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Recognition for Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas in Togo and Benin

27 March 2018

Like in most developing countries, nature in West Africa is under severe pressure from human activity. While the rush on land and natural resources in Benin and Togo continues to increase, state-governed Protected Areas do not seem to be sufficiently able to protect their valuable assets against a variety of pressures. With support of IUCN NL, CREDI-ONG and other NGOs aim to ensure sustainable management of natural resources in Benin and neighboring Togo by strengthening the status of community-protected areas.

“In an attempt to meet the needs of an ever-growing population, the search for new fertile lands for shifting cultivation, poaching, overfishing, uncontrolled urbanization and land grabbing by agribusiness lead to overexploitation of natural resources,” Martial Kouderin, director of the Beninese Regional Center for Research and Education for Integrated Development (CREDI-ONG), explains. “Especially in Togo and Benin.”

Lack of recognition for vital role of local communities

While the rush on natural resources in Benin and Togo continues to increase, formal government-recognized Protected Areas do not seem to be sufficiently able to protect their valuable assets against these pressures. Among the reasons for this lack of effectiveness are the limited ownership and active involvement of local communities in their management. CREDI-ONG therefore promotes better recognition of indigenous and community conserved areas (ICCAs) as conservation strategy to complement state-governed protected areas. “ICCAs have been customarily governed and managed by indigenous and traditional communities for centuries,” Evelien van den Broek, Senior Expert Environmental Justice at IUCN NL, explains. “Their governance is characterized by a close and unique connection between people and nature, often with demonstrated conservation results.”

“In West Africa, ICCAs -commonly known as "sacred places”- are increasingly weakened by decentralized political systems and the weakening of traditional cultures and authorities, and poor implementation of laws on customary land rights,” Kouderin states. “Due to lack of recognition and of appropriate political and legal support, the efforts of conservationists and local communities to conserve natural resources do not always produce results.” NGOs therefore try not only to strengthen the legal and policy framework, but also to support community-based initiatives in the field. This includes both traditional conservation areas that managed to survive changes in governance and land use over time or new forms of conservation areas governed by local community associations, with stronger involvement of the initiating NGOs. In both cases, it is essential that such conservation areas and their governance are perceived as legitimate by communities.

Providing role models

The small size of most ICCAs in West Africa can be compensated if they manage to play a role of inspiring governance models with both tangible conservation results and livelihood benefits for communities. “To achieve broader impact, it may be useful if such small community-based initiatives are embedded in a broader conservation and sustainable development context such as a national park, Ramsar or World Heritage site, or a biosphere reserve like the transboundary Mono River Delta,” Kouderin suggests.

To raise awareness of the importance of ICCAs and to create opportunities to strengthen the status of community-protected areas, with support of IUCN NL and an international expert in community conservation, CREDI-ONG gathered a number of environmental civil society organizations from Togo and Benin in November 2017.

Joining forces to secure community-protected areas

“We jointly analyzed the political and legal framework of Togo and Benin regarding ICCAs, in order to identify gaps and legal loopholes to further secure community-protected areas,” says Kouderin. The participating NGOs learned not only to understand the national and legal political context regarding ICCAs in their country, but also to master ICCA concepts, the international context and self-strengthening processes for ICCAs. “Another important aspect for NGOs active in Togo and Benin is how to link to sustainable natural resource conservation efforts to the ICCA Global Support Initiative by UNDP to gain access to more donor resources specifically for this purpose,” Kouderin explains. “We also focused on how to facilitate dialogue with policy makers, local communities and other CSOs on the applications of ICCA concepts in both national and local context.”

With support of the program Shared Resources Joint Solutions, a strategic partnership with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and WWF Netherlands, the NGOs from Togo and Benin are joining forces to advocate for ICCAs in their respective countries to achieve better recognition of local communities' efforts to conserve natural resources.

Read more stories from Shared Resources Joint Solutions


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More articles by: Jan Kamstra