How to Build a Sustainable Information Base for Protected Areas

25 November 2015

Every day, information available on protected areas is guiding the decisions on their management, as well as their contribution to the wider national, regional and global strategies and policies for conservation and sustainable development. Knowing that, despite all efforts, the decline in biodiversity in some countries and regions has not slowed down, how do we ensure easy access to and a high quality of information needed to take the best decisions?

The EU-ACP BIOPAMA (Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management) programme was conceived as a solution to overcome the obstacles that governments in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific face in this regard. A key feature of this programme is the close collaboration with ongoing initiatives to provide knowledge and skills to those responsible for safeguarding protected areas and the species they harbour, the ecosystems they protect, the benefits they provide for people, and the key services they provide to address global environmental challenges, including adapting to and mitigating impacts of climate change.

The Eastern and Southern African region offers a compelling example on the value of partnerships and also the variety of partnerships that can be valuable that result in improved information for protected area decisions. In this region, the BIOPAMA team has been working for just over 3 years, building relationships and partnerships to achieve the ultimate goal of improving decision making for protected areas. This is a tall order by any standard and certainly not possible through one organisation alone. Developing effective and useful information and tools for decision-making requires a concerted effort by the conservation community. This is the premise under which the team has been working to implement the BIOPAMA programme in the region.

The approach chosen for the implementation of the programme in Eastern and Southern Africa includes the collaboration with the four Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and with existing initiatives with similar interests for the development of the protected area data management system and analytical tools. The Eastern and Southern African region is diverse and these partnerships ensure that the specific sub-regional needs are properly addressed through the objectives of these collaborations.

For example, in the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region, strong partnerships have been built with the Peace Parks Foundation (PPF) and the GIZ TFCA Support programme, both partners actively supporting the region in the successful implementation of Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs). TFCAs are landscape approaches to conservation that contribute significantly to the safeguarding of key biodiversity in the region. Together with the SADC Member States, PPF and GIZ, BIOPAMA is supporting the development of a sustainable TFCA information system linking all the existing initiatives of the partners and drawing on their extensive databases and networks to provide a much more valuable resource to the TFCA community.

In East Africa, BIOPAMA is working through the EAC (East African Community) Secretariat and its existing fora to engage with Partner States and enhance the existing initiatives in the region. In particular, a close relationship with the USAID-funded PREPARED project and through this with the Lake Victoria Basin Commission is currently being developed. These initiatives have common interests in making relevant data and information on biodiversity available for decision-making. The sub regional context gives the EAC Observatory and its protected area information platform, a strong mandate to build on and to look into linking future projects, in order to streamline the management and use of information related to protected areas and biodiversity.

Similar models of partnerships are being pursued in the regions covered by IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority for Development) and the IOC (Indian Ocean Commission), where BIOPAMA is seen as a valuable partner for providing the framework and analytical tools for regional systems of data and information management. In IGAD, the Regional Reference Information System can link to national data centres already established by the IGAD Biodiversity Management Programme (BMP) and allow collection of information from other partners such as GBIF, UNEP-WCMC, CORDIO and others, and feed it into this regional system. In the IOC region, another EU-funded project, the IOC Biodiversity Management Project, is actively pulling together an overview of existing data centres and databases and BIOPAMA is offering the IOC Observatory model as a framework to facilitate the collection and analysis of data to inform decision-makers.

These represent clear examples where the collective is much greater than its individual parts and this is only achieved through a concerted partnership effort. In BIOPAMA’s case, the relationships built with the Regional Economic Communities provided a doorway to the engagement with the Member/Partner States as well as the existing projects in each region, which is critical for the long-term sustainability of the “Observatories for protected areas and biodiversity” and their regional relevance in providing analyses and tools for decision making. 

How can we improve the use of partnerships to foster sustainability? Christine Mentzel, the coordinator of BIOPAMA’s work in Eastern and Southern Africa says: “Networking and partnership development are often assumed as part of project and programme implementation. However, this in itself is a key success factor for any project or programme, because relationships and networks are the key mechanism through which we act on a daily basis. Recognising this and making strategic decisions and plans about the kinds of relationships that best serve the desired outcomes and outputs, can influence the success and sustainability of any initiative. These relationships are often needed at the institutional level, but all of them begin at the personal level. This is the seed and the human capital that is so crucial for successful project implementation and can greatly enhance the long-term sustainability of the larger goal.”

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