWR, to identify priority CWR and selection of priority conservation for reserve establishment. In addition, many CWR species are also barely accessible to breeders and farmers who could benefit from their use.

With the financial support from the Darwin Initiative, the Alliance of Bioversity International has teamed up with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture to lead a three year project entitled “Bridging agriculture and environment: Southern African crop-wild-relative regional network.” The project is implemented in partnership with the University of Birmingham (U.K.), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Plant Genetic Resources Centre, the Malawi Plant Genetic Resources Centre, the Tropical Pesticides Research Institute (Tanzania) and the Zambia Agriculture and Research Institute.

Ipomoea robertsiana a sweet potato crop wild relative, Credit – P. Moila

The project seeks to enhance the conservation of CWR both in their wild habitats and in gene banks in order to facilitate their use, establish a regional CWR network of in situ conservation in Southern African, identify national priority CWR conservation sites, and develop National Strategic Action Plans (NSAP) for the conservation and use of CWR in Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia. In addition, the project is set to offer designed mechanisms to enhance the benefits for farmers from conserving CWR as well as ensure access and benefit sharing mechanisms for increased access to CWR germplasm in accordance with the Nagoya Protocol and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The project is working to strengthen the scientific and technical capacities in the region in CWR conservation planning and to equip the participants with the necessary knowledge to develop their respective action plans.

However, things haven’t been straightforward for the project. The training programme on CWR conservation planning has been impacted due to the current Covid-19 restrictions in place in the target countries and the project has had to consider ways of moving the training online.

“Our challenge was not only to distil a three-day training workshop into a minimum of ten hours online but mainly to assist the participants in using very specific techniques in an attempt to engage them effectively to have a meaningful outcomes such as national CWR checklist, CWR priority list for conservation, the distribution of national priority CWR and the identification of sites for their active in situ conservation,” said Joana Magos Brehm who organised the training, noting that an interactive toolkit for CWR conservation and previously developed tools were essential for the workshop.

In the end, by moving the training online, the project was actually able to exceed their target number of stakeholders trained.

For more information on project 26-023 led by University of Birmingham working in Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia please click here. To read the full article from this project and others that were featured in the latest edition of the newsletter, please click here.

 

Hungry for Biodiversity: Marine measures for Mozambique

January 19, 2021

In our second blog post of the series, we hear from a project promoting sustainable fishing in the province of Cabo Delgado, Mozambique. Local communities have played a paramount role in securing fisheries through local management.

If you would like to read the first blog of the series, featuring a project working to improve food security for communities living in the buffer zone of the Dja Faunal Reserve in Cameroon, please click here.

Safeguarding marine biodiversity and food security through community-based action in Mozambique

Coastal communities in the province of Cabo Delgado are among the poorest in Mozambique and are highly dependent on marine resources. The diverse marine habitats in Cabo Delgado have historically been some of the least exploited in East Africa, however fish stocks are becoming increasingly depleted. Growing pressures, including local population growth, coastal migration, conflict and threats from gas and oil exploration, are further driving food insecurity and poverty in these communities. Fisheries are one of the main sources of livelihood in Cabo Delgado, having some of the highest numbers of artisanal fishers and fishing centres in the country. Fish are vital for food and nutritional security, through direct consumption as well as indirectly, as a source of income to buy other food items.

The Our Sea Our Life (OSOL) programme has developed and piloted a pro-poor model for Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs) in northern Mozambique, that aims to tackle the fundamental drivers of poverty and food security amongst fishing communities. LMMAs are areas managed by local communities to improve fisheries and conserve marine biodiversity. While community-led marine management is not new in Mozambique or the Western Indian Ocean region, the interconnection of three critical elements to successful marine co-management make the OSOL approach unique and innovative:

  1. the LMMAs
  2. local governance and management mechanisms
  3. and sustainable livelihoods and financing.

OSOL’s participatory approach empowers communities to deliver objectives they help to set. It brings together these established platforms, for equitable and inclusive governance of resources, while generating alternative income and strengthening and securing food and nutritional security.

Our Sea Our Life led horticultural activities in Mecufi, Credit – AMA

One of the main outputs from phase 1 of the OSOL programme was to develop a best practice guide based on experiences and lessons learnt from the model, drawing on the valuable experience of each of the partners in the consortium (led by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) with partners Associação do Meio Ambiente (AMA), UniLúrio, CORDIO East Africa, Universidade NOVA de Lisboa; and Universidade de Aveiro). The project team have recently launched the ‘Toolkit for LMMA establishment: A case study of Our Sea Our Life’s approach to community-based marine conservation in northern Mozambique’! The toolkit is available in both Portuguese and English and can be found here.

ZSL Our Sea Our Life LMMA Toolkit, Credit – Mike Riddell

Replicating this model will enable the connection between marine conservation interventions with community needs for basic financial services, by scaling up VSLAs that will work to empower community members to diversify their livelihood options, increasing social resilience and food security. Since its start in 2013, with support from the Darwin Initiative, the programme has established 60km2 of protected areas, supported the creation of over 40 VSLAs (linked to bivalve aquaculture and horticulture activities) benefiting over 6,000 people in northern Mozambique alone. The aim is to reach thousands more people along the coast, with local communities at the heart of marine resource management.

For more information on project 25-024 led by ZSL working in can be found here. The full article for this project and others featured in the December 2020 edition of the newsletter is available here.

 

Hungry for Biodiversity: Sustainable hunting

January 11, 2021

We’re pleased to introduce our “Hungry for Biodiversity” blog series where we feature a variety of projects addressing food insecurity whilst prioritising biodiversity conservation.

In the first post of the series, we hear from a project working alongside communities within the Dja Faunal Reserve in Cameroon where the introduction of community hunting zones is ensuring that over-hunting is being minimised.

People need to eat

There was a time not too long ago when the paradigm for managing protected areas was just that – protection, protection, protection. Local people were regarded as a threat to wildlife conservation and treated as such, often being evicted from areas that they believe belonged to them, where they had lived for many years. Inside and around what is now the Dja Faunal Reserve in Cameroon, people have historically hunted for food and used the surrounding rivers to fish. However, since the creation of the Reserve and the ban on hunting, many local people are now struggling to obtain enough protein to meet their needs.

The introduction of community hunting zones (CHZ) may help address the challenges – under Darwin project 20-007 the partners helped to establish a well managed CHZ on the edge of the Dja Faunal Reserve, which enables local people to hunt a set quota of non-threatened species. Under the latest project (24-005), local people living in the buffer zone of the Dja Faunal Reserve are given support to manage the fish stocks and preserve their catch over longer periods, ultimately discouraging hunting and helping to relieve stress on threatened species.

Additional fishing material delivered to the community, Credit – Donald Mboheli

In both projects, the sustainability of natural resources is key. The quota system in the CHZ ensures that over-hunting is minimised, and that threatened species are protected. In the buffer zone communities, through reciprocal environmental agreements, direct benefits such as provision of fishing equipment and the development of cash crops such as cocoa help ensure that the biodiversity in the Reserve is given extra protection.

The crucial element that helps sustainability is empowering local people to make decisions about the activities they want to undertake, rather than communities having activities imposed upon them by ‘outsiders’. In the area around the north east borders of the Dja Faunal Reserve there was enough space to create a CHZ. Working sessions involving local people, the partners and government officials enabled the communities to set up their own CHZ under Cameroonian law. In northern buffer zone communities, the local people elected to focus on increasing their fish catch, in an effort to bolster food security.

Catches from local fisheries have increased since the project start, Credit – Mama Mouamfon

In both of these Darwin projects, local people are not the problem to conserving biodiversity – they are the solution. Helping them to devise and undertake alternatives to illegal, unsustainable hunting has resulted in new, sustainable ways for people living in challenging circumstances to obtain the food they need to survive, and improve their lives.

More information on projects 20-007 and 24-005 led by Bristol Zoo and the Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp can be found using the links provided. The full article for this project and many others can be found in the Hungry for Biodiversity edition of the newsletter . If you would like to read the entire “Hungry for Biodiversity” series, please follow the links for the second and third blog posts.

 

Conservation & the coronavirus: Fieldwork in the Falklands

October 23, 2020

This blog series outlines the challenges faced by projects during the global pandemic and celebrates the efforts that many have taken to ensure that the health and safety of target communities and wildlife populations are prioritised to prevent the spread. In our final post of the series we hear from a project working in the Falkland Islands and how they managed to complete soil mapping despite the border closures and social distancing measures.

We hope that you have enjoyed this series so far, if you would like to read the entire series please follow these links for the first and second blog posts.

Soil mapping and social distancing

In 2018 our project based in the Falkland Islands began and just over two years later is soon coming to an end. It was led by the Falklands-based South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI) in collaboration with the Falkland Islands Government’s Department of Agriculture, James Hutton Institute, UK Falkland Islands Trust, UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and the University of Magallanes. The aim of the project was to deliver a national soil map and tools for sustainable land management as well as provide baseline data to be used to mitigate and adapt to climate change. It is thought that climate change is bringing about changes in soil and peat properties in the Falkland Islands, which may have detrimental consequences for carbon storage, biodiversity and land management. In order to monitor the anticipated impact, the project established a baseline for peat and erosion extent, among many other soil property layers.

Mottled clay from 2m depth, Credit – SAERI

 

Digital soil mapping was carried out with data collected on topography, geology and habitat classification. The fieldwork took the team to about 200 survey point across the entire Falkland Islands, many of them in remote locations, which could only be accessed by a long hike or with off-road vehicles. Fortunately, the fieldwork and lab work for the soil maps were completed before the onset of the global Covid-19 pandemic. However the timing of the final soil modelling was not so lucky and was scheduled to start right at the beginning of the pandemic. Project partner Dr. Matt Aitkenhead at the James Hutton Institute, who ran the soil modelling, reports on how Covid-19 impacted on his workflow: “The soil mapping component of the project was already done with a fair degree of social distancing prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Project partner Dr. Matt Aitkenhead at the James Hutton Institute, who ran the soil modelling, reports on how Covid-19 impacted on his workflow: “The soil mapping component of the project was already done with a fair degree of social distancing prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. From my comfortable office in Aberdeen, I would receive a steady stream of data, queries and requests from 13,000 kilometres away in the Falkland Islands. Never having been to the Falklands, this meant a slight sense of separation from the difficulties the field team had to go through. When I moved my office to my bedroom in March I realised just how much I had relied on access to good internet and relatively high computing performance. Using an elderly laptop and WiFi with 300 kbps bandwidth, the mapping became more of a challenge. The main workaround for this was to connect remotely to a server at work. This meant I could generate models at home and run them from a server with faster access to the vast repository of spatial data generated prior to lockdown – there was no way that data was going to fit on my laptop! A further challenge was the demand on our remote servers, which made them slightly erratic, causing my code to crash every couple of hours. So I had to work out how to avoid creating maps in one big code run, instead making the system pick up from where the last crash had ended and then stitching multiple pieces of map together – about as much fun as it sounds”.

Hard work and perseverance paid off and the soil maps are now available on SAERI’s webGIS. The project also had a strong stakeholder engagement element and raised awareness locally on climate change impacts on soils and land management. Denise Blake, Falkland Islands Government’s Environmental Officer and Policy Advisor states: “In a predominantly agricultural landscape, knowledge of our soils underpins sustainable management. From an environmental point of view, mapping our soils ensures that we can work towards maintaining their health, not just for carbon storage, but for the life they support on our islands”.

Soil surveyor Roberto Jara Langhaus at Bluff Cove, Credit – SAERI

 

Internet connection can be a challenge in the Falkland Islands and online maps may not be accessible to everyone at any time, through stakeholder engagement it was revealed that there was an interest in offline maps in addition to the webGIS. To accommodate the request, local landowners also received layered pdf files with farm-specific soil maps alongside an interpretation guide to aid them with understanding and application of the maps. The soil maps provided will hopefully aid in directing land management towards a sustainable future.

For more information on project DPLUS083 led by SAERI working in Falkland Islands please click here. To read the full article from this project and others that were featured in the September 2020 edition of the newsletter, please click here.

 

Conservation & the coronavirus: Coexisting communities

October 14, 2020

Establishing peaceful coexistence between human and wildlife is often a challenging task. In our second blog post of the series we hear from a project promoting coexistence between people and elephants with the added complication of Covid-19!

If you would like to read all the posts in the series so far, the first blog outlining the work of Conservation Through Public Health in promote the safety of human and gorilla populations against Covid-19 in Uganda can be found here.

Coexisting with new preventative measures

By coexisting with new safety protocols for Covid-19, we have been able to continue our efforts in elephant conservation and human-elephant coexistence in the Kilombero Valley, Tanzania. The Kilombero Valley is an area of high value to both people and elephants, consisting of fertile farmland and wildlife corridors located between protected areas. The work of the Southern Tanzania Elephant Program (STEP) has so far focused on mediating a peaceful coexistence between the people and animals here, but this spring we have added the important job of doing our part to prevent the spread of Covid-19 to our list of tasks.

As the novel coronavirus moved its way through many countries in the world, we had a little extra time to consider which precautions to take at our project sites before the virus was officially detected in Tanzania in March. Although much of our HQ-based staff began working from home, we were able to continue the majority of our field operations, including implementing beehive fences with farmers’ groups to protect farms from elephant crop damage, by establishing careful protocols and consulting with our community partners on how they wished to operate during the pandemic.

Members of the Uadilifu Group VSLA at Msolwa Station Village, Credit – STEP

 

Some of the most important preventative measures that we enacted were hand washing stations at our Kilombero office together with a mobile unit for teams to bring along to meetings at project sites. This has meant that both our team and members of our farmers’ groups have been able to wash their hands before and after meetings. We made an effort to conduct all meetings outside and to keep a 2m distance between each participant. STEP staff and members of the farmers’ groups received over 120 reusable cloth masks as well as training on how to produce more. We have also ensured a continuous supply of soap and sanitisers to our local teams through regular check-ins and southern Tanzania’s excellent bus system which enables rapid sending of supplies!

For these measures to be effective, it was important to distribute information about Covid-19 and to follow up and monitor implementation. During our weekly meetings with farmers’ groups, we reviewed large format posters printed with best practices on how to wash hands, wear masks and stay safe.

We are fortunate that despite Covid-19, we have been able to continue with our planned activities and made our conservation efforts coexist with the new preventative measures. As Tanzania shows signs of recovery from Covid-19, we continue to keep hand washing at the forefront of our work!

For more information on project 26-007 led by STEP working in Tanzania can be found here. The full article for this project and others featured in our latest newsletter on ‘Conservation & the coronavirus’ is available here.

 

Conservation & the coronavirus: Paramount public health

October 6, 2020

Welcome to the ‘Conservation & the coronavirus’ blog series! In this series we hear from a variety of Darwin and Darwin Plus projects who share candid stories on how Covid-19 has impacted fieldwork and conservation efforts and how projects have offered a helping hand to communities to combat Covid-19 from the Falklands Islands to Uganda.

In this first post we hear from a project in Uganda which is helping to spread awareness on Covid-19 preventative measures to protect the mountain gorilla population of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

Conservation through a public health approach

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the intrinsic and inseparable links between people, wildlife and ecosystems. For Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), whose work is at the intersect of humans and wildlife, Covid-19 has shone a spotlight on the importance of work around the prevention and management of zoonotic disease, central to the organisation’s work. Despite restrictions introduced to curb the spread of the disease, CTPH was granted an exemption from the travel restrictions by the Government of Uganda who recognised the centrality of CTPH’s work to the mitigation of the spread, particularly in and around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) where there is major concern for the risk that Covid-19 poses to the endangered Mountain Gorillas.

The Mountain Gorilla population in Bwindi represents 43% of the global total. If the virus were to spread to these gorillas, it could have devastating impacts on the survival of the species which has only recently started to show positive growth. Mountain Gorillas also face threats posed by harmful human activity which has only increased as tourism, on which many people relied for income and employment, has come to a complete standstill. As poverty rises, more people are entering the forest illegally to meet their basic needs. This was highlighted by the devastating death in June 2020 of Rafiki, a lead silverback Gorilla in Bwindi, who was killed by a poacher allegedly hunting for bush meat. Prior to Rafiki’s death, BINP had not lost a Gorilla to poaching for nine years. Through community volunteer cadres, Village Health and Conservation Teams, whom CTPH trained on Covid-19 prevention measures, have shared information on how to prevent infection amongst the community and the gorilla population. Community sensitisation has included information on hygiene, mask wearing, proper handwashing, human waste management and the dangers of hunting and eating bush meat. Village Health and Conservation Teams have also been trained in recognising Covid-19 symptoms, referring patients and contract tracing. CTPH has trained all people who enter the forest, including wildlife rangers, on measures to prevent the spread of infection and has supported procurement of infrared thermometers for use at entry points. In addition, gorilla guardians and wildlife rangers have been trained to monitor gorilla health and identify symptoms which may signal that Covid-19 has affected the gorilla population.

Project leader Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka demonstrating how to use a thermometer, Credit – CTPH

Supporting community members, particularly in this time of greater need, is central to CTPH’s approach to conservation. CTPH’s social enterprise, Gorilla Conservation Coffee, provides vital income for farmers and reformed poachers around Bwindi who previously relied on tourism, subsistence farming and forest resources to feed their families. Gorilla Conservation Coffee negotiates international coffee prices above the local market price for quality raw coffee which is sold to conscious consumers in Uganda and globally. With a secure income, coffee farmers reduce dependence on natural resources and hunting to meet family needs, contributing to reduced habitat destruction and improved biodiversity conservation. With the loss of tourists in Uganda who constituted a large part of the domestic market, Gorilla Conservation Coffee has recently turned to external markets, including engaging in a partnership with its first UK distributor, Moneyrow Beans.

Vicky Weddell from Moneyrow Beans, distributor of Gorilla Conservation Coffee in the UK, Credit – Vicky Weddell

CTPH continues to fundraise to support other key areas including Covid-19 research, park surveillance and supporting at risk community members with food crop gardens to alleviate hunger amongst the poorest community members who are most likely to turn to poaching in the absence of support. With the rapidly-changing landscape being moulded by the pandemic, CTPH remains committed to its mission of biodiversity conservation by enabling people, gorillas and other wildlife to coexist through improving their health and livelihoods, as its central focus on preventing and controlling disease transmission becomes ever more pertinent.

For more information on project 23-023 led by Conservation Through Public Health working in Uganda please click here. The full article for this project and many others can be found in the joint edition of the September 2020 newsletter here.