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.



Gender equality and empowerment: Empowered ambassadors

March 26, 2020

We hope that you have enjoyed our ‘Gender equality and empowerment’ blog series and are pleased to welcome you to the final post of the series. If you would like to read the entire series, you can follow these links for the first and second blog posts.

In our final post we feature the Marine Ambassadors programme introduced by SEED Madagascar. This programme works to empower female community members in Anosy to take more of an active role in the management of the lobster fisheries that they are reliant on.

Empowering women in community-based fisheries management in Madagascar

In the remote coastal communities of Anosy, southeastern Madagascar, fishing provides a vital source of nutrition and income where few livelihood alternatives exist. For example, in the community of Sainte Luce, 83% of households are dependent on lobster fishing as their main source of income. However, the local lobster stock is declining as a consequence of overfishing, which is threatening livelihoods, food security, and biodiversity.

SEED Madagascar is working to identify a sustainable solution through Project Oratsimba. Working with local fishers in the three rural communities of Sainte Luce, Elodrato, and Itapera in rural Anosy, the project supports community-based, sustainable lobster fishery management designed to increase both income and food security.

The main catch - a spiny lobster (c) SEED Madagascar

The main catch – a spiny lobster, Credit – SEED Madagascar

As part of the project, SEED aims to increase recognition of the important role women play in fisheries management, shedding light on the crucial contribution to lobster fishing made by local women in Anosy. Based on traditional gender roles, men and women carry out different tasks related to lobster fishing. Without the combined efforts of both men and women, the lobster fishing supply chain would be severely disrupted. Despite this, there remains a lack of understanding of the critical role that women play.

Lobster catching is performed by men, fishing from hollowed-out canoes called pirogues. However, these fishers use bait that is caught mainly by women, who use river nets or scrape shellfish from shallow rocks off the beach, with the lobster pots themselves often woven by women. On the beach, women collect and weigh the morning’s catch, before the lobsters are passed onto the export companies via local middlemen. In terms of generating household income, credited on the catch itself, the essential roles women carry out are too often overlooked, undervalued, and relegated to part of a woman’s household duties – ultimately undermining their economic contribution. This, coupled with the perception of lobster fishing as “men’s work” by both men and women, has led to women being excluded from the lobster fisheries management process.

Nevertheless, there is a clear demand from local women to engage more actively in decision-making regarding the lobster fisheries management. A female project participant from a fishing household in Elodrato told SEED that “Women should be invited to participate; women should be able stand and talk in front of everyone. Women have different ideas than men.”

Women are involved in weighing caught lobsters on the beach (c) SEED Madagascar

A local woman involved in weighing lobsters on the beach, Credit – SEED Madagascar

To empower the women of the target communities, and to encourage them to participate more actively in the management of their fisheries, SEED is training Women Marine Ambassadors. The training is focused on increasing confidence and improving public speaking skills of the Ambassadors, as well as their knowledge of community-based fisheries management.

The training aims to impart the Ambassadors with the knowledge and skills necessary to inspire other women in their community. After completing their training, the Ambassadors will lead women-only education sessions on fisheries management, instilling the confidence required to have a stronger voice in fishery management decision-making.

Through shedding light on the essential roles women play in the lobster fishing supply chain, this project hopes that others will be empowered to become more actively involved in community-based fisheries management.

For more information on project 25-016 led by SEED Madagascar please click here. To read the full article from this project and others that were featured in our ‘Gender equality and empowerment’ edition of the Darwin Newsletter, please click here.


Gender equality and empowerment: Micro-enterprises encourage major involvement

March 24, 2020

Welcome to the second post of the blog series! This post highlights the inequalities of the coffee value chains in Ethiopia and the work that the University of Huddersfield is doing to create a brighter future for women through female-led micro enterprises.

If you would like to read about the work of RSPB and Nature Kenya that was featured in our first blog post, please click here.

Non-Timber Forest Product micro-enterprises for competitive forests and livelihoods in Ethiopia

Wokinesh Danil beams broadly, showing off the certificate, presented to her by the woreda (district) Officer for Women and Children, that states the micro-enterprise she is a member of. The micro-enterprise was established in Gide Bench woreda in southwest Ethiopia is one of eleven set up to develop more diverse livelihood incomes from a wide variety of Non-Timber Forest Product (NTFP) value chains, with an emphasis on benefiting women.

Initiated with the support of the Darwin Initiative, Wokinesh’s micro-enterprise is involved in the sustainable harvesting and processing of forest spices such as timiz (long pepper) and kororemia (Ethiopian cardamom) for the local, national and potentially international markets.

Selling black peppercorns in the local market, Bench Sheko Zone, SNNRPS, Ethiopia

Black peppercorns being sold in the local market, Credit – Indrias Kassaye

Previous work in the southwest through an earlier Darwin project 19-025 focused on the protection of these forests and the wild coffee gene pool found within them. Through the work achieved by the previous project it was recognised that the beneficiaries of the coffee value chains were predominantly men. In order to maintain reduced rates of deforestation and to promote sustainable livelihoods through cooperatives and forest groups it was clear that a broader range of forest products that benefited both men and women was needed. This is being addressed by focusing on developing value chains which enable economically excluded local women to create micro-enterprises targeting new local, national and international markets.

Ethiopia is a highly patriarchal society and previous projects have struggled to actively involve women. The traditional role of women, coupled with their family and household responsibilities, have acted as a barrier against their active participation. Changing cultural norms takes time and these issues are still impacting on levels of project participation and the empowerment of women. To tackle these challenges, the project has encouraged increased involvement from women by actively working with the staff team on the ground to ensure that women are the central focus of the project, and through engagement with the Women and Children’s Office (WCO) at the woreda level. In addition to the women-only micro-enterprises trading in honey (traditionally seen as a man’s crop), ten other mixed gender micro-enterprises have been established in which a minimum of 51% of the membership is female. By contrast, existing coffee co-ops have an average female participation rate of only 18%.

Through this project the WCO has actively participated in project consultation and training sessions. The active engagement of the WCO office has reassured women members, and has promoted the idea that women should be able to express their opinion ‘without fear or hesitation’.

Farmer Tirunesh Shenka Aity is the female chair of the Abyi Angisken honey micro-enterprise which was established in 2019. Tirunesh participated in a ‘training for trainers’ course led by Apinec Agro Industries, a private sector project partner, on bee keeping and the use of transitional bee hives. These transitional hives are made from locally available materials (wood, mud and straw), and can be easily built and due to their location (on the forest fringe) are more accessible for women.

1 Tirunesh orverseeing a tansitional bee hive making session

Tirunesh overseeing a transitional bee hive making session, Credit – Hailemariam Nadew

Tirunesh was selected by Apinec as ‘best trainee’ for her participation in the classroom and practical engagement in making transitional hives with other male participants Returning from the training, she has recruited and trained the other female micro-enterprise members and collected 8,000 birr that will enable her to buy the best quality honey next season.

The use of participatory methods to identify which NTFPs should be developed and which private sector partners should be involved in training has helped to ensure that women’s voices are heard and that their experiences are taken into account. As well as having a positive impact on women’s lives and providing leadership opportunities for women such as Tirunesh and Wokinesh, work to date has also succeeded in changing gender-based assumptions of project staff. One of the project staff members stated that “we have learnt that when we give the chance for women to participate in activities they can do better than men members… so we have learnt from this project to give the chance to [women to] participate for other projects too”.

More information about project 25-013 led by the University of Huddersfield working in Ethiopia can be found here. The full article for this project and others featured in our latest newsletter on ‘Gender equality and empowerment’ is available here.


Gender equality and empowerment: Changing cultural roles

March 16, 2020

Darwin projects need to consider how they can work to reduce inequality between people of different genders. This blog series focuses on how projects do this and aims to bring attention to the integral role women and girls play in their communities. Through this series we will feature Darwin projects that have challenged cultural norms, empowered communities and helped women secure a brighter future for themselves and their families.

This first blog post shares the inspirational story of how women in Tana Delta, Kenya are now able to have their voices heard on conservation and development issues due to greater representation in the Tana Delta Conservation Network.

The changing position and role of women in Tana Delta

The Tana River Delta is a vast wetland, inhabited by communities with interests and economic activities that are as diverse as they are. There are farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolk and a few hunter gatherer communities. Despite their differences, one common thing among these communities is their patriarchal nature. The women are hardly involved in decision making, even when these decisions influence themselves and their families directly. This was true even for the few, well educated women in the society.

Ozi women fish farmers cleaning their fish ponds Photo credit G. Odera

Ozi women fish farmers cleaning their fish ponds, Credit – G. Odera

In 2013 the Tana Delta Conservation network (TDCN) was formed. This was spurred on after the communities realised that they needed to mobilise themselves to save their land from investors who had little to no regard for the environment or the local people. At that time, the involvement of women in any decision making was poor. The initial TDCN interim committee had no women representation, probably because women did not realise they had a stake and say in solving the issues faced by their communities. Nature Kenya recognised that the contribution of women was very important to the management of the delta. Women are major collectors of environmental goods such as firewood, herbs, medicines, thatch material, and water – however through this direct relationship with the environment women often suffer the most when it begins to degrade. The loss of a healthy ecosystem means that women often have to travel further to collect these goods, risking their health and wellbeing in remote areas.

The Kenyan constitution requires that people of one gender (men or women) should not represent more than two thirds of membership at any level of governance. To encourage female participation in the conservation and development agenda in the Tana Delta, Nature Kenya started by capacity building the initial team emphasising the important role women would play in leadership. Through these training sessions, the interim team alongside Nature Kenya field staff embarked on awareness exercises that culminated in the first ever democratic elections of TDCN in 2014. That election resulted in an office where women had 40% representation in the executive committee. Under our current Darwin Initiative project we have seen an increase in female representation, with 50% of the TDCN leadership now made up of women.

When asked why they kept a low profile initially, Zainab Gobu, the first elected group treasurer says “It’s not like we were unaware that our land was going to be taken from us and that our natural resources were at risk. The problem was that back then, nobody explained to our husbands what roles we could play as they believed our place was in the kitchen. We thank God that today our contributions are appreciated at all levels. Even the county government consults us by virtue of the positions we hold in TDCN”.

TDCN members during biodiversity monitoring training Photo credit G. Odera

TDCN members during biodiversity monitoring training, Credit – G. Odera

TDCN is now at the centre of community representation and is recognised as the official community voice on conservation and development matters in Tana Delta. The female leadership has empowered other women in the community to get involved in various nature-based enterprises. “This has given the local woman a chance to contribute economically to the well-being of their families and it makes the woman be respected by their husbands and other immediate family members” says Dolphin Komora, the secretary to TDCN.

The main activity of the TDCN is the establishment and strengthening of indigenous community conserved areas. This involves the management and administration of natural resources at the village level – originally this would have been seen as the men’s responsibility however through the TDCN women leaders have become involved and now make up 30% of the committee.

Empowered women have over time built up the courage to venture into activities that have been traditionally male dominated. Originally women in Tana Delta relied on men to provide them with fish. Through our project we have helped women set up six aquaculture ponds. Despite the recent recurrent floods that have reduced the availability of fish markets, the women have already harvested 96kg of fish valued at Ksh. 28,800 (£215). These fish are one of the main sources of protein for these women and their families.

Nature Kenya will keep working with communities and give special attention to the women and other vulnerable groups to ensure that their voices are heard and that their issues are adequately addressed.

For more information on project 24-013 led by RSPB working with Nature Kenya please click here. The full article for this project can be found in the March 2020 edition of the Darwin Newsletter here.


Tradition, culture and conservation: The cocoa crisis

January 16, 2020

Welcome to the final post of the ‘Tradition, Culture and Conservation’ blog series! We hope that you have found this series enjoyable. If you would like to read the entire series you can follow these links to the first and second blog posts.

Our last post features a Darwin project that has encouraged collaboration between farmers, local authorities and neighbouring villages to support livelihoods and conserve local plants that play a significant role in traditional medicine within Taï National Park.

Respecting tradition through community-led conservation in the Ivorian Rainforest

Taï National Park in Ivory Coast is one of the last remaining areas of the vast rainforest that once stretched from Guinea to Togo. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park is home to stunning tropical flora and many endangered species. But human activities are rapidly encroaching on the park, putting the forest and its iconic wildlife at risk. In response to these threats, cocoa farmers from the neighbouring villages have banded together to develop a community-led landscape action plan.

Ivory Coast produces 30% of the world’s cocoa, most of which is produced by smallholders living in severe poverty. The struggle to make a living is getting increasingly tougher as farmers grapple with ageing trees, low soil fertility, and climate change. In Taï, this pressure is pushing some farmers to expand into the national park, cutting down pristine rainforest to make room for new cropland.

At the same time, hunting for “bushmeat” has hit crisis point. Meat from wild animals – including endangered species – has long provided an important source of supplementary income for farmers across West Africa. But as increased demand drives a massive surge in the trade, commercial poachers are moving into protected areas – with dire consequences for Taï’s chimpanzees.

Bee-keeping program in south-west Tai, Ivory Coast (2)

Bee-keeping programme run in South-west Taï, Ivory Coast, Credit – Rainforest Alliance

With financial support from the Darwin Initiative, and on-the-ground guidance from the Rainforest Alliance, six cocoa farming communities on the park’s southern edge have united to defend the forest. Over the past three years, more than 500 farmers have participated in field trainings in sustainable agricultural practices such as agroforestry and integrated pest management. These methods are not only “climate-smart,” helping farmers increase resilience to changing weather, but also support habitat conservation by restoring degraded ecosystems and boosting productivity on existing farmland – thereby removing the impetus to expand into nearby forests.

Representatives of the neighbouring Kroumen and Mossi tribes – together with local authorities, the forest management agency and Olam International – formed a Landscape Management Board (LMB). In an effort to advance conservation through sustainable livelihoods, more than 80 farmers are now participating in a successful chicken-rearing and bee-keeping programme which provides an alternative to bushmeat as both a source of income and protein.

The LMB’s efforts to stop habitat destruction have also been mindful of the importance of local plants in traditional medicine and spiritual practices. While threatened species used for these purposes – such as Salvadora persica, the famous “toothbrush plant” – need to be protected from over-exploitation, blanket bans are ineffective. Instead, the LMB has been raising awareness of the need to manage natural resources more sustainably.

For Thé Laurent Gnaoue, a local farmer who helped develop the landscape action plan, this community approach has been critical. Culture and tradition have “a huge impact” on any decisions taken by the local villages, notes Gnaoue. The strength of the action plan, he explains, is that it brings cohesion between conservation goals and cultural beliefs and traditions.

Further information on project 24-021 led by Rainforest Alliance in the Ivory Coast can be found here. To read the full article from this project and others that were featured in our ‘Tradition, Culture and Conservation’ edition of the Darwin Newsletter, please click here.


Tradition, culture and conservation: Respecting forests and equality

January 9, 2020

In the first blog of the series we heard about the cultural and traditional importance of birds in the Yala Swamp and how local guides have improved their livelihoods through spreading the importance of conservation.

In this blog post we explore how gender equality is being introduced and encouraged within the community-based forest management in Tanzania through a Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh led project.

Community forests in Tanzania: can they contribute to gender equaity?

Kilwa Masoko is located approximately five hours directly south on the main road from Dar es Salaam. Approximately an hour away, you turn east and begin a gradual descent to the Indian Ocean. The scent of the sea hangs heavy in the air and the road becomes dotted with the occasional flag, each one raised indicating a catch for sale. Kilwa Masoko is the home of the non-governmental organisation, Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative (MCDI) which was established in 2004 to promote forest conservation through community-based forest management.

The organisation’s name is indicative of its origin; the mpingo (Dalbergia melanoxylon) or African blackwood is native to this region and is one of the most valuable timbers in the world. Its wood is prized for the creation of woodwind instruments but has been severely depleted due to unsustainable extraction, which sparked the establishment of the MCDI. Although mpingo is a species of particular interest to MCDI’s work, the southern part of Tanzania also houses a significant portion of the country’s forest and woodland ecosystems, the majority of which are located on village lands. Furthermore, it is one of the most sparsely populated and economically-poor areas. These characteristics combine to create an area ripe for the conservation and development initiatives promoted by the MCDI.


Local woman and her children, Credit – Lasima Nzao

Community-based forest management (CBFM) had been present in the country prior to the MCDI’s formation, driven in large part by external donors, but embedded and strongly supported by the Tanzanian government. The foundation of CBFM was born in central Tanzania near Iringa where areas that had been heavily deforested were legally-transferred to community-management through the Forest Act No. 14. In contrast, the CBFM areas formed in partnership with MCDI have been more selectively degraded whilst retaining the potential to generate revenue for communities if managed sustainably.

The Darwin Initiative RESPeCT project (realising equitable, sustainable and profitable community-based forestry in Tanzania), was launched in May 2018 and showcases a collaborative research effort between the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, MCDI, and Allegheny College. The main project focus is on the provision of empirical evidence of the socio-ecological contributions that CBFM makes to the communities in which they are formed. Prior research has indicated the importance of differentiating people’s experience of CBFM. Men and women differ in their use of natural resources with growing evidence that greater gender equity in the management of a natural resource can lead to better conservation outcomes.


Local woman preparing food, Credit – Lasima Nzao

The RESPeCT project has been tracking gender issues and assessing the potential role that CBFM plays in attaining a more equitable playing field. In particular, we utilise a quasi-experimental design and have matched ten selected villages where CBFM is present with non-CBFM sites using relevant socio-demographic and environmental characteristics. Our preliminary results suggest that women are faring less well than men regardless of the type of governance – that is, CBFM has no effect. Women were shown to have significantly lower levels of hope and felt less confident than men in making decisions that impact their lives (agency). Women have been better represented in local government since the 35% female constituency was mandated in 1982, but the change has been slow and representation does not necessarily correlate with participation. What appears clear is that if CBFM is to contribute to gender equity, there must be an explicit incorporation of these objectives into its implementation and management practices.

More information on project 25-019 led by Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) can be found here. The full article for this project and others can be found in the Darwin Newsletter: Tradition, Culture & Conservation here.