Unexpected Achievements: Adaptation and Innovation

December 13, 2018

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


Youth in Conservation – Youth Collaboration

September 14, 2018

In this series of Darwin blogs, we have been celebrating International Youth Day and the inspiring work of Darwin projects with local youth groups, schools and colleges around the world. In the previous two entries in this series we looked at how Darwin projects seek to educate, from elephant board games in Burma (Myanmar) to a Marine Awareness Week in St Helena, and to engage, through the innovative use of video-based engagement in Guyana and the Cayman Islands.

In the final entry to this series, we look at how Darwin projects collaborate with local youth. First, we visit a project in Mali that is training young “eco-guardians” to protect the rapidly declining elephant population, before setting off to Timor-Leste to see how Blue Ventures are collaborating with and training local young people as certified scuba divers and seagrass monitors.

Local youth are fundamental to elephant conservation in Mali

The Mali Elephant Project (MEP) has been empowering local populations to work together to develop a model of conservation that benefits both people and elephants, that delivers very tangible local benefits, and which puts natural resources under the control of local communities. They gain, for example, from having pasture at the end of the dry season because they have protected it from bush fire. They can sell this and grazing access rights to others, and their livestock are healthier and worth more, and the proceeds are shared between the management committee of elders, the women and the eco-guardians, making it self-sustaining. Protecting the forest prevents its loss to agriculture, and safeguards the wood and many useful fruits, seeds, resins, forage and medicines that can be marketed by the women. It also secures vital ecosystem services linked to the healthy forests, such as water retention and erosion control.

Mali 23-022 Clearing the fire-breaks by hand, Credit - WILD Foundation

Eco-guardians clearing the firebreaks by hand, Credit – WILD Foundation

The 670 youth recruited by the project as eco-guardians are fundamental to all these achievements. Not only do they conduct patrols to ensure community rules of resource protection are respected, but they conduct resource protection activities such as building fire-breaks and fences, and providing manual labour for the women who establish revenue generation activities. They provide information on elephant locations and movements and, crucially, on poaching.

Across the world societies are witnessing problems of unemployed youth, environmental degradation and violence. This experience demonstrates the power of a systemic approach to tackling such challenges.

Young people in Timor-Leste engage in conservation for themselves, their communities and their future

Blue Ventures is working to engage young people in marine conservation on Ataúro – an island where communities depend on the sea for their livelihoods. Blue Ventures staff lead school classes on Timor-Leste’s marine ecosystems, reaching over 100 students who are keen to learn about how conserving their natural resources will affect life on the island.

Young people also make up the majority of the community-based monitoring programmes on the island; 85% of the seagrass and fisheries monitoring groups are under the age of 25. The seagrass group have mapped significant portions of Ataúro’s seagrass meadows, and are now shifting their focus towards long-term monitoring efforts. The all-female fisheries group are using smartphone technology to collect much-needed fisheries data and are helping change the role of women in Timorese society by getting involved in community decision-making and resource management.

East Timor 24-012 Children on Ataúro Island, Credit - Blue Ventures Martin Muir

Children on Ataúro Island  involved in Blue Ventures’ education programme, Credit – Martin Muir/Blue Ventures

Timorese youth are also flourishing within the Blue Ventures team. Jemima Gomes, aged 23, has recently completed her PADI Divemaster qualifications, making her the first Timorese woman to achieve this professional-level scuba diving certification. It’s largely thanks to her leadership and example that many more young people in her community are now beginning to participate in marine conservation and pursue their ambitions. Jemima believes that this participation is a great opportunity for her friends:

For more information on the Mali Elephant Project, project 23-022, please click here, and for more information on Blue Ventures’ work in Timor-Leste, on project 24-012, please click here or read the full articles in our August 2018 Newsletter.


Youth in Conservation – Youth Engagement

September 12, 2018

In the first blog of this “Youth in Conservation” themed series, we looked at some examples of Darwin projects providing youth education through activities, board games, and local events. In this blog we take a look at a different form of youth engagement – the use of interactive video. Two Darwin projects, one in the Cayman Islands and another in Guyana, are using interactive video to engage local youth on conservation matters, raising awareness and improving overall conservation knowledge in the region. In the Cayman Islands, marine biologists and other experts are answering questions underwater through the innovative “Reefs Go Live”. In Guyana the local indigenous youth groups are using participatory video to capture and preserve traditional conservation practices.

The underwater world comes to classrooms via live video lessons

For children from the Cayman Islands, marine debris, overfishing, and the disruption of the balance of life on coral reefs is not a distant threat a world away. Rather, it has a real and lasting impact on them, their families, and their future.

The Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI) hosts a variety of short and long-term residential courses for elementary, high school and university students throughout the year. However, not all children are able to visit the Little Cayman Research Centre. Financial, physical, and time constraints can make it an impossible task. In response to this, the CCMI team had to think creatively about how to make the underwater world accessible to children wherever they are. This gave rise to Reefs Go Live, CCMI’s innovative approach to engagement, broadcasting interactive lessons live from underwater on the reefs.

Cayman DPLUS061 RGL Broadcast Snapshot, Credit - CCMI

A snapshot of the Reefs Go Live broadcast, Credit – CCMI

Following nearly a year of planning, preparation, testing, development of lesson plans and teacher training, Reefs Go Live was officially launched as part of CCMI’s International Year of the Reef. School children in the Cayman Islands were the primary target of this initial Reefs Go Live rollout. Targeted lessons during the piloting stage were also delivered directly to classrooms in Peru and the United States. As the series developed, the Reefs Go Live videos were broadcast on social media, broadening the audience to include viewers around the globe. The pilot lessons achieved an estimated 16,000 views, and the total reach of the videos was nearly 70,000.

By engaging with scientists and having their questions answered by researchers on the coral reefs, students are learning about coral reefs in an active way, no matter where they are in the world. The underwater world is drawn closer and made more understandable; as a result, students are able to understand how threats to coral reefs affect us all.

Participatory video empowering Indigenous youth

This project in Guyana seeks to facilitate communication between communities and decision-makers by dialogue through participatory video. Participatory video is a great way of exploring and capturing the views and opinions of the local people on issues that are important to them. It allows for several voices and opinions to be heard and recommendations to be recorded and subsequently shared with relevant stakeholders and partners. This project focuses particularly on Indigenous communities located in and around Protected Areas and seeing how traditional knowledge could better inform the management of these areas.

The Makushi people of the North Rupununi are no strangers to supporting local conservation efforts. In fact, a total of 21 villages are affiliated with the management of the Iwokrama Rainforest. The rights of Indigenous communities to access resources in these rainforests and rivers continue to be respected.

Guyana 24-026 Young Indigenous woman are also having their voices heard, Credit - Claudia Nuzzo

Young Indigenous women are also having their voices heard through the participatory videos, Credit – Claudia Nuzzo

Through the Environmental Protection Agency’s on-going Darwin Initiative project, many young Indigenous men and women have had the opportunity to be trained in participatory video skills to improve engagement and pass on traditional knowledge. The project uses a methodology whereby video dialogue allows local Indigenous communities, through the youth, to voice their opinions, concerns and recommendations to decision-makers for improved management of the Iwokrama Rainforest. Young people in the community are provided with the knowledge and skills to develop storyboards, conduct interviews and, most importantly, use video equipment including smart tablets with tripods. They are also gaining valuable experience in taking responsibility among their peers, working together as a team and building good leadership qualities. Through their work on the project they have the opportunity to actively engage with elders and other community members, facilitating intergenerational interaction.

For more information on CCMI’s project DPLUS061 please click here and for more information on the Environment Protection Agency’s Guyana project 24-026 please click here, or read the full articles in our August 2018 Newsletter.


Youth in Conservation – Youth Education

September 3, 2018

On 12th August 2018 we celebrated International Youth Day, a United Nations endorsed global celebration of young people and their contribution towards the Sustainable Development Goals, with the launch of our latest newsletter. Working with youth groups, providing training in schools, or partnering directly with universities and their students are often key aspects of Darwin projects, and engaging with local youth is a cornerstone of the Darwin Initiative.

In this series of blogs, we will be exploring projects which exemplify these values as we look at how Darwin projects educate, collaborate with, and engage young people in conservation around the world. In this, the first blog of the series, we look at education and knowledge sharing. We begin by visiting a school in Burma which has found creative ways to educate children about the importance of elephants, before attending “Marine Awareness Week” in St Helena to learn about plankton and plastics.

Integrating biodiversity and elephants into peace and development in Burma (Myanmar)

August 12th is a special day for Elephant Family. Not only is it International Youth Day, it is also, coincidently, World Elephant Day. Teaching youngsters about elephants and the role they play in their ecosystem, as well as how to live safely alongside them, is one of the strategies employed by a dynamic partnership of NGOs supported by the Darwin Initiative, ensuring a future for Asia’s elephants.

Elephant Family’s Darwin project is forging an alliance between two local partners – Burmese-led Grow Back for Posterity (GBP) and WCS-Myanmar – who work with rural communities in Burma (Myanmar). In the course of this project, the human-elephant conflict (HEC) education teams will reach over 12,000 families in key areas for elephants and biodiversity, giving them the knowledge and skills they need to conserve their natural resources and avoid conflict with elephants. Our common aim is for elephants to be seen as an ecological asset rather than an economic risk. This seems to be paying off. In recent months villagers who have engaged with GBP are those that have shopped elephant poachers to the authorities.

Burma 24-024 Children playing the WCS educational elephant board game, Credit WCS-Myanmar

Children playing the WCS educational elephant board game, Credit – WCS Myanmar

So far, the GBP teams have held Human Elephant Conflict awareness workshops in 61 schools and community centres with over 10,000 students. These are hugely interactive events involving educational films, Q&A sessions, memory games and other learning tools that grip these novelty-hungry audiences ranging in age from 8 to 80. Tightly packed in cross-legged groups, children eagerly participate while their parents and grandparents stand around watching, highly amused and equally engaged. One game requires players to pair elephant-related pictures on individual boards. The first to fill a board wins, and the contest is lively! The students are intensely focused, their parents actively encouraging. The WCS team has also developed a beautifully illustrated board game similar to Snakes and Ladders which explains the challenges faced by a young elephant as it grows up. This game has been piloted in six villages in the Tanintharyi region of southeast Burma (Myanmar) and is a hit! GBP looks forward to adding this to its suite of educational tools.

Elephant game

Board game of young elephants growing up in the forests of Burma, Credit – WCS Myanmar

Getting young people on St Helena talking about plankton and plastics

Darwin is helping young people on the island of St Helena to understand how their marine ecosystem works and how all the marine organisms link together in the food web. The aim is to help the island’s youth to make more informed management decisions about the marine environment.

When work started on this project the word ‘plankton’ was used a lot. Local people, who identify as ‘Saints’, weren’t sure what plankton was or why it’s so important. Through our Darwin project work we started spreading the information. The message was simple: plankton are the base of the food web, everything eats plankton, and everything needs plankton to survive.

But everywhere we found plankton we were also finding plastic. When we dragged nets through the water to scoop out plankton we also scooped out plastic. When we looked in our fish stomachs we found plankton but we also found plastic. When we went to our sea bird nesting sites little pieces of plastic were being used to mark their territories. We wanted to tell Saints about plankton, but we couldn’t do that without also talking about plastic.

Each year on St Helena the Marine Conservation Section of St Helena Government run ‘Marine Awareness Week’. A topic is chosen and a week of outreach activities are organised to educate and inspire school children about their marine ecosystem. This year the theme was ‘Our Invisible Ocean: from plankton to plastics’.

Every class from every school on the island was invited to attend. The younger children learned through games: circling what doesn’t belong on the beach, or trying to fish in the paddling pool and answering ‘What did you catch and should it be there?’ The older children had a more challenging day learning how long different plastic items stay in the ocean for. They then created St Helena’s food web with plankton as the base, working out what happens if you take away plankton and replace it with plastic.

St Helena DPLUS070 Schools on the island decorate their classrooms for Marine Awareness Week, Credit - St Helena Govt

Schools on the island decorate their classrooms for Marine Awareness Week, Credit – St Helena Government

Small actions by lots of individuals can add up to big changes. The children were given simple things to try to swap some of their single use plastic items with more ocean safe options. This included things like encouraging re-usable shopping bags and water bottles, taking metal cutlery on picnics instead of plastic and saying no to the straw when they buy a drink. St Helena relies heavily on imported food goods that bring in a lot of plastic packaging. Many locals feel that this is beyond their control but by adding their voice to those around the world saying ‘no’ to plastic, they can have a powerful effect.

For more information on Elephant Family’s project 24-024 click here and for more information on the Saint Helena Government’s project DPLUS070 please click here, or read the full articles in our August 2018 Newsletter.


International Day of Biodiversity – Benefit Sharing

July 12, 2018

The previous two Darwin blogs in this series have looked at the first two core objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity: conservation of biodiversity through community engagement and sustainable use of biodiversity components. This third and final entry in the series celebrating 25 years of the CBD looks at the third CBD objective: fair and equitable use of all benefits arising from the use of biodiversity assets. This blog covers an eco-tourism project near the Ayeyarwady River, Myanmar, which aims to improve local livelihoods and channel profits into expansion of the project to create more benefits for the fishing communities charged with the management of this important biodiversity site.

Addressing CBD objectives – a view from the Ayeyarwady River, Myanmar

The locals call them ‘labai’ and the visitors ‘the Irrawaddy River dolphin’. For the Myanmar fishing communities these almost mystical cetaceans are their friends – aquatic sheep dogs who for generations have helped the fishermen and women find, corral, and catch the river fish (for an excellent video of this see here).

The Harrison Institute has been leading a Darwin Initiative supported project to help protect the dolphins in a way that engages and benefits local communities in a fair and equitable way through eco-tourism. In terms of conserving biological diversity, after years of decline, dolphin numbers finally appear to be on the rise with a reported 10% increase in 2017. Despite this, they remain Critically Endangered, with only 76 individuals; just as ‘one swallow does not make a summer’, one successful year for the dolphin does not make a trend. But it is a possible indication of better things to come.

Myanmar 21-012 2d Destination Ayeyarwady Award 2, Credit - Paul Bates

Destination Ayeyarwady Award, Credit – Paul Bates

As for the equitable sharing of benefits of conserving wildlife, the project’s community programme has been an amazing success and in November 2017 won a national award for ‘Best Community Involvement in Tourism’, Myanmar. Known as ‘Destination Ayeyarwady’, it has three clear aims:

  • Conserving the Irrawaddy River dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) and other wildlife on the Ayeyarwady River;
  • Conserving the traditional culture of cooperative fishing with dolphins with cast nets; and
  • Providing additional income for fishing communities who have traditionally fished co-operatively with the dolphins.

All money from the community programme stays in the village and is divided between the service provider, community projects, and wildlife conservation.

The success of the 1st Phase of ‘Destination Ayeyarwady’ has triggered a wonderful follow-up response, with over $16,200 (in money and in kind) being raised in donations for a 2nd Phase. The 2nd Phase has seen the construction of a new building at Hsithe village, which will not only be used as an Eco-lodge for visiting tourists to stay overnight (improving the visitor experience and boosting income to the village) but also as a rural Environmental Learning Centre. It will help expand the training in issues such as waste management, especially plastics. This was begun under the Darwin project but will be further developed through new programmes, bringing in school children, students, and villagers from throughout Singu District and beyond.

His Excellency the Minister of Hotels and Tourism has become a strong supporter of the project, encouraging site visits not only from staff in his own ministry but also those in state ministries including Chin State and Mandalay Division. He sees the project as a role model for Myanmar (Burma) in community-led tourism. Great interest is also being shown by other Myanmar (Burma) conservation and ecotourism organisations which are keen to replicate many of the ideas.

Myanmar 21-012 8 Destination Ayeyarwady Hsithe Visitor Centre, Credit - Paul Bates

Destination Ayeyarwady Hsithe Visitor Centre, Credit – Paul Bates

One important output of this is the new ecotourism website, which the Harrison Institute wrote in conjunction with the MTF (Myanmar Tourism Federation) and which highlights opportunities for bird watching, trekking, cycling, sailing, as well as visiting ‘Destination Ayeyarwady’, of course!

For the full version of this articles, please see the May 2018 edition of the Darwin Newsletter.

You can find out more on the Harrison Institute and dedicated project webpages. For more information on the ‘Destination Ayeyarwady’ project click here.


International Day of Biodiversity – Sustainable Use

July 6, 2018

In our previous blog, we looked at two remarkable projects taking a community-based approach to upholding the first objective of the Convention on Biological Diversity: protecting and conserving biological diversity. In this blog we will be exploring two Darwin Initiative projects focused on the second CBD objective: the sustainable use of biodiversity components.

The first is a traditional example of sustainable biodiversity use, working with local groups to develop and manage sustainable hunting in Cameroon. The second takes a slightly more indirect approach, exploring how sustainable use of water in the Tana River Delta in Kenya can have remarkable impacts on biodiversity and conservation.

Sustainable hunting, conservation and human wellbeing in Baka lands in Cameroon

In the forests of Central Africa, pressure from growing urbanised human populations and hunting advances have led to a booming commercial wild meat trade that is causing the decline of numerous wildlife populations. Peoples that depend on wild meat and other products are affected. Recognition that there is an urgent need to ensure the sustainability of these resources by reducing the uncontrolled bushmeat trade whilst empowering rural and indigenous communities was declared in the 21st Conference of the Parties to the CBD.

Cameroon 24-029 Baka women and children outside traditional hut, Credit - Eva Avila

This project, with Darwin funding, is working towards the implementation of the new CBD resolution. The collaborators are 10 communities of Baka Pygmies in southern Cameroon. The Baka, who are traditionally hunter-gatherers, have endured for over 40,000 years as part of Central Africa’s Pygmy population.

By documenting hunting and fishing practices and volumes extracted in our study villages, the project is working alongside local people to achieve sustainable levels of wild meat extraction and consumption. Unlike other bushmeat-focused projects, this project works within the triptych of human health, use of wild resources and domestic food production. By working with health professionals and agricultural experts, Darwin Initiative funding is improving the health of the Baka villages through disease prevention strategies. By encouraging food security through an increased access to sufficient, safe and nutritious foods from more competent subsistence agriculture and alternative livelihoods, villagers’ health is further improved.

Balancing water services for development and biodiversity in the Tana River Delta, Kenya

The 130,000ha Tana River Delta in Kenya is an extremely important area for biodiversity. As well as being recognised as a Ramsar site, Key Biodiversity Area and Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, it is a proposed World Heritage Site.

The Delta supports a range of charismatic, endemic and endangered species including five species of threatened marine turtles, lions, elephants, the endemic Tana River Red Colobus (one of the world’s 25 most endangered primates), the Tana River Mangabey (Endangered), rare fish and reptiles, 350 bird species including the Basra Reed-warbler (Endangered), and internationally important populations of 22 waterbirds and 280 plants (including four Vulnerable species).

The Tana Delta Land Use Plan (TDLUP) was completed in 2015. In April 2017, with funding from the Darwin Initiative, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds through Nature Kenya started piloting the implementation of the TDLUP. The best place to demonstrate how to implement the plan is in the heart of the delta, where biodiversity is richest and access to water and land is hotly contested by local people.

The project will work in this area to support 45 villages and two County Governments (Tana River and Lamu) to balance water use for development and biodiversity by establishing a Community Conservation Area (CCA) over 95,200 hectares of the core of the delta.

Kenya 21-015 Tana Delta community members and Nature Kenya staff during World Wetlands Day Celebrations 2018, Credit - G. Odera

Tana Delta community members and Nature Kenya staff during World Wetlands Day Celebrations 2018, Credit – G. Odera

The project has made good progress in its first year, and highlights include:

  1. An Ecosystem Services Assessment of the CCA was carried out, with stakeholders agreeing on the general boundaries of the CCA.
  2. Biodiversity assessments were carried out in the CCA. A key finding is that the ranges of the Tana River Red Colobus and the Tana River Crested Mangabey extend further south than initially recorded.
  3. Household wellbeing and socioeconomic surveys were conducted in 15 villages targeted for livelihood activities in the proposed Tana Delta CCA. These will form a baseline for measuring community livelihood improvements resulting from project interventions.

Thus, the project has taken the first steps towards establishing the CCA and promoting sustainable use of water to ensure biodiversity is maintained through future development.

For the full version of both these articles, please see the May 2018 edition of the Darwin Newsletter. For more information on the Baka lands sustainable hunting project, click here. For more information on the Tana River Delta project, click here.