Category Archives: Communities

Lessons for conservation related conflict resolution projects in war situation

Stakeholders closing a channel on Lake Edward

The Eastern DRC has been under fire and armed conflict since 90s. The fauna and flora of Virunga National Park are intensely impacted because armed groups target rangers and local communities work for armed groups to use illegally resources. In some areas, local communities are allowed to extract resources (fishing villages) but they don’t comply with regulations. This creates conflict between park staff and communities over resources. More armed conflicts weaken law enforcement.Through a conflict resolution process, a participatory framework was developed, agreed and implemented in Nyakakoma (one of the three fishing villages in Virunga Park) to reduce illegal fishing. All stakeholders (park managers, fisheries and civil society, army and police) were involved and the decrease of illegal fishing was about 50%.  Refugee camp in Kibumba

In October 08; with the clash of the war between rebels and legal army, it was impossible to enforce anything as armed people relied on fishing to survive. We kept contact with stakeholders and make sure that the situation is known and monitored. After five months, with political negotiations, stakeholders wished to restart the process and implement the framework. The success of any conflict resolution project in conservation relies on collaboration between stakeholders which improves relationship and communication among them and built trust. But to get to that level; there is need of commitment and willingness from conservation organizations, support and regular contact with stakeholders and monitoring of the situation. Your support to this blog will strengthen the ongoing conflict and community activities!

Natural resource use in Virunga neighbouring villages.

Virunga National park located in Eastern DRC is among the richest protected area in terms of animals and plants. Some of these species cannot be found every where apart from the Virunga surrounding regions (e.g. Gorillas).
Covering about 8,000sqkm, Virunga Park is surrounded by a populated region which might be among the highest in DRC – up to 350 habitant/km². In these different areas, natural resources are the most used as about 80% of rural areas in DRC depend on agriculture and use firewood as source of energy.
In order to get firewood, local communities are obliged to get into the park –in most of the surrounding areas – and get some trees cut down for survival purposes. Besides firewood, charcoal is also the main forest killer in the area as the Park is surrounded by 3 big towns (Goma, Butembo and Beni) and others cities (Kiwanja, Rutshuru, Kasindi, etc.) where charcoal is the most used in different households for cooking.
In other areas where there are still some patches of forest, people are cutting down forests for timber, charcoal and firewood.

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Picture 1 – How do we carry firewood?

Surrounding communities as future threats to protected forests
Protecting Parks and forests is seen as a management purpose than a common benefit in Africa and especially in DRC.
The forest on community lands is reducing every day and year leaving behind the protected areas as lonely and isolated forested areas.
Even if the forest on community lands is finished, local communities and surrounding towns’ population will still need charcoal, firewood and timber and the only place to get these will be into the protected areas. That’s the future threat towards natural resource exploitation in the Virunga region.
And this is more serious when you consider the birth rates of the areas and their economic status!
More threats towards conservationist than how it is now!

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Picture 2 – Deforested areas

Actions to be taken for both sides
In order to get this threat reduced, there is need of working on both sides – developing incentives in the community areas and actions for resources sharing with neighbouring communities on the community side and protection of resource with community on the other side.
Among solutions, get networks organized for community and individual plantations for timber products for communities.
To manage to get people committed to such activities, there is need of technical and financial supports.

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Picture 3 –Need to work together to stop the deforestation of the park.

How research helps to protect protected areas

Mushroom in Virunga Park

Mushroom in Virunga National Park

As in the previous information, Mont Hoyo is very interesting for both tourism and research. For tourism as it has some potentials described latter and for research as there has been no research in the forest as we know.

The plan was to survey the area in order to gather biological information and give some useful recommendations. As a forest reserve and following DRC law, it must be fully protected and no human activity is allowed.

In our visit to Mont Hoyo, we noticed that there are several illegal activities carried by local population and some armed people. It has been a plan to get the army responsible to know that there are some illegal activities carried by armed people (soldiers) and nothing has been done on their side. In order to ensure that there is no shooting from these poachers, some actions were planned to arrest the poachers without shooting as people in the area are still stressed by war.

We planned the survey and get military and political authorities to know that we are planning a survey. Even if the security situation has worsened in the neighbouring areas of Mont Hoyo, this plan has been used to arrest the armed poachers in Mont Hoyo.

They were called to join the researcher team for administrative purposes and guide them while the real purpose was to get them arrested. This has been done and they are under arrest.

The other case is, during the biological surveys conducted in Semuliki (Virunga Park); during the research work, several poaching materials are destroyed and removed and large area is covered and give an global picture of the status of the area to manager. E.g.: there have been a hundred of snares removed from the Park, some area not covered by ranger patrols have been covered and the local community sensitised during evening walk in the village.

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Left: Rope snare sample found in Virunga National Park – Right: Ranger in research team getting GPS data

With the money gained from surveys, local communities are aware that, if the protected area is destroyed there will never be any research in the area and they may not get any visitor compared to other areas where they are helping protected area managers to conserve.

How communities can help to protect Wildlife

During this two weeks, we’ve been conducting biological surveys in Semuliki area (Virunga National park). I got to look for cutters and trackers who coils help us to get into the forest to find our lines.

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Later on, I discovered that the people we were using are organised into a local association called OAN (Organisation des Amis de la Nature = Organisation for friends of nature). Among the activities they are conducting:

chimpanzee monitoring

local communities of Mwenda have been able to protect a patch of forest closed to Mt Ruwenzori (DRC) where occur chimpanzees. They have been following these cousins of human without any support (technical or financial). They are kin monitoring chimps even if they don’t have any field equipment, field ration during monitoring or data sheet, etc.

If supported, they can help to save these threatened species of which their numbers is going down everyday.

They have field staff moving in the field everyday hiking the base of Ruwenzori.

vegetable farming

Wildlife protection is the key of their activities but they add in some other activities that can support the wildlife related activities. They’ve got some farm to grow vegetables at small scale. It’s known that the small scale agricultural activities is enough to fulfil all the food needs for the household. But when it comes to diversifying economic activities, you need to increase and improve your techniques of growing food. Thus, this local organisation needs to get different agricultural inputs to make their activity important for conservation.

tree nursing

Our country (DRC) is among countries where citizen still depend more than 95% on natural timber resources for different options without alternatives or suitable techniques. For cooking or building, the main product to use is still timber. People have to look for trees to cut to fulfil these needs. In order to reduce and make people aware of the future danger, OAN has been trying to put in place some areas to make available trees for plantation in the village. Still, the area covered and the target is still not enough.

This has been made possible in combination with public awareness and sensitisation.

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Charcoal made out of wood

information gathering about wildlife killing

protect wildlife doesn’t rely only on rangers or again on patrols. There is need of information gathering in order to get some targeted places chosen by poachers. This information can be made available through different channels. In this specific area (Mwenda), this local organisation is helping to provide information about different actors involved in illegal exploitation of natural resources within the Park. They collect information from different villagers and get information to managers through different ways, depending on how the manager is confident to them and dedicated to the protection of the Park.

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So, it’s possible to protect protected areas and community forests with local organisations within the village by providing them capacity!

Fish is more a community ressource than a biologic resource

At the creation of Virunga Park, local communities used to fish in Lake Edward with traditional tools and equipment under the local management structures. During colonial period, the Park was created and included Lake Edward as part of Virunga park. As part of the culture, the Park Manager has left the fishing privilege to communities and allowed local population to fish but under a cooperative structure.

As per now, the situation has worsened and became a threat toward conservation of the Park. At the creation of the Park, there were only two fishing villages and now there are more than 15 villages. These villages has also increased in size.

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Nyakakoma fishing villages 2006

If fish was biological resource, it could be more important for local communities. In the region, fish is more important as it provides different benefits:

  1. food for community in the fishing villages
  2. food for surrounding communities
  3. commercial activity for fishing population
  4. opportunity for business of manufactured products

Beside these opportunities, fish is source of conflict between different stakeholders: conservation institution, marine and infantry forces, public services, local communities and administration.

The over fishing has led people to adapt themselves to the current situation and develop survival mechanism which implies fauna poaching, armed group creation, deforestation and encroachment.

We’ve been working with the different communities to solve this conflict.

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Meeting with stakeholders

This has been done through a participatory process:

  • conflict analysis
  • strategy definition
  • planning meeting
  • set up a monitoring and evaluation team
  • activity implementation

It appears that when interest of different groups are threatened, it become easy to get people involved into a resolution conflict process.

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How do we go for fish?

The main interest is that local communities has noticed that fish stock has decreased and this has led to involvement of communities into the process.


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Endangered Species Protected By Endangered People

LIFE OF PEOPLE SAVING WILDLIFE AND DIFFICULTIES

As stated in my first post, Virunga National Park is the oldest Park in Africa created in 1925 and recognised by UNESCO as a World heritage Site in 1979. To enable its protection, the Park is managed by a public Institution which has been weakened by the different socioeconomic crisis’s in the eastern DRC.

The ICCN (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature) has employed more than 600 rangers to protect the Park. These rangers are working everyday and living with their families in the ranger posts inside the Park. Most of these rangers have wives and children.

In our recent census in one ranger post (28 rangers), the average of household is 9. Rangers have been working since the creation of the Park and are paid less now despite the bonus given to them by International NGOs.

The effect of the civil war is still harming the park and field staff. There have been more than 100 rangers killed and many others injured.

Infrastructure

Most of the Park infrastructure has been destroyed by the effect of war. Therefore, rangers are living in huts which they have to build themselves made by mud and grass. I have been working with the ICCN to try the best and get some ranger posts renovated but there is a lot to do to improve the conditions for the rangers who are working for the worldwide richness by protecting the park but living in bad conditions.
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Kabasha Before

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Kabasha after construction

It is very difficult to imagine that people are still living under these circumstances.

Socioeconomic life

It’s difficult to support conservation activities without thinking about people lives. As workers, rangers are being badly/less paid even though there is a support from International NGOs to try to supplement their thin and unimaginable salaries. The overall life in Africa is not only based on salaries but also on economic activities which can supplement the household budget. Rangers wives have been doing several things in order to get the household’s life better: some are selling local beer, fish, basic manufactured products, others are selling agricultural products. They needed to get more funds to get started in case there is one of them who has failed in her business.

I have been visiting rangers since 2003, and this year I’ve been thinking of helping rangers’ wives to set up a group to enable themselves to help each other. They’ve established a local committee and they have secured 50$ from their own activities and got support from us. It has been a good time for us as we’ve got support and we’ll try to work hard to improve our activities to support our family’s life.

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Lulimbi womens group in an evaluation meeting.
Conservation partnership

At local level, NGOs are supporting protected area management activities through a strong partnership. There is another idea of local conservation partnership which we are setting up. We think, as conservationist workers, we are getting revenues from services which are paid to us by NGOs where we are employees. There is also need of helping other conservationists who are suffering because their fathers are working in Virunga. So, as workers we’ve put in place a monthly basket to enable us to assist rangers and their family but in a social way. Some conservation NGO workers are giving monthly amount and plan to support some social actions in the Park.

In most of the Park stations, they are schools put in place to cater/educate rangers’ children, but they don’t get any support.

This quarter, we’ve been able to assist a school for Rangers’ children in Kabaraza with pens, pencils, chalks and exercise books. This is one of the cases but there is need to support the other 4 ranger stations in the Virunga NP.

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Types of donated school supplies

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School facilities donated  for the ranger’s children

The situation is much more complicated than we think!