Authored by Brad Czerniak

Dansk Ornitologisk Forening (DOF) and BirdLife partners in the South (Nature Kenya, Nature Uganda and Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN)), are running a three-year project that began in 2015. The project places a strong emphasis on promoting equality of women and their access to programme benefits and participation, addressing inclusion of indigenous and other marginalised groups, networking and strengthened influence of local civil society groups_and advocacy within the national contexts of programme partner countries.

The project does not have a specific regional outlook but will utilize regional forums such as the Council of Africa Partnership (CAP) to share lessons and experiences from Kenya and Uganda with the other 23 countries in Africa where BirdLife has a presence. Overall the project addresses a global concern related to unprecedented forest loss estimated at 13 million ha each year. In partner countries, depletion of forests and their biodiversity is due to complex factors, including population pressure, illegal activities, failing implementation of national laws, poverty among forest adjacent communities, conflicts about rights to the forests and the quest for economic growth which leads to unsustainable use of natural resources. As a result, biodiversity is often seriously depleted and basic ecosystem services negatively affected, compromising sustainable living of local communities. Indigenous and other local communities are often victims of externally driven top-down decisions that lead to rural poverty. Access to a healthy environment is a human right and a precondition for survival, especially for the millions of people who subsist directly on local natural resources and arable land, and are seriously affected when forests disappear, water sources dry-up, top-soils are eroded, soil fertility reduced and the climate changes. They often unfairly bear the cost of maintaining natural resources for the wider national and global good without receiving any benefits or cost compensation. Specific ecosystems also have great cultural value and are an integral part of local identity, not the least for indigenous peoples, yet their access to resources and sacred sites continue to be limited even when laws recognise these rights. Local communities, in cooperation with authorities and other stakeholders, play a crucial role in securing sustainable development based on own experiences, knowledge, needs, aspirations and rights.

The project focuses on three countries and six distinct geographical sites with similar challenges. Each site is a forested Important Bird Area (IBA), primarily in hilly landscapes with adjacent communities. IBAs are identified by using internationally agreed, standardized and objective scientific criteria applied by local and international experts, making the IBA program approach and results recognized and used by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD). This also makes the IBA program a recognized practical tool and site-based integrated approach for conservation and sustainable use of the natural environment by the local people living around the IBAs. The project countries, Kenya, Uganda and Nepal, have all been through vigorous IBA-identification processes for a number of years, but new sites are still being identified.

The long-term objective of the project is to improve the management of natural resources, especially forested IBAs, on which local livelihoods depend for food, fuel, and critical ecosystem services, such as water, soil conservation and reduced vulnerability to natural disasters such as landslides, and climate changes. It builds on the assumption that best practices within participatory forest management based on the genuine involvement of local women and men, duty bearers and other key stakeholders will contribute to improved livelihoods and poverty reduction of local communities by securing access to natural resources and ecosystem services. The project's focus is on equitably shared benefits from participatory management practices addressing the needs of poor and marginalised people, and the strengthening of civil society through capacity building, facilitation of networks and advocacy. The project will help existing local civil society groups at site level (e.g., Site Support Groups in Kenya) to move upward by supporting their participation in and contribution to networks at decentralised and national levels, thus providing them with better opportunities for having a voice in matters that concern their livelihoods and the resources on which they depend.

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