AWF President calls on African governments to treat environmental protection as an important source of income
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AWF President calls on African governments to treat environmental protection as an important source of income

Charly Facheux

Charly Facheux Photo: Ngala Killian Chimtom

Charly Facheux, Senior Vice President of the Africa Wildlife Foundation (AWF), made the case for governments and businesses to invest in
environmental protection as an important source of income.

Facheux spoke with Down to the ground (DTE) in an exclusive interview given on the sidelines of a training course for West African journalists specializing in environmental reporting.

“We are now trying to bring the value of environmental protection closer to the government,
that they can see the contribution of environmental protection to GDP”
Facheux said DTE.

He said mining and logging companies need to “reinvest in
preserving this ecosystem because it will make
sustainable business development.”

What characterizes AWF’s work in Africa?

We were founded in 1961 and we are now 63 years old as an organization. AWF is the first African wildlife conservation foundation. We are based in Africa. Our roots are in Africa. And our approach is people-centric. We believe that we care about the environment, wildlife and nature. But we care more about people because we believe that people are key to protecting and preserving nature.

Can you provide an overview of your environmental protection efforts in Congo?
Swimming pool?

We have played a key role in the establishment of one of the main conservation schools in Africa: the College of African Wildlife Management, Mweka in Tanzania and the Ecole de Faune de Garoua in Cameroon. We have been operating in the Congo Basin for almost 18 years. We have been operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for almost 17 years and in Cameroon for about 10 years.

And the level of achievement that we have achieved in these countries is
really huge. For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we were dealing with land use
planning approved and announced by the Government.

In Cameroon, the work we did in Faro, Dja and Campo
really shows that we can save and also help communities increase their income. We were able to show that the indigenous pygmy communities of the Basin can also improve their lives by using the resources that they have around them.

It’s about how we optimize the resources that we have in a way that people can generate income and improve their well-being. I like to say “well-being” because using only improving livelihoods doesn’t feel right to me.

What specifically have you done to improve the well-being of the indigenous Baka people?

That’s a good question. We worked with a group of Baka in Cameroon. We introduced them to sustainable cocoa farming techniques.

Their group increased its income from $5,000 to $25,000 and now $50,000.

But we also know the risks that come with that, when some households have more income. So we also need to teach them how to make good decisions.

We want them to understand the decisions they need to make for themselves and their families. This will help them improve their well-being and the well-being of their families.

Most of them are now sending their children to schools. They understand that they have to go to the hospital when they are sick. They are also developing small businesses.

What are some of the outstanding results you have achieved with
with respect for some species of wild animals that were practically disappearing
Faro National Park?

We managed to almost double the lion population here.
Same thing with elephants and giraffes. This is really a result of the work we do with the community.

For example, we have a cross-border protected area with Nigeria, and that means there is a need for cooperation. Even at the height of the Boko Haram insurgency, there was cross-border cooperation between communities in Faro, Cameroon, and Gashaka-Gumti, Nigeria, which helped keep many animals alive.

You talk about cooperation at a time when Cameroon signed a convention with Nigeria on cooperation along the border to combat transboundary trade in wildlife resources. Were you involved in the negotiations?

We were involved and our Country Director Norbert Sonne from Cameroon was even present in Abuja (at the signing of the Convention).

What does it look like in practice? What does implementation look like?

The need for such cooperation really came from the ground. We also
we have a forum we call CBFP (Congo-Basin Forest Partnership) where such cooperation has been discussed many times. There is a general agreement that for cross-border cooperation to work, there must be not only a political agreement but a real partnership on the ground.

Statistics show that by 2100, Africa will account for one-third of the world’s population. Some 33 percent of wildlife habitat will be lost. What dangers do such statistics pose?

The war for the future will be about water and space. The global human population is growing very fast, but space is not. It is even shrinking due to climate change. So there will be a lot of competition for space, land, resources and food. And conflicts between wildlife and humans are the first steps towards conflict between humans and humans.

You linked the Congo Basin to the Nile’s water supply. Can you explain how this is important for Africa?

Let’s take the example of Nairobi. We know that the watershed in Nairobi is
Mau Forest. This forest is becoming increasingly dry. We also know that the presence of certain key species is important for this ecosystem to continue to play its role of providing and ensuring that these waters do not dry up or become scarce. There are some areas in Niger where the water disappears because there is no more forest.

You will be surprised to know that if we bring back the trees, the rivers will come back. That is the magic of nature.

It’s very important to make sure that these ecosystems continue to play their role. They’re deteriorating. It’s clear that water is getting scarcer as people dig deeper to find it. These are clear and obvious signs that we need to be careful about how we manage nature—especially the Congo Basin, which supplies water to most of these countries.

There is always the issue of financing. How do you deal with it?

This is the elephant in the room. I think we first need to appreciate the support we get from our donors. The work we have done
in Cameroon is mainly financed by the European Union, as well as by the Germans and some foundations. We also have fundraising. Now we are looking for funding from the private sector, which is a big donor that we haven’t had yet. We have to make them realize that their survival
Economic activity is closely linked to the method of nature conservation.

How to convince the government to invest in environmental protection? What are the compromises?

In most cases, conservation has not been a priority for governments. What we are trying to do now is to bring the value of conservation to government so that they can see its contribution to gross domestic product (GDP). We are developing what we call a “biodiversity economy.” This has been done in Zimbabwe. It is currently being done in Mozambique and we will later extend it to Sierra Leone. This work will bring real value to conservation in terms of cash, job creation, improved welfare and increased GDP. I don’t see any government that can see that and not value conservation.

Can you say more about this biodiversity-based economy that you talk about?

Let me give you an example of the Congo Basin countries. Usually, when
we are talking about the budget, it is mainly about the forest and wood. Wood in the forest is not even one tenth of what the environment or nature can produce. There is also the possibility of financing carbon emissions and climate financing. Generally we always look at the surface. But the underground is even richer in terms of providing resources. Biodiversity economy is treating nature as an asset and giving it value.

What do you say to corporations that are more interested in attracting customers?
economic benefits of nature and its failure to protect it?

I think we’ve moved past the point where we saw mining and logging concessions as a threat to environmental protection. We need to treat them as allies now, because we need them. They have the resources. They need to operate. But they need to understand that reinvesting in protecting ecosystems will make their operations sustainable. It will also make sure that the ecosystem continues to provide different services.