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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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