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A winning combination for community conservation

Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary in Ghana has been praised for protecting community resources (WCHS)
Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary in Ghana has been praised for protecting community resources

Successful and innovative methods of using and protecting common resources were recognised amongst the finalists of the 2008 Equator Prize Award, which celebrates outstanding community efforts to reduce poverty through biodiversity conservation. The awards, presented at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature [IUCN] World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, Spain in early October 2008, recognised 25 short-listed from around the world. Two communities, one from West Africa and one from Indonesia, were amongst five finalists which received special recognition for their efforts.

The Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary (WCHS) in western Ghana involves around 10,000 members from the 17 communities living along the Black Volta River of the Wechiau traditional area. Set up to conserve the remaining populations of hippos in the country, the sanctuary was established by local chiefs in 1999. "The sanctuary has made beautiful strides in meeting some of our economic needs and ensuring the animals are not preyed on by hunters like before," says Chielinah Bandanaa, a WCHS member, who was part of the group present in Barcelona to receive the award.

The hippos are sacred animals to the local communities so their protection is important. Protection without benefits can be difficult to sustain but ecotourism activities provide valued employment and income. The sanctuary is managed by a board, which represents the needs of the community but also provides awareness and guidance on the sustainable and responsible exploitation of the area.

Community benefit

Volunteers were initially recruited to work as rangers and tour guides. "Tourists started coming and the little money we received initially was used to pay allowances for the rangers and guides, an undertaking that enhanced the status of business," states Bandanaa. Other community members continue to benefit from fishing and some subsistence agriculture, including cultivation of yam, groundnuts, millet, and maize. Shea nuts, in particular, are helping over 700 women to earn a living by supplying the Savannah Fruits Company (SFC).

Shea nuts are providing an important source of income for communities living in the sanctuary (WRENmedia)
Shea nuts are providing an important source of income for communities living in the sanctuary

The women receive premiums for harvesting nuts that are certified as organic and the SFC supplies buyers in Europe and North America for the cosmetics market. "The move is fast eliminating middlemen who have been previously exploiting these women while they rake in handsome returns from exports", continues Bandanaa. "SFC is now buying from the women's groups at high prices which have positive knock-on effects for the economy of the area."

With support from its partner organisations, including Calgary Zoo in Canada and the Nature Conservation Research Centre, a school has been built and boreholes have been sunk in 13 villages. Each household also now has solar-generated lighting. But despite these benefits, challenges remain, as Bandanaa explains: "We face a lack of proper road networks and, some of the villages are extremely difficult to access using a vehicle. At times during the rainy season, the trucks collecting the nuts from the villages get stuck."

The Indonesian experience

In Indonesia, the community-based Marine Management Foundation (PLKL), set up in 2006, has made positive strides in preventing indiscriminate and destructive fishing for sea cucumbers and lobsters. "We realised this important resource we depended on for our family food needs and as a source of income was getting depleted, and we had to do something," said foundation member Simon Morin, whilst in Barcelona.

PLKL has around 2,000 members spread across many small islands, some inhabited by only 200 people. Fishing is the major economic activity and food source for many families. The foundation supports over 20 communities in the provinces of Papua and West Papua as well as the Moluccan Islands archipelago, and it administers their marine resources through traditional tenure management systems, known as sasi.

Community-based management of marine resources has proven successful in Indonesia (PLKL)
Community-based management of marine resources has proven successful in Indonesia

The foundation has been successful at creating community-based marine management areas that conserve local biodiversity. Fishing areas have now been mapped and access is controlled. Through targeted training and technical support, community-based management in the region has resulted in population growth among endemic fish and other marine species central to local ecosystems and livelihoods. "In a nutshell this is a community-based resource-sharing project managed by the community," said Morin.

Both projects have attracted outside interest. In Ghana, neighbouring communities are keen to generate income by protecting their local biodiversity. And in Indonesia, PLKL is helping to spread the experience of their good work through regional site visits and networking programmes. In recognition of their 'outstanding leadership' the judges of the Equator Prize, awarded each project US$20,000 to support further work.

Written by: Ochieng' Ogodo

Date published: November 2008


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