Postgraduate ‘Research in Africa’

How can biodiversity conservation be used to enhance co-operation, peacebuilding and statebuilding? This is the question that Deo Kujirakwinja from the Department of Environmental Science raised in the Research in Africa postgraduate seminar.

The DRC has important biodiversity potentials (both in number of species and endemics). In terms of species, the DRC has a potential for discoveries and rediscoveries. Last year there were eight new species discovered in eastern DRC part by teams led by Deo, and more than 100 plant species have been found that are currently being identified and described.

However, for the last three decades the DRC has been facing armed conflicts which have affected both people and biodiversity – it is thought that about 6 million people have been killed and environmental crime generates about 1.5 billion US for local, national and international actors.

Biodiversity has been affected by armed conflicts and economic interests which has led to massive declines of different species. For example, the Hippopotamus population has declined from 30,000 (1973) to 1200 (2010).  This is a dramatic loss of biodiversity.

Approaches to govern biodiversity have traditionally been framed by the ‘fortress’ approach with rangers and guns. This has not been successful as it raised a lot of conflicts among stakeholders.  Instead Deo and his team are seeking community and co-operative approaches to respond to the concerns.

Most protected areas are surrounded by high human density (more than 300/sqkm). They rely on natural resources for their subsistence: poaching for bushmeat, mining, collection of timber and non-timber forest products. Armed groups are scattered in and around protected areas and use natural resources to fulfil all their needs. More than that, there is political interference that also affects local interventions and encourages depletion of resources.

The key questions leading Deo’s work focus on: “Can collaboration with key players improve biodiversity conservation?” And “Can regional resource management contribute to peacebuilding and statebuilding in a post-conflict context”?

Although biodiversity management can lead to peacebuilding and statebuilding, efforts can be hindered by inadequate technical and financial support to field activities. Thus, multi-stakeholder approaches can help to respond to the problems. This can be applied at local and regional scales.

Deo’s research was conducted using a participatory action research approach involving both unstructured interviews and household surveys using the basic necessities survey technique. He also used conflict and stakeholder analysis.

Deo described that the conceptual framework that he was using included wildlife management, monitoring, community conservation and education outreach. In most areas, managers would focus on these strategies in isolation. His work, however, brought in a multi-stakeholder approach that integrates the four strategies while involving various stakeholders interested or affected by biodiversity management.

These issues arise at both local and regional scale, and there is need to understand these issues at all of these levels.  Using two case studies, one aiming at tackling illegal fishing on Lake Edwards, and the other one on illegal timber exploitation at local level and transboundary management at regional level, Deo showed that their approach to research was able to bring practical changes on the ground.  They were able to observe more sustainable management practices, as well as greater recognition of enforcement bodies by the fishermen.  Through involvement of different actors, local committees was able to jointly implement sanctions to locals who broke the law. Given that the water is shared between DRC and Uganda, the cooperation went beyond DRC borders and raised greater co-operation between DRC and Uganda on law enforcement and security. The second case focused on the illegal timber products trade. The focus in this case was to respond to social risk and economic vulnerability (fines, arrests, loans etc.) at local level. Results from collaborative process suggest improved social (safety and insurance) and economic capital (microcredit), and greater co-operation between protected area managers, communities and local authorities for biodiversity conservation and improving livelihoods through microcredit schemes. As a result of cooperation, “the main conservation measures were embodied in local development plans”, thus strengthening local ownership and empowering law enforcement agencies. Also, capacity building was extended, not only to communities but also to local leaders and park managers.

At a regional level, stronger regional cooperation for peace building was achieved, through improved trust and collaboration between protected area managers from both countries and expanded to security and custom agencies.  In conclusion, Deo stated that “Biodiversity conflict can lead to political and armed conflicts”. Therefore there is need for adequate conflict management and resolution.

Cooperation and involvement of various stakeholders are key approaches for biodiversity protection that can promote peacebuilding and statebuilding. The involvement of key players is vital, and working within a multi-stakeholder framework facilitates this.

 The seminar led to a number of questions that probed the more deep-seated poltical-economic issues and how these shaped the initiatives that Deo was describing. For example, one participant asked about the meaning of statebuilding in the DRC and whether the corporate, illicit activities were not undermining of the efforts to use biodiversity as a mechanism for statebuilding. Another question was raised about the wider, globalizing forces that were driving extraction of resources and local interventions such as this. Questions were also raised on the way in which new approaches such as use of microcredit systems were functioning on the ground and on how such approaches to multi-stakeholder engagement were able to deal with deep vested interests.  There were also questions about the links between the criminal activities at local level related to biodiversity and the ways in which the military and other key actors may be aiding and abetting other illegal activities such as illegal mining.

This was the first event in the newly-launched Research in Africa Cross-faculty Seminar Series at Rhodes University. The postgraduate seminar series has the aim of furthering inter-disciplinary dialogue among postgraduate and postdoctoral scholars on Research in Africa across disciplines and faculties in the university. The seminar series is organised by postgraduate scholars on a regular basis, with blocks of 4 seminars once a week to be held in the middle of each term. The seminars are hosted in the Environmental Learning Research Centre (Room 20) at 13h00 – 14h00 on Thursdays and include a light lunch.

Should you wish to share your research in future seminars, and for any further information, contact:

Here is a schedule of speakers and topics for the next three seminars this term:

  • Thursday, 7th May, 1-2pm “A Massacre before Marikana Massacre: Untold stories of the platinum Belt” Speaker: Robert Maseko PhD Student, Sociology Department
  • Thursday, 14th May, 1-2pm “Institutional change and biodiversity governance in South Africa: A perception survey” Speaker: Juniours Marire PhD Student, Economics Department
  • Thursday, 21st May, 1-2pm “Marine Conservation and management: Fisheries Common Pool Resources” Speaker: Ameil Harikishun PhD Student, Deprtament of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science


Article written by Heila Lotz-Sisitka, Deo Kujirakwinja and Jessica Cockburn

Source:  ELRC

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