Monday, June 24, 2024

The role of indigenous communities in conservation efforts

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African Agroforestry experts are urging for the greater involvement of indigenous communities in addressing the numerous conservation challenges plaguing the region.

For many years, indigenous groups have been excluded from decision-making processes that directly impact their lives and livelihoods.

They face significant obstacles, including marginalization and lack of recognition by governments and other ethnic groups.

To effectively tackle the conservation issues affecting countries in the region, the experts are advocating for a participatory approach that empowers indigenous communities to take an active role in natural resource management and environmental governance.

“The participatory approach is the best way to respect the knowledge and views of indigenous populations. Any conservation effort must include local people in the decision-making process and take their knowledge into account. This inclusion strengthens the adaptability of the conservation method and activities envisaged and increases the chances of success of the conservation effort through the creation of local ownership of the solutions implemented,” opined Landing Diedhiou, a Senegalese Agroforester.

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Director for Climate Change and coordinator for Ghana’s REDD+ implementation at the Forestry Commission, Madam Roselyn Fosuah Adjei, is of the view that harnessing the traditional knowledge and expertise of indigenous communities can help develop sustainable solutions that balance conservation with their own needs and interests.

“If local communities and indigenous people are not given the rights, are not made to assert themselves the way they have to, we are still going to experience losses in natural resources. And most importantly is to include them in any governance arrangements that we have…I have tried this and tested it out, and it’s working,” she explained.

The Senegalese and Ghanaian Approach

In 2002, the Ghana Forestry Commission (FC) and indigenous farmer groups began the Modified Taungya System (MTS), a collaborative plantation development scheme. The MTS aims to meet future demand for timber, improve the environment, and increase food security.

It also allows farmers to earn a living through other activities, such as farming, trading, or keeping livestock. Many research studies conducted by experts over the years have pinpointed the achievements of the system, which improves indigenous people’s access to farmlands and offers them a 40% share of timber revenues.

“We have had places where we have established plantations, and we did it through a system we call the Modified Taungya System, which gives 40% of the revenue of the tree at any time it is harvested to local communities. In those places, we have not experienced forest fires. Prior to that, we had a lot of fires in those places. But because communities have realized that they have a stake in these trees, they are actively guarding them,” explained Madam Roselyn, highlighting the effectiveness of the system.

In Senegal, for example, at the Assane Seck University of Ziguinchor (UASZ), there are programs to build the capacity of local communities in agroecological production techniques by integrating trees into agricultural production systems (Agroforestry).

The reference choices of indigenous populations have guided the selection of plant species to be introduced. This made it possible to significantly reduce anthropic pressure on forest formats without resorting to cutting bans. It also enabled income-generating activities to be developed in local communities.

The main lesson learned from this experience, according to Diedhiou, is the need to involve the knowledge of indigenous populations in any natural resource management strategy. “This participatory approach and respect for the knowledge and point of view of indigenous populations is not only important, it is essential to ensure the success of any action to conserve nature and natural resources, and the effectiveness of public policies. What’s more, the people best placed to propose effective natural resource conservation solutions and decisive action are the indigenous populations who live close to these resources,” he added.

An Indigenous Forum

The experts spoke exclusively to Eco Media at the African Youth Conference on Natural Resources and Environmental Governance, bringing together 250 participants from 11 African countries for a 3-day discussion. The conference aimed to create a platform for indigenous idea-sharing and promote youth-led solutions to climate and environmental challenges in Africa and globally.

According to Justina Amoah, Focal Lead of Youth in Natural Resources and Environmental Governance (Youth-NREG), “The conference sought to empower youth to take the lead in addressing environmental issues. Post-conference, we will continue engaging with youth and their networks to garner support for these solutions and ensure Africa’s youth are actively involved in natural resource management.”

The conference, organized by the Strategic Youth Network for Development (SYND) under the theme ‘Amplifying Youth-led Solutions on Climate and Environmental Issues’, provided a platform for young leaders to share ideas and drive change.


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