Fishing, Forestry and Climate Friendly Futures - reflections from JOA's first Conservation Livelihoods event of 2024

31 May 2024 | Richard Crane
In his third week as JOA’s latest Programme Associate, Richard Crane shares his reflections on JOA’s second Jersey International Development Network (JIDN) event held this year. Hosted at the Art Centre Jersey, JOA had the honour of welcoming partners from RSPB and Durrell for an engaging discussion on their impactful ‘Conservation Livelihoods’ programmes, funded by Jersey Overseas Aid. 

I'm thrilled to share the highlights of JOA's second JDIN event of the year.  The "Fishing, Forestry, and Climate Friendly Futures" event provided deep insights into the pressing issues of climate change and multidimensional poverty. However, what truly resonated with me was the profound impact JOA achieves through its international development grants. This aspect of our work often flies under the radar, overshadowed by our more publicised volunteer outreach efforts. The event highlighted the significance of financial support in driving sustainable development and importance of these often-overlooked contributions. 

The 1 key Takeaway from the Event  

Before I delve into the incredible work that both RSPB and Durrell are doing in Sierra Leone and Madagascar, I want to bring to the forefront a key theme that emerged during these talks. It became crystal clear that the success and longevity of these projects hinge on community-led approaches. Empowering local communities to manage and implement these projects, through programme officers or educational initiatives, has been crucial. This community involvement ensures that the projects are not only effective but also sustainable. 

Durrell: Beyond Protecting Ecosystems and Endangered Species 

Ellie Harvey, the Field Programmes Manager at Durrell's UK office gave a highly engaging presentation on their, Conservation Livelihoods VALIHA programme in Madagascar. While I, like many others, have always associated Durrell with rewilding efforts for endangered species and biodiversity conservation, I was previously unaware of their significant programmes addressing multidimensional poverty.  

Ellie emphasised the interconnected relationship between poverty and environmental degradation and presented some shocking statistics, such as - 80% of Madagascar's population are currently living below the poverty line of $2 a day. She went on to explain how poverty and subsequent food insecurity drives harmful income-generating activities including the likes of like logging, bushmeat hunting, and forest clearance for farming. 

An eye-opening animation of an infographic unfolded above Ellie, revealing a time-lapse depiction of the staggering amount of forest cleared due to illicit deforestation practices. The map concluded with a stark revelation: a shocking 90% of the country's original forests have been lost to date. This loss has profoundly impacted Madagascar's landscape, particularly affecting the local hydrological cycle and topography. Consequently, it has been found that the repercussions have had a dire effect on local communities, manifesting in reduced farmable land and water retention rates, thereby jeopardising food security. The audience witnessed firsthand the distressing downward spiral caused by these destructive actions. 

Tree Cover Loss in Madagascar (Credit: Global Forest Watch)

The pressing question remained: How was Durrell actively working to combat the detrimental cycle of poverty-induced deforestation and the subsequent deforestation-induced poverty? Utilising the Jersey overseas aid grant, Durrell outlined four key areas within local communities, which include: 

Food Security: 

  • Implementing climate-smart agriculture using native or climate-adapted crop varieties. 
  • Avoiding chemical inputs by using natural fertilisers and pesticides. 
  • Practicing off-season agriculture. 
  • Developing farmer groups to facilitate the sale of agricultural products. 

Financial Inclusion: 

  • Establishing Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) and producer groups. 
  • Developing value chains for natural, sustainably harvested products. 

Access to Reproductive Health 

  • Partnership with MSM to provide access to long term family planning options for women in target communities, establishing a network of community health agents  

Good Governance 

  • Strengthening local community associations, improving governance and transparency, for improved local resource management. 

As I mentioned before, Ellie made explicit that implementing these activities mentioned above successfully, requires thorough training and ongoing support from local representatives in each field. This community-led approach is a vital element to ensure the sustainability of the project. Based on this overwhelming feedback of the importance of locally led representatives, Durrell has built community infrastructures, creating hubs for good governance, active reporting, and monitoring purposes. These hubs play a central role in maintaining the momentum and effectiveness of the initiatives from a community level. 

I am really pleased to pass on the success story of the conservation livelihoods programme, VALIHA. This project has not only shown to aid poverty alleviation efforts in the target communities but also complements Durrell's traditional species and habitat restoration work. Ellie concluded with an exciting update: the programme's activities are expanding from 20 to 38 communities, benefiting an additional 21,000 people. 

RSPB is one of Europe’s largest wildlife conservation organisations 

After Ellie's highly engaging presentation, we were eager to see what the RSPB's efforts would entail. While many know the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) for its 'Big Garden Watch' and nature reserves across the UK, what this event brought to light was their world-leading international conservation work. We were delighted to have Dr. Shashi Kumaran, RSPB head of conversation Enterprise for RSPB to showcase their amazing work they do beyond British shores. Shashi also leads the Jersey Overseas Aid project on cocoa agroforestry in Sierra Leone, aptly titled "Cocoa’s Sweet Spot”.  

Shashi gave a poignant portrayal of RSPB's impactful work in the breath-taking Greater Gola Landscape, nestled between Sierra Leone and Liberia. Through the compelling story of Mustafa Mallo Kapama Sama, a cocoa farmer from Golahun Village, Shashi was able to give the perspective of some of the challenges the local small holder farmers face but as well the tangible impact the programme is achieving.  

Mustafa Mallo Kapama Sama, a Cocoa Farmer from Golahun Village (Credit: RSPB)

Shashi showcased several images depicting the profound impact of climate change and harmful practices like deforestation on smallholder farmers, such as Mustafa. These farmers heavily rely on healthy local biodiversity, as their primary income comes from shade-tolerant cocoa trees, which thrive in biodiverse environments. 

This project works under a larger project called Gola REDD+. Shashi shared the wider success of the project's carbon credit scheme under REDD+ activities. The sale of REDD+ carbon credits has not only provided money to sustain project activities-, such as comprehensive bush patrol training programs, forest-friendly livelihood initiatives and research programmes - but it has also played a crucial role in identifying and mapping ongoing deforestation through carbon verification processes. Despite earlier beliefs that deforestation had ceased before 2019, it has been discovered that it continues within the Gola Rainforest National Park (GRNP), with some community forests still being cleared for agriculture practises namely Sun tolerant cocoa trees. 

Why Cocoa? 

We learned that in the 1980s, cocoa was a major export in Sierra Leone with established farming infrastructure in the national park buffer zones. Despite setbacks during the civil war, cocoa re-emerged due to high demand and its compatibility with agroforestry practices. The revelation that cocoa expansion in sub-Saharan Africa surpasses 130,000 hectares annually highlighted both its potential and the urgency to address unsustainable practices, such as farming sun-tolerant cocoa trees, which is associated with deforestation. 

The JOA-funded project ‘Cocoa’s Sweet Spot’ is establishing initiatives such as building and rehabilitating shade tolerant cocoa tree nurseries, facilitating equipment access and knowledge sharing, and setting up cocoa drying and preserving facilities.  

The programme is already engaging over 2000 registered smallholder farmers, exporting over 100 million tonnes of shade tolerant cocoa beans. JOA’s support has enabled RSPB to grow the programme to reach a further 3000 farmers as well as having the ability to venture into alternative agroforestry models, diversifying crops to include vegetables and fruits for farmers to cultivate year-round. The closing remarks resonated deeply as Mustafa's journey symbolised resilience and hope. Lengthening his growing season, diversifying crops, and providing for his eight children, Mustafa embodies the transformative impact of sustainable agriculture.