In 2015 the East African Community Secretariat became the host of the Observatory for Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management that serves the East African Community (EAC) countries. Following a regional kick-off meeting to introduce the EAC Observatory to users and providers, a series of national engagements has been taking place in the EAC countries since the last quarter of 2015.
Kenya, followed by Uganda and Rwanda were the first countries engaged in October and December 2015 respectively, whilst the two remaining countries, Tanzania and Burundi, will take part in this exercise in the first quarter of 2016.
The purpose of the national engagements is to allow a larger group of stakeholders from each of the partner countries to engage at a more detailed level with the planned functioning of the Observatory and provide feedback and input into their needs and requirements as well as data they could contribute to the broader community.
The EAC National Engagement Workshops which took place in Kenya, 22 October 2015, Uganda, 7th December 2015 and Rwanda 10th December 2015, were an introduction and in-depth presentation on the Regional Reference Information System (RRIS) of the EAC Observatory for Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management. Experts and participants from various governmental and non-governmental institutions attended to discover the RRIS and contribute their knowledge on existing information and data as well as provide insights into key products needed in the EAC region to support Protected Areas decision-making.
The engagements in the three countries provided a platform for discussion on the RRIS and allowed for identifying the gaps and improvements that could be made, such as the need for technical training on the RRIS, the importance of promoting responsible and accountable data sharing and strategically identifying priority areas. From all three workshops there was mutual agreement that a focus on the development of a State of Protected Areas report, as a key product of the EAC Observatory, helps to prioritize data collection for input into the report and the report itself would be very useful to identify priority areas for interventions and resources.
Key partners for the EAC Observatory were also identified, such as the Centre of Excellence in Rwanda, the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) in Kenya and the Directorate of Environmental Affairs in Uganda. The two institutions and the government ministry in the respective countries focus on the collection of biodiversity data and natural resources data and making it accessible to interested parties, including local communities.
Reflecting on the results of the workshop in Uganda, Bob Kazungu, Forestry Officer at the Ministry of Water and Environment of Uganda stated: "The workshop was a success given the fact that the platform for data capture and sharing provides an avenue to have a one stop centre at the region to have information on biodiversity. As a country, we are struggling to obtain useful information that has been scattered in various institutions, and any such support is greatly appreciated. The meeting brought together experts in policy, data management and GIS & remote sensing, which provided varied means to forge a road map for effective data collection for BIOPAMA".