29 May 2018

Fighting rural poverty: community empowered to conserve Guinean mountain reserve

It’s an unfortunate fact: people living near Important Biodiversity Areas are often very poor and depend solely on the exploitation of natural resources for their livelihoods. Now, a project is working to buck this trend, empowering communities to improve their lot by using resources sustainably.

Mount Nimba Nature reserve supports species like this pregnant toad, about to give birth to live young © Sandberger-Loua L, Müller H, Rödel M-O
Mount Nimba Nature reserve supports species like this pregnant toad, about to give birth to live young © Sandberger-Loua L, Müller H, Rödel M-O
By Jude Fuhnwi

The Mount Nimba range in West Africa is a unique geographical area with an exceptionally rich diversity of vegetation and wildlife. A significant portion of this range is protected by a trans-boundary reserve which encloses a chain of beautiful mountains with about 50 springs, dense forested peaks and grassy mountain pastures at lower levels. This strict nature reserve doubles as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and supports a remarkable diversity of forest and savanna habitats for a number of single-site endemic species such as the Western Nimba toad Nimbaphrynoides occidentalis, which gives birth to live young, and a population of horsehoe bats. But the site’s protected status is at risk.

Mount Nimba also contains some of the world’s most valued minerals, such as iron ore, and forests that have attracted mining and logging companies around it. The unusually rich variety of natural resources also means impoverished communities living in and around the Nimba range depend entirely on these resources for their livelihoods. Pressure from the growing neighbouring populations has exposed the fauna to very intense poaching, raising concerns of impending damage on the natural forests that cover the slopes of Nimba. Unsustainable harvesting of forest resources for traditional medicine and clearing by fire for agriculture are also damaging the integrity of this protected area. This site is one of nine priority corridors for the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund’s (CEPF) investment in the Guinean Forests of West Africa Biodiversity Hotspot.

 

Mount Nimba is being deforested and mined for minerals © Guy Debonnet

 

In Guinea, a project financed by CEPF and implemented by Initiative de Base pour la Gestion des Ressources Naturelles (IBGRN) - a local civil society group - has helped to empower local communities living in and around Mount Nimba to contribute towards sustainable management of their resources; in the process, helping to lift themselves out of poverty. The project is named “Strengthening capacity of local communities to sustainably manage Mount Nimba’s natural resources”. This nine-month project received US$ 24,000 funding from CEPF through BirdLife International to build a more effective network of community based and women-led organisations that work around Mount Nimba to conserve its natural resources.

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“We empowered these communities so they could promote sustainable use of this landscape, by getting organised as Community Based Organisations (CBOs) that could better advocate for sustainable conservation that also improves their livelihoods,” said Justin Bilivogui, manager of the project.

The project closed in February 2018 after an amazing work tailored to last long into the future. It directly supported the creation and official registration of seven community groups as recognized civil society organisations to promote sustainable use of natural resources and alternative livelihood initiatives around the Nimba range. This includes two youth-led community groups, three women-led groups and two networks of traditional healers and hunters. With their new status as legal entities, these groups are also expected to lead local advocacy efforts that contribute towards conserving their sites.

 

Seven community groups were given legal status to conserve their sites © IBGRN

 

Under the CEPF-funded project, members of these groups benefited from a series of trainings in management of micro-projects, internal governance, financial management, marketing, advocacy and communication. The various groups also received training in the production and use of fuel efficient stoves, market gardening and livestock farming practices that yield higher profits and reduce negative impact on Mount Nimba’s natural resources. In total, over 180 people benefited directly from the project, with more than half of them, women. This capacity development by IBGRN is saving more than just the natural resources of Mount Nimba; families that depended on indigenous farming practices for years have seen their yields increase significantly just few months after receiving training on improved practices. This also means improved income.

“I’m excited with this CEPF project in our community. Before their intervention, we were grouped in the protected forest for our daily bread. But thanks to their training that allows us to engage in income-generating activities to enable us protect our environment,” said Siaka Saolomou, member of the TINAME youth group.

"We learned how to establish and manage a fruit garden."

In Bossou, one of the communities where the project was implemented, some farmers have started enjoying benefits of their new farming skills acquired during the trainings. Their gardens are flourishing and some of them have started harvesting fruits.

“We learned how to establish and manage a fruit garden. The IBGRN personnel gave me advice on how to succeed with fruit farming like pineapples”, explained Janette Niamey of the Dakieba group. She also gave constructive feedback for the project, mentioning that the provision of farming equipment or seeds, in addition to the training, would help to boost their livelihoods even further.

IBGRN will build the future of this investment in the communities on lessons learned from the nine months of implementation. This includes ensuring that development projects operating in communities are increasingly involved in such conservation initiatives, and bringing together key social groups whose activities damage the forests like hunters and traditional healers to work together.


In the Guinean Forests of West Africa Biodiversity Hotspot, CEPF has entrusted BirdLife International to be the dedicated regional implementation team (RIT) to provide strategic leadership for the CEPF investment in the Guinean Forests of West Africa (GFWA) Biodiversity Hotspot.

CEPF is a joint initiative of l'Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the European Union, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, the MacArthur Foundation and the World Bank. A fundamental goal is to ensure civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation.