Meet inspiring PANORAMA Solution Providers: Rodrigue MOURBARE SALI, Ministry of Forests and Wildlife, Cameroon
Rodrigue MOURBARE SALI, Water and Forestry Engineer, Head of the Anti-Poaching Unit, Ministry of Forests and Wildlife, Faro National Park, and student at ERAIFT in the Professional Master's programme in Protected Areas Management is joined in this conversation by Cécile Fattebert of the IUCN Protected and Conserved Areas team.
In order to contribute to the resolution of problems around land use and degradation, numerous awareness meetings have been initiated between the Faro National Park and local communities. These have enabled the population to understand the importance of conserving the banks of the Faro.
What makes your solution in the Faro National Park so successful?
The Faro National Park, a 330,000 ha Protected Area in the North Cameroon Region, is managed by the Conservation Service. It is in close proximity to Nigeria. Indeed, it is naturally bounded by the Faro River and the Déo River. The particularity of this park is that it is full of emblematic species such as Lion, Savannah Elephant, Giraffe, Hippopotamus etc. which can promote tourism. But it so happens that when the park was created, the authorities did not take much account of the population living around the park. The anthropic pressure on the banks of these rivers has meant that, over the years, the banks of the rivers have deteriorated as the anthropic pressure has increased.
With the technical and financial support of the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), since 2017, some studies have been carried out and it has been found that anthropic pressure at the edge of the watercourses leads to their silting. What should be done? Would it be necessary to evacuate the whole population at once? Would it be necessary to raise their awareness, get them more involved and make them understand the importance of protecting these waterways, both for their use and for the conservation of the park? Or to inject agro-forestry projects all around these watercourses, so that they are preserved, without making them move away? All these questions have been asked over the years. Then we realised that there were no concrete project proposals. And then there was the call for applications for this project and I tried to set up the project in relation to the restoration and preservation of the banks of the Faro and Déo rivers.
At the beginning, the people were reluctant, thinking that they would have to lose space for agriculture. But over time, during the meetings to revise the park's development plan, we made them understand that no, they will certainly abandon the crops on the banks of the watercourses, but we will subsidise you in agro-forestry projects. The population gradually began to accept the riverbank restoration project, because they saw an interest in restoring the riverbanks, because they would benefit from certain agro-forestry plants, such as cashew trees, mango trees, citrus trees, etc. And in the long term, they would have an income. We went through the sensitisation stage, then they joined and then there was a problem of funding. Who could fund this activity? On the African Wildlife Foundation's side, the restoration of the riverbanks was not in the specifications, and the project was coming to an end in 2021. What was to be done? The technical and financial partner proposed a revision of the management plan that had expired. And in this new management plan, which will be implemented from 2022 to 2026, the conservation department of the Faro National Park under the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife has managed to include riverbank restoration as an activity in this new document.
And what makes the project successful in the area is that the population has accepted it and the government has validated it, and everyone agrees that the project should go ahead.
It's a pity I have to go to school, but I hope that in the meantime they will get the project up and running. I am in constant contact with the curator and colleagues in the park about the development of the activities.
Ah, because your university studies are full time!
Yes, I obtained a Master's scholarship in Protected Area Management at ERAFT (École Régionale Postuniversitaire d'Aménagement et de Gestion intégrés des Forêts et Territoires tropicaux) in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
You were a finalist for the Pathfinder Award, in the Land Management category. Have you seen any positive spin-offs, any benefits from being nominated?
Internationally, yes. Recently I've had calls and messages of congratulations from people who have come across the project online. It makes us look good for the park.
So you say your project is online on PANORAMA, or elsewhere?
Yes, on PANORAMA. When you Google the Faro riverbank restoration, it's the first project that comes up!
And so people have contacted you to find out more, to find out how you did it?
Yes, and to find out how it goes, the calls for applications, is it every year? And I encouraged them to look at the website at any time. A lot of people didn't know about these kinds of projects, like the Pathfinder Award.
What is your vision for the Faro National Park?
My long-term vision for the Faro National Park is to ensure the protection of biodiversity and its peripheral area within a framework of concerted landscape use and sustainable management.
The long-term vision of the riverbank restoration. First of all, let's say that if we decide to implement a project with the communities, it's very important to follow the community. If we decide to leave this project in the hands of the communities, we won't know what the end result will be. It is very important to have the support of the government and the partners, to continue to follow the project until the end. The most difficult thing is the nurseries, for example. Do we need to train people in the community to learn the techniques of setting up nurseries? This is a benefit to the community. If we also decide to do it in partnership with an institute, we will have the advantage that the institute will be able to finance the communities and the park through the different training and accompaniment.
In the long term, if the project works well, in 5-10 years :
1) part of the Faro riverbank can be restored and protected;
2) the populations will be able to benefit from the economic spin-offs of the agroforestry activities implemented and the ecosystem services provided;
3) the protection of the park will have been enhanced by the involvement of the local population.
So you're saying that the next step would be to have a partnership with an institute that could provide trainings so that it can be perpetuated and people can really take care of the nurseries and replant mango trees, fruit trees, right?
Yes, absolutely. With a technical partner, the pooling of strengths and skills will be better. I recently learned that there is a new ICRAF (International Center for Research in Agroforestry) project, which aims to strengthen agro-sylvo-pastoral innovation systems. It aims to reduce land use conflicts and promote sustainable natural resource management. The project intends to work in partnership with a range of actors, including protected area managers, NGOs, development projects, public and para-public institutions, universities, farmers' organisations, policy makers and local authorities. They have created rural resource centres in communities on the periphery of protected areas in the Northern Region to support them in environmental education, agroforestry, etc., especially in the community of Tchamba in Faro. From there, the Faro National Park has a partner, which can use the strategic position of the park next to the communities, it would be a boon to help improve the living conditions of the people.
What would you like to say to the international conservation community? What are your messages, needs and recommendations?
It is cheaper to conserve nature than to restore it once it has been damaged or degraded. The international community must focus on expanding and improving the management of Protected Areas, which therefore have an essential role to play, and above all improve the communication strategy at the strategic level.
An integrated rural development management system with communities needs to be put in place. The funding that the international community provides does not really reach the communities living in the protected areas. The results of the projects put in place are not tangible. However, a Protected Area can no longer do without the communities. Participatory management with the communities is essential. It is absolutely necessary to integrate them into the management of the park.
The need to address the problem of invasion and encroachment in protected areas is becoming increasingly urgent. Therefore, in view of the remaining gaps in protected area management in African countries, there are important things that need to be done:
Encourage diversification of funding sources for protected areas
Encourage sub-regional initiatives and cooperation between states to exchange information on positive experiences in protected area management.
Redefine the concept of protected area, as the current concept is based on prohibitions, whereas the concept of a multi-purpose reserve should be preferred.
Improve relations between protected area managers and local people to ensure the survival of protected areas
Improve the management of protected areas through the preparation of management plans as one of the main steps in the management of these areas.
Strengthen education programmes to raise the interest of local communities in natural resource conservation.
And you, at the Ministry level, are you trying to have more strategic discussions and common approaches with the different sectors, health and others?
Since 2018, the Faro National Park has set up a consultation framework called the "stakeholders' forum" which brings together all the stakeholders once every six months through their respective ministerial departments, namely the territorial administration, Health, Education, Defence and Security, Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry and Wildlife, Justice and even the traditional authorities. The aim is to discuss the challenges and opportunities of biodiversity conservation (tourism, development of the local economy), sustainable management, the security aspect (transhumance, international poaching and armed gangs) and the coordination of information to improve the working climate and ensure good protection of the heritage.
Among the various ministries, there is the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Ministry in charge of Livestock with whom we work at all times, the Ministry of Justice on capacity building for eco-guards on wildlife legislation and human rights. And the Defence, which accompanies us during anti-poaching operations. Some actors do not understand the objective of conserving protected areas. However, the legislation is clear on this: absolute prohibition of any human activity in the Protected Areas.
This is excellent! We should also make a PANORAMA solution on this! That's really the challenge, at all levels I think.
Indeed, the desired cross-sectoral approach is to integrate all stakeholders in order to make joint decisions. And above all to coordinate information between the different parties. If we take a decision, all stakeholders should be informed. Now it is systematic.
And to make people understand, basically, why we do things in conservation.
Absolutely. Because often people say that we finance Protected Areas, but they don't see the benefits. In fact, the other stakeholders expect us to invite them to seminars, give them a per diem, and then they go home. But that's not the point. The purpose is the decisions we have to take together for the benefit of the community and the Protected Area. And there will be economic spin-offs (ecotourism), the enhancement of social, cultural and spiritual values, and research.
I think that this is perhaps also a message for the international community, to see how to better evaluate the impacts of actions undertaken in Protected Areas. I think this is already being done, but is it well communicated?
It is precisely at this level that there are blockages and misunderstandings in the evaluation of conservation and development projects. In my humble opinion, the evaluation of a conservation project should be based on the results obtained on the ground and not on the funds allocated to the project.
From my experiences in the field, some donors define in advance the projects to be implemented in the communities. Socio-economic studies should help us to get the information up to the level of the hierarchy to know what the real need of the communities is. Do they need a water point? Do they need an agricultural subsidy? Once we have identified the needs of these communities, it is very easy to set up projects. But often we go the other way around, we plan projects and try to implement them in the communities, and after five years the project doesn't work. We wonder why the population is not interested? Because the population did not ask for such a project.
And from your side, do you have a question or a last word to share?
What do you plan to do at your level with the different projects, including those that were not selected (for the Pathfinder Award), to push a little further in the search for funding to impact. Perhaps share, with your different partners, in a conference the solutions you have proposed with other NGOs, if possible.
In fact, this is exactly what we hope to achieve. We are collecting good practices, there are already tangible results, so if donors are working in the region, or for example with the Faro National Park, they can see that we can already build on something that is successful and that can be extended and developed further, obviously with funding. We are already trying to position PANORAMA as a reference platform where we have good practices from all over the world, in conservation and sustainable development, on different themes, be it terrestrial, marine, protected areas or other. There is a lot of competition between organisations, which also want to have their own platform, and so it's a lot of work to promote and influence so that donors also refer to it. So we try to act, but it's not something that happens overnight.
Ideally, all the organisations involved in conservation should be on a platform where they can all sit together. Because we have the impression that each one works on its own. Even if we have the same funder, they work individually, in a dispersed way.
And this is true at all levels. Even in our own offices, for example, sometimes we are too busy, and with Covid for example, everyone worked at home, we no longer had these meetings around the coffee machine, where we spontaneously exchange and discover ah but in fact! It's crazy, but that's how it is and it's true that we have to try to do it. The idea is really to do it at all levels. For example, you too, with the solution, you can distribute it in different occasions. And we do the same, and we hope that the two parties join forces. We had also observed that it is also important to have forums, finally to put people together, who really have things in common or things to share. Because there are also a lot of conferences or workshops, often with very busy agendas, three minutes of presentation, and we go from one to the other, and finally, everyone has a full head, and it is very difficult to have an impact, especially in terms of follow-up. That is to say, the workshop is a first meeting, but it is afterwards that things start to happen, when we start to exchange on specific issues. So we try through projects to connect people who are already on the PANORAMA platform with other people, for example protected area managers, who might have a direct interest in knowing more about, for example, what you have done in Faro. This is what we are trying to do, with the project behind it to support the process of exchanging good practices and knowledge. But then you really have to ask yourself the question of resources, once you have identified the needs.
It takes time, but it's worth the effort, it's going to happen.
So we hope that the PANORAMA solutions will be a source of inspiration and information for donors, governments and others, so that they can find out who the actors are in a given region or country, with whom they can get in touch.
We wish you the best!