“If we didn’t collaborate with the community, yet still expected them to partner with us, we would be building a partnership based on non-transparency and poor communication. If this were the case, the community might not trust our work or presence in the area, and our work to protect local wildlife populations would be compromised. Strong partnership for a shared vision of conservation depends on transparency, clear communication, and collaboration”, explains Dr. Jost Robinson.
Chengeta Wildlife firmly believes that community empowerment and engagement are vital towards the protection of biodiversity: “healthy communities mean healthy forests”, explains Liz. In areas affected by poverty, food insecurity, and instability, reliance on local resources, such as those found in forests, is crucial for local well-being and health. Regulations barring people’s access to forests can put many families in even more precarious situations, which can then be counter-productive for conservation efforts.
CW-C, therefore, works as a facilitator, a consultative body, actively listening and directly working with the community to find locally driven solutions for well-being. And success speaks for itself – here are three examples of groundbreaking collaborative community partnerships driven by Chengeta.
A space for voices: the Community Representative program
Including the community in conversations with Chengeta representatives has been made possible through the wonderful interface that is the ReCo program – short for the Community Representative program (Relais Communautaire). This program has been primordial to establish links across all groups – men, women, youth, elders, hunter-gatherers, farmers, fishers, entrepreneurs, etc. – to then identify the support needed for well-being and social cohesion, which then loops back to enhance conservation work.
The ReCo program requires local leaders choose one woman and one man to represent their community. Every two weeks, these community representatives meet with Robert Sambo in the Chengeta Wildlife office in Bayanga. This is key – each representative relays issues faced by their respective community during these meetings, allowing for voices to be heard – especially those of women who often don’t have the space to do so. The ReCo program is currently Chengeta’s most successful community program in ensuring transparent, clear communication and collaborative partnerships with the local communities.
This program creates a direct pathway for community feedback on current and future programming so that CW-C can adapt and tailor its work over time to best meet local needs. There are currently 22 ReCo members representing the nine neighborhoods of Bayanga, the main town in DSPA, and the two smaller villages of Mossapoula and Yandoumbe. The ReCo program has been well-received in these three villages, and leaders from the other 11 villages in DSPA are enthusiastic to expand this program to their communities once funding is available.
Empowering women: the foundation of the community
The inclusion of women in the decision-making process, who are so often under-represented despite being the foundation of the community, supports the creation of women-focused initiatives while promoting female empowerment and self-advocacy. An example of this is CW-C’s partnership with the Market Women Association of Bayanga (Wali Gara). For a very long time, the women from this project struggled to gain official association status due to many financial and logistical hurdles. In late 2020, this group, with the help of CW-C, became an official federally recognized association in Bayanga, the central town of DSPA. This achievement allows the market women greater visibility and control over their work.
This is a quintessential illustration of how Chengeta operates, helping remove existing boundaries to facilitate community-driven ideas come to life. “Our goal is to support the creation of sustainable projects that are managed and powered by communities, self-reliant and self-advocating,” says Liz passionately. Now an official association, the Market Women have access to relevant support in collecting their own data, playing an official part in local policymaking towards the regulation of meat markets – integral to local ways of life.
This is one of many true partnership successes, resting upon an approach that shies away from entire dependence on foreign aid. “If we were to leave DSPA tomorrow, projects like these would be able to function on their own,” says Dr. Jost Robinson.
Integrating the younger generation: the future of conservation
The ReCo meetings are complemented by frequent assessments of perceptions and sentiments routed in ethical, research-backed methods centered around listening to community needs and experiences. This communication work has brought to light key prerogatives, like that of the youth.
Young men with no alternative income or source of employment may rely on hunting with illegal snares, which are relatively cheap and easy to make, to meet their basic needs.
“Many young hunters express a desire to stop illegal wire snare hunting if other profitable employment options are available. Research and tourism provide important employment opportunities in DSPA, but the reality is that these opportunities are limited. Creating legal, sustainable community-driven economic opportunities is critical for the well-being of human communities in DSPA,” explains Liz. Insights like these provide a basis for Chengeta Wildlife and the community to collaborate on finding solutions grounded within suitable employment, with the potential to induce positive change in DSPA – rather than turning to alternative, illegal activities for survival.
Livelihoods in Dzanga-Sangha now have tools and guidance to self-regulate in processes directly involving them, like subsistence hunting, markets, and youth employment. There is a perception of positive changes in well-being, and project ownership, that in turn benefit and support co-existence between wildlife and humans. The Communities program truly is a way for Chengeta Wildlife to promote sustainable change, supporting projects that grow from the ground up: the community is involved at every level.
But the model continues to grow, attracting attention amongst other groups wanting to collaborate, like fishers and farmers. However, expanding this pivotal work requires more financial and personnel support, including employing more staff in the Bayanga office. To support these endeavors, Chengeta Wildlife needs your help.