Boat in a river in a green landscape. Photo by Elke Praagman

[IUCN Congress 2020 series] Mobilising West African youth for nature conservation

In West Africa, youth have long been largely indifferent towards nature conservation. In recent years, however, some have become more interested in the issue and want to become involved. Still, this is no match to the size of the threats to biodiversity and natural resources in the country. Youth needs to be mobilized for the protection of nature and biodiversity- which is exactly what two of IUCN NL’s partner organisations in Benin are doing.

Header photo: Benin © Elke Praagman

The lack of interest from youth in conservation has a number of causes, says Josias Madogotcha of IUCN NL partner organisation Nature Tropicale: ‘The decision- makers in Benin, both at the central and local level, are usually more interested in easy and immediate gains and have little interest in the environment and biodiversity. In addition to this, there is no basic environmental education in the formal school curriculum, so many young people have little knowledge about the importance of nature.’

This is the case in many countries in Africa, according to Georges Hèdégbètan of CREDI-ONG: ‘By 2030, the majority of young people will live in cities and become disconnected from nature.’ ‘We need to find a strategy to establish a living link between youth and nature and get them interested in conservation.’

Awareness campaigns

CREDI works with youth that grew up in a village, but have now moved to the city, either to study or earn money. ‘We do not want them to forget where they come from and abandon their involvement in managing their village’s natural resources,’ says Hèdégbètan. To keep them engaged, CREDI encourages them to become involved in biodiversity monitoring activities and to speak during their awareness campaigns.

These campaigns are targeted towards universities, where CREDI goes to spark students’ interest in nature and biodiversity. ‘We try to especially go to universities where there are no classes on natural resources, like universities of management or economics,’ Hèdégbètan explains. ‘We want to make these students understand that every activity in every sector or job depends on natural resources and thus on nature conservation. Therefore we should think of natural resources and their conservation with every decision we make.’ Discussing the issue with them also helps CREDI identify the degree of understanding that these young urbanites have of nature conservation. ‘We will then invite them to follow further training about what nature conservation is and what it can offer us.’

Intergenerational exchange

Nature Tropicale is part of a movement called “Graine Future”, which brings together current and future generations to learn more about nature conservation. Madogotcha: ‘Environmental defenders from older generations can exchange and share their experiences with young people to help them better understand the challenges linked to conservation. If young people learn from them, they can become the next generation of much-needed defenders and leaders.’

Training future decision-makers

As part of the “Graine Future” movement, Nature Tropicale organizes a training for 25 young people from cities and rural areas who are passionate about biodiversity and the environment. The training allows them to experience nature and learn from adult leaders in the conservation world.  ‘We want to make these future decision-makers aware of the impact of human activities on nature, so they will be able to take measures that are beneficial for nature and biodiversity and contribute to the application of environmental laws and regulations,’ Madogotcha explains. Thanks to the training, several young people are supported each year to become young leaders in conservation.

Madogotcha adds: ‘It is crucial to promote these initiatives that are aimed at mobilizing more young people in the sector of nature conservation.’ But these trainings and campaigns will not be enough to tackle the problem:  ‘We also need to push for environmental education from an early age, in school or even in religious institutions.’

IUCN Congress motions

Leading up to and during the Member’s Assembly at the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2020, IUCN Members can vote to approve motions. They are the mechanism by which IUCN Members influence third parties and guide the policy and Programme of IUCN. A number of the accepted motions are linked to the work of our partners in Uganda and DRC. A part of the motions will be sent for vote by electronic ballot from 7-21 October 2020.

More information and the full list of motions can be found on the official Congress website.

Motion 076 is centered around the role of children and youth in nature conservation, and therefore especially relevant to the work that IUCN NL’s partners do to mobilize African youth for conservation.  Hèdégbètan affirms this: ‘We believe that the survival of the young generation depends on the skills and knowledge of today’s young people.’ Madagotcha adds: ‘The children and youth of today are the decision-makers of tomorrow. Thus, it is important to raise their level of environmental awareness to not only maintain the current state of the environment, but also to improve it through concrete measures.’

IUCN Congress 2020 series

The IUCN Congress 2020 will bring together the global nature conservation community and allow civil society organisations to share their work and knowledge. In a series of articles, IUCN NL’s partner organisations from around the world tell us about their work for nature and people.

Jan Kamstra
no longer working at IUCN NL