Twelve years of site support in Burkina Faso
In 1997, Georges Oueda of Naturama (BirdLife in Burkina Faso) came to the northern wetland of Oursi to find volunteers to perform water bird counts. Acting on a request from the government, who had been asked by Wetlands International to organise participation in the African Waterbird Census, he asked the mayor of Oursi town to identify young people keen to be trained as ornithologists.
A group of about six young men took up the challenge. Among them were Housseini Salou, Maiga 'Mero' Hamidou and Aly Issa, now president, deputy and member respectively of the board of Site Support Group (SSG) Oursi.
Through the IBA Local Conservation Group approach BirdLife Partners around the world are working in partnership with communities and other stakeholders at IBAs towards shared objectives of conservation and sustainable resource management. In Africa, 'Site Support Groups' are organised, independent groups of volunteers who work with community stakeholders at IBAs to protect biodiversity and enhance benefits from the wise use of the natural resources.
The SSG at Oursi now numbers 28 people from several villages around the lake. They include not only bird enthusiasts but also representatives of the different livelihood communities: fishermen, pastoralists, schoolteachers, and community groups working the vegetable gardens and tree nursery established by the SSG.
"SSGs are one of the practical ways of achieving conservation" —Georges Oueda, Director of Conservation at Naturama (BirdLife in Burkina Faso)
As a part of Naturama's conservation work at Oursi, the activities of the SSG quickly expanded from bird counting to collective garbage cleaning days and other awareness-raising activities with the local population. Tree planting has begun to restore damaged vegetation zones around the lake, and fuel-efficient stoves and designated foraging areas for cattle have aided natural regeneration of the riparian woodlands.
Advocacy and cooperation with the local government followed, leading among other results to an actively enforced hunting ban. "Thanks to our awareness-raising efforts and the lessons in schools, there is a much better understanding of the close link between natural resources conservation and livelihoods", says Mero Hamidou.
The SSG played a crucial role in designing the Participatory Management Plan for the Natural Resources of Lake Oursi. Apart from a thorough ecological and socio-economic analysis, this plan includes numerous measures for sustainable use of the lake and surroundings. Thanks to the SSG's efforts, the local population was closely involved in the establishment of the plan. Naturama is currently acquiring funding for its implementation.
Up to now SSG Oursi has relied fairly heavily on external funding. Sources include Swedbio (the Swedish International Biodiversity Programme), and VBN (BirdLife in the Netherlands). "Combining strengthening of national conservation capacity with conservation action for migratory birds forms the rationale for the long-term partnership between Naturama and VBN", says VBN conservation officer Bernd de Bruijn.
An important part of 2009's VBN funding was possible thanks to a donation from Vogelwacht Utrecht, a Dutch regional volunteer birding group, who wanted to contribute to conservation work for migratory birds. SSG Oursi is also twinned with the Cambridgeshire Bird Club in the UK, who stepped in when another funding programme came to an end.
"…they play an important part in creating a concern for biodiversity …"
SSG Oursi is working to make itself financially self-sustaining. SSG members pay a small contribution, and the tree nursery provides income. An office currently under construction will help raise revenue from tourists who visit the lake, the surrounding dunes, and the Oursi Museum Hu Beero, on the site of internationally important medieval remains.
As Director of Conservation at Naturama, Georges Oueda was involved in setting up all the current nine SSGs in Burkina Faso, in four IBAs. "SSGs are one of the practical ways of achieving conservation", he says. "Coming from the local communities, where social cohesion is strong, they are an important advocacy tool that attracts the attention of decision makers, not only at the local, but also at the provincial level. Consisting mostly of young people, they play an important part in creating a concern for biodiversity within their generation."
Building the capacity of SSGs is an important part of Naturama’s strategy. Aly Issa took part in a recent national exchange of SSG members. "Even though the other sites looked quite different in terms of habitat, the issues other SSGs were struggling with were very similar. It was great to see that other like-minded people in the country are also working for conservation at the site level. From our experience, we could offer advice and discuss problems and solutions."
The national exchange was a first step to a Local Conservation Network, or LCN. Setting up successful SSGs and such a national framework requires investment, but once operational they can undertake much more conservation action on the ground than a national BirdLife Partner could ever achieve with their own staff.
"Moreover, this conservation action is firmly embedded in the context of the site, giving it a much higher chance of success", says Georges Oueda. "The national network and close links to the BirdLife Partner provide the opportunity to bring these efforts to the attention of the national and even international public -and decision makers."
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