FEATURE STORY June 1, 2018

Lambaréné Accords Residents a Central Role in the Protection of Threatened Ecosystems

Image

Situated along the Ogooué river, Lambaréné harbors a globally unique ecosystem, which was placed on the World Heritage List of wetlands of international importance.


STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • With 80% forest cover, Gabon is an integral part of the planet’s second largest green lung after the Amazon. The preservation of this natural heritage is a national priority.
  • The establishment of income-generating activities for the residents of the region is facilitating the preservation of this fragile ecosystem and the involvement of citizens.
  • Moreover, building capacity to monitor protected sites is also helping conserve wildlife and combat poaching.

LIBREVILLE, June 1, 2018‒Lost in the sweeping landscape, for more than a century Lambaréné has cast an admiring gaze on the Ogooué, Gabon’s main river, which begins in Congo and crosses the country from east to west before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean, 1,200 kilometers away. The city also possesses the unique feature of being at the heart of Bas-Ogooué, a Ramsar* protected site that, in 2009, was placed on the World Heritage List of wetlands of international importance.

A globally unique heritage site

Not surprisingly therefore, when traveling along the river, the vast expanse of mangroves, the depth of the swamp forests, the hues of the wet grasslands, and the sparkle of the papyrus shrubs are breathtaking. The many surrounding lakes and wide variety of vegetation provide food, shelter, and a habitat for the animals living in the midst of the residents. And this rich ecosystem makes Bas-Ogooué unique.

However, some of these animals, such as the manatee, hippopotamus, elephant and even many species of birds and fish are threatened by logging, water pollution, and unregulated fishing.

 


Image

Collective awareness of the need to preserve the fragile ecosystem of Bas-Ogooué has helped ease human pressure on the fauna and flora and develop new income-generating activities.


In a bid to strengthen biodiversity protection in these wetlands and, most importantly, institute sustainable management measures for these ecosystems by working with the local and neighboring populations, the Government implemented the Sustainable Management of Critical Wetlands Ecosystems Project (PAZH) in several priority sites such as Bas Ogooué.

Many persons in Lambaréné, such as Marilou Ossawa, were directly impacted by the establishment of standards aimed at eco-responsible fishing through the restriction of zones and fishing techniques. Marilou, age 41, is the President of the Inongouna Association, a group of marieuses or smoked fish vendors. Fishing is therefore their main source of income. “We suddenly could no longer use monofilament nets or the other village techniques to fish. We couldn’t even go to certain areas. Furthermore, we were told that in the long run, our practices would wipe out the fish. And if the fish were to disappear tomorrow, what would we sell?” she says. 

Collective awareness …

She therefore agreed to change her practices. It was not easy at first, but it has now paid off. “Not only do I understand the importance of eco-responsible fishing, but I am also participating in the preservation of the natural resources of my region,” explains a delighted Marilou. “Also, because of the new fishing techniques, I have been able to increase my income as well as the income of the other members of the Inongouna Association. The fish we are catching are now bigger and therefore sell better at CFAF 3,000 per kilo, compared to CFAF 300 in the dry season.”

Image

To encourage such initiatives, the PAZH has provided financing and grants to the Inongouna Association and other associations in the region to introduce income-generating activities (IGAs). Through the establishment of these IGAs, the project seeks to take into account the needs of the neighboring populations and to reduce the effects of certain restrictions imposed to preserve the natural resources. It helps them identify and explore other sources of income in order to ease the pressure on the environment.

… and the diversification of economic activity

Several types of IGAs are therefore being established and financed by the project. Some in the fisheries sector, as is the case with Marilou, are financing fish farming, the processing and conservation of fisheries products, or even the maintenance and repair of pirogue engines, for example. Others involve the tourism, agricultural, and livestock sectors. By taking advantage of an outstanding site and tourism potential that has not yet been fully tapped, good times are in store for Bas-Ogooué. Coupled with the promotion of local crafts or even retail sales, entire villages could be revitalized through the influx of national and international tourists, as well as the sale of local products.



With close to 8 IGAs established by the project, which is at mid-term, and financing of nearly CFAF 128.9, the PAZH, supported by the World Bank, is not only actively involved in supporting the sustainable management of the ecosystems in the critical wetlands selected but also in reducing poverty among vulnerable local populations by ensuring their involvement in the protection of their environment while sustainably improving their living standards.

* The Ramsar Convention, officially the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat, also commonly known as the Convention on Wetlands, is an international treaty adopted on February 2, 1971 for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands.  It seeks to halt the current and future degradation or loss of wetlands by recognizing their ecological functions as well as their economic, cultural, scientific, and recreational value.


Api
Api