Engaging Communities to Protect the Environment — Stories From Africa
Community-based conservation practices continue to yield positive results. Here are three successful examples from Africa.
The article was originally published on WeNaturalists. For similar stories, head to our Explore section.
Working to protect our environment can be a full-time job. While many of us spend our time being vocal about conservation, there is no way we can always actively be present in the areas that we are aiming to protect. Parks and other protected areas need people who are available in order to protect the environment.
Communities surrounding protected areas have frequently been blamed for the destruction that they cause in the environment, for the conflicts that arise between humans and wildlife and for ‘invading’ wildlife territory. Rarely does one acknowledge that these same communities for years have been working together to make sure that nature and wildlife are protected.
The impact of involving local communities
Many of these communities are dependent on the environment to survive, therefore it only benefits them to make sure that it is well taken care of. Community engagement in conservation efforts is generally becoming a way to conserve the environment that is sustainable and easy. Public and private stakeholders across the world are realizing that instead of only employing individuals from the outside coming in to attempt to conserve their environment, why not work hand in hand with the ones living around these areas to make sure that they not only protect their resources but have the means to do it for generations to come? All over Africa, communities continue to play crucial roles in conservation. Additionally, conservation knowledge is imparted to the young, ensuring that they can start their conservation journey at a young age.
How Community Engagement has led to Conservation
- Human-wildlife coexistence: A good example is the Masai communities in East Africa who have for generations lived with wildlife within the same territory. In the past, there were traditions that did not favor the coexistence between the Masai and wildlife. Such traditions e.g. moran killing of lions have gradually disappeared due to understanding the value of the predators in the entire ecosystem as well as their value to the country. They have become the biggest champions for conservation and are at the forefront to educate others on the best way to coexist with wildlife and conserve the environment.
- Combination of traditional and scientific conservation techniques: A number of communities have gained knowledge and expertise from different non-profits such as African People & Wildlife and mixed it with indigenous knowledge that they have used for generations. All this in order to come up with more sustainable means to protect the environment. For example, the use of Living Walls, which prevents Human-Wildlife Conflict, has reduced the retaliatory killings of predators such as hyenas and lions.
- Increase in conservation enterprises: Beekeeping practices have been hugely beneficial in conserving the environment. While traditionally there have always been people practicing beekeeping, it was utilized as a way to get honey and to conserve the environment. Due to technological advancements such as Geographical Informations Systems, programs like ArgGIS are used to identify and map out areas that need to be restored. Data can contribute to conservation as beehives can now be strategically placed in these locations to allow the bees free movement in areas that need to be replenished. Not only does this activity provide the people with a sustainable source of income, but conserves the environment at a larger scale as bees can travel up to 5 kms in search of water and other basic needs and in turn pollinating flowers and promoting afforestation.
Communities have taken a liking to beekeeping as a conservation tool because honey can be used for various purposes while their environment continues to be fruitful. Beekeeping is easy and rarely takes up their time, therefore making it a conducive activity for them. It is also an activity that can be done by both genders, more and more women are getting involved in beekeeping and in African tradition, women are the ones to pass on knowledge and tradition to the young ones meaning the reach of conservation will continue to grow.
Using traditional knowledge and modern tools to conserve, preserve and protect the environment is an essential part of community engagement in conservation.
The use of communities to conserve the environment keeps growing and a lot of credit should go to such communities as without them the likelihood of sustainability is low. More effort should be put into combining traditional and modern science as a means to protect the environment. Having communities as the pioneers of conservation could be just what we need to make sure that our environment is protected.