How to make a conservation project last: a constant learning curve
In 1998, the Ghana Wildlife Society set up a community forest reserve at Mount Afadjato to halt deforestation and promote sustainable livelihoods. They share their successes and lessons learned over the years in their bid to involve the community in a lasting solution.
Mount Afadjato is the highest peak in Ghana found on the Weto landscape, home to Afadjato forest and a wealth of plant and animal life. A community forest reserve was set up in the area in the year 1998 by the Ghana Wildlife Society (GWS, BirdLife Ghana) in partnership with traditional authorities and people of the Gbledi traditional area through the Afadjato Community Forest Conservation Project (ACFCP) and funding from the Dutch government. This project sought to conserve and sustainably manage the biodiversity and beauty of the selected areas of Afadjato and Agumatsa Ranges by local communities after rampant deforestation occurred in the area for years on end.
The forest has been listed as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) since the year 2001, and is home to more than 85 bird species including 10 that have been classified as common, such as Afep Pigeon Columba unicinta, Least Honeyguide Indicator exilis and Olive long-tailed cuckoo Cercococcyx olivinus while non-bird diversity include butterflies such as (Mackin Papillo maesseni, Telipna maesseni and mammalian species such as Bay Duiker (Cephalophus dorsalis) and King Colobus (Colobus polykomo). The project ran from 1998-2003 where the GWS team worked closely with the community and were able to establish a community nature reserve, develop a Site Management Plan, improve habitat in the area, increase small scale enterprises, increase public awareness in all communities, upgrade community infrastructure such as roads, increase tourism flow to the area and employment opportunities. After the project officially ended in 2003, GWS left the site with the hope that practices and values instilled would be taken forward by the community and that, threats to the site are reduced significantly.
In the years that followed however, the community regressed to their former practices with illegal logging, annual bush burning and the exploitation of resources rising. These consequences were attributed to local peoples’ continued lack of appreciation for biodiversity conservation. In January 2017, GWS received funding support from the New England Biolabs Foundation to rekindle the communities’ interest and commitment to the conservation of the forest through awareness creation. The one-year project seeks to promote community participation in natural resource management through the establishment of tree nurseries with wildlife clubs and use of seedlings to embark on restoration activities in degraded portions of the landscape. It also looks into conducting radio discussions in local community radio stations and distribution of educational and promotional materials such as posters, t-shirts and flyers to local people to enhance their knowledge in conservation. So far, local communities have been corporative and the project is picking up gradually.
Schools set up tree nurseries on their grounds to restore degraded areas in the forest
Beyin, Jomoro District of the Western Nzema Traditional area in another part of the country is home to an equally important IBA, the Amansuri wetland. This site was a point of intervention by the Ghana Wildlife Society in 2000 with funding from the Netherlands government through the Netherlands embassy in Accra. The wetland found 360km west of Accra near a town called Axim largely remained untouched due to the seasonal flooding and nature of terrain. These factors contributed positively to the health of biodiversity in the area which included but was not limited to tree species such as the Raffia palm (Raphia vinifera) and the large spiny aroid (Cytosperma senegalese), an appreciable number of water birds such as Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola, Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos and Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres.
The main aim of the project set up was to conserve turtles in all the coastal communities, promote ecotourism and socio-economic development through activities which included education of the communities along the coast, setting up of a task force, conducting a workshop for stakeholders and construction of hatcheries for the marine turtles. The key results are conserved sea turtles which nest in the area, promoted tourism, sustained yields in the fishery industry in the area, generated revenue to help make the project self-sustaining. Soon after the project lifeline expired however, the connection was severed. Community members stopped seeing the importance of the wetland and were soon harvesting sea turtles for meat. Currently proposals have been submitted in response to address the challenges faced.
Nzulezu (a village on silts) promotes ecotourism in the Amansuri wetland area
These projects are examples of key challenges facing BirdLife partners working in Africa. With the main question being how to sustain interventions even after the funding runs out and the project proponents such as Ghana Wildlife Society passes sole responsibility of conservation to the community members.
Conducting a needs assessment before the start of projects in communities would enable partners, and other project proponents to have a deeper understanding of vital issues that are facing the project communities that they are planning to work in. This would help to ensure that organizations do not impose solutions on a community but rather, empathize, ideate and implement and innovate with the community in mind. In cases where a needs-based assessment had not been conducted and solutions to problems identified earlier, having flexibility to include community needs at early stages is key.
Involving communities at an early stage, through meetings such as these, is vital
Co-management, which involves the inclusion of communities in decision making and implementation of projects is also a valid approach that would improve the sustainability of projects. This means that from the early stages of implementation, community members such as women groups, youth and even school going children are given some responsibility in ensuring project success thus promoting project ownership even after the timeline set has expired.
Lastly, measuring the impact made by the project on the community, especially in improving their lives-economically, socially and environmentally would provide evidence that there has been change due to the interventions put in place. The availability of a communication strategy that would show how this change has occurred over time is vital in attracting more donors and showing the community that their actions matter in ensuring project success.