A New Tool Aiming at Enhancing Protected Areas Management in the Congo Basin

8 October 2014

The Observatory for biodiversity and protected areas in Central Africa: Interview with Sébastien Regnaut, Protected Areas Programme Coordinator, IUCN West and Central Africa

1.    Share with us some insights of your work, as Protected Areas regional coordinator for IUCN in West and Central Africa
Within the IUCN Programme for West and Central Africa (IUCN PACO) and with my team of 6 technicians, we provide technical support to countries and NGOs working in nature conservation. We develop and provide training, financial tools, or ad hoc support at the request of actors in the region, donors or States. Our courses concern mainly the effectiveness of protected area management, project management, management of natural resources, resilience to climate change, conservation of endangered species and local governance. We are particularly active in West Africa, Cameroon and UNESCO World Heritage sites. We also provide analysis of the African context to global workgroups and donors who request it.
Our focus since 2011 has been to strengthen the fair and equitable natural areas governance structures, often by impacting the way our societies use the natural resources. The increase in human population and inequalities puts additional pressure on nature, which is often seen as a gift or an obstacle to development. We help communities and States to recognize their responsibility vis-à-vis their citizens and their communities, by providing tools to conserve biodiversity and to improve their living conditions.

2.    As part of your role, you are also managing the BIOPAMA programme in the West and Central African region; tell us more about it. 
BIOPAMA will help us raise awareness among policy makers of the value of protected areas in their national economies. With the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (JRC), whose mission is to provide scientific support, we are implementing tools that will provide access to more reliable and precise data, and especially to more accessible analysis tools than what is available today. These tools will allow us to understand the complexity of contexts, linking local concerns to global challenges, to adjust strategies and prioritize investments.
What tools exactly? Updated maps, quantitative reports, information about bushfires, analyzed satellite images, climate change models, maps of economic value of natural resources, framework for reporting, reports on monitoring changes. All these tools will enable protected area managers to know the wider context of their activities (in addition to their own data management), to have access to trainings, to report on their results, to show and demonstrate the value of their work for the development of their countries. Subsequently, the national or regional decision-makers will have access to similar data on a large number of natural areas and will be able to take the best decisions on land use planning and to monitor concretely the results of their decisions. Finally, at a global level, the conservation and development challenges in Africa appear more clearly and quickly, and pleadings such as investments will be more effective and sustainable.

3.    At the 14th session of the PFBC in Brazzaville, the launch of the Observatory for Biodiversity and Protected Areas for Central Africa will be effective; what does it consist of?
The Observatory will be the node for the Reference Information System based at JRC in Italy, and will cover sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. In practice, the Observatory will coordinate data collection from the field, will carry out analysis and will be responsible for relaying the data to JRC. It will also coordinate the capacity building action plan for the region, aiming at improving the weaknesses identified by the analysis and to support users.

4.    We are already aware that in Central Africa, there is an observatory for forests – OFAC (Observatoire des Forêts d’Afrique Centrale); what is the added value of this new initiative?
The mission of the BIOPAMA Observatory corresponds to specific OFAC biodiversity objectives. The expected results will complement the OFAC resources with data on biodiversity and protected areas in the region. In Central Africa, the BIOPAMA Observatory is enhancing OFAC’s mission, with support from JRC, who is also OFAC’s technical partner. In addition, working with OFAC allows BIOPAMA to benefit from an already existing structure, which is already working through regional partnerships and efficient channels.

5.    Who are the main users / beneficiaries of this tool and how could it be a tool for the conservation of protected areas in the Congo Basin?
For the first years, the users will be the protected area managers and coordinators of protected areas networks. These tools will facilitate the adjustment of annual management plans, facilitate reporting to the Ministries, to partners (hierarchy, NGO partners, local communities, donors etc.) and to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). It will also facilitate monitoring of outcomes and impacts in the medium to long term, identify weaknesses, prioritize resources, or influence decision making in local communities or at the State level, by providing numerical values of natural resources that the respective natural area makes available for populations (humus, surface water, conservation of groundwater, the fight against erosion and soil leaching, non-timber forest products, certified wood, genetic resources etc.)
In addition to managers, the national and regional policy makers and technicians will use these tools for reporting to the CBD, for national priority setting for the development of natural resources, territorial planning. And of course, students, researchers, experts …

6.    Eventually, an informal or institutional anchorage between the BIOPAMA observatory, the OFAC and COMIFAC (Commission des Forêts d’Afrique Centrale) is foreseen?
In Central Africa, this tool is specifically designed to be integrated and managed by OFAC and used daily by RAPAC (Réseau des Aires Protégées d’Afrique Centrale). IUCN will ensure the establishment and functioning of the Observatory until at least mid-2016 and then focus on more specific projects of the Observatory such as data collection and trainings for users and protected areas professionals.

7.    Do you have any particular recommendations/apprehensions regarding the success of this initiative?
The Observatory is built on a reliable partnership with COMIFAC, the European Commission (EC) and the JRC. The EC has also been a partner in another large network of protected West Africa for over two decades. Another BIOPAMA activity for the West and Central African region is to build the infrastructure of the Observatory within the UEMOA (West African Economic and Monetary Union) for West Africa. Both nodes will therefore be connected through a global reference system and thus the two major regional networks of protected areas will be connected. The EC and JRC showed that they have a vision in the long term for this region, closely linked to the regional institutions, and they are able to bring effective and accessible technology and institutional models for nature conservation. We expect our regional partners to join us in this opportunity to positively influence nature conservation.

(version française)

Interview réalisée par Eva Paule MOUZONG-Responsable régionale du Développement Institutionnel et de la Communication-IUCN PACO (eva.mouzong@iucn.org)

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