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Knowledge Exchange on Community Conservation Groups

August 3, 2023

Community engagement in conservation is essential. Communities are stewards of biodiversity holding valuable insights that can inform the planning and implementation of conservation projects. In addition, they are also invested in the outcomes of these projects, making them key stakeholders and partners in the process. However, community engagement is a complex undertaking, complicated by cultural specificities, socio-economic diversity within groups, conflicting interests, limited resources, and other factors. 

Projects in the Global Wildlife Program (GWP) have consistently identified community participation and engagement as a top priority for knowledge exchange and capacity building. Many GWP projects work on establishing or strengthening community conservation groups as a means to enhance community ownership of conservation. As a response, the GWP organized a knowledge exchange to help increase awareness on this topic and share experiences and good practices in the creation and management of these groups. 

This GWP knowledge exchange shared experiences and approaches across three major aspects of formalized community conservation groups: creation, management and sustainability. GWP project representatives from India, Panama, Tanzania, and Mozambique presented their insights and lessons learned. The session was facilitated by Dianna Pizarro, Global Coordinator for Indigenous Peoples, World Bank. 

This session brought together 45 participants from 15 countries. 

Key takeaways and project examples from the session included:

1) Creation of community groups 

  • Well-developed regulatory frameworks and policies help underpin and legitimize community conservation groups. 

  • In Tanzania, Mozambique and India, policies and regulations at various levels prescribe the objectives of community groups and provide a framework for         participation and decision making over natural resources. Integrating these groups into local governance structures helps ensure that they coordinate         with, and do not displace, existing structures. 
  • In cases where there are no existing governance structures, support can still be provided. In Panama’s Darien National Park, the GWP Panama project helped facilitate the process for ranching communities to form their own community-based organization (CBO) by bringing ranching families together to discuss community issues around human-jaguar conflict in an organized way. The CBO was eventually granted legal status by the Ministry of Environment (MiAMBIENTE). Awareness raising campaigns and engagement with local leaders help promote the value of the community groups and increase the community’s trust and participation in the process.
  • The India GWP SECURE project created a movie that they showed to each community, describing the value and function of biodiversity management committees (BMCs), to motivate and inform local people about their new responsibilities.
  • Embrace diversity and inclusivity. The projects agreed that including different voices – the youth, women, the elderly, other marginalized populations – was important to ensure that community groups had diverse representation and could play a role in promoting equality. 

2) Management of community groups 

  • Dedicated training materials help build capacity within the group to make informed decisions. 

  • In Tanzania, the project identified capacity challenges that prevented the wildlife management area group from carrying out responsibilities and facilitated excursions to showcase how other well-established community groups were dealing with the same challenges.  Similarly, In Mozambique, members of successful community groups would share their experiences with those setting out. 
  • In India, the project provided technical, administrative, and financial training on site to help BMCs deliver their responsibilities. In Panama, the project provided leadership development and soft skills (conflict resolution) training to mentor members of the committee. 
  • Ensure that benefits from conservation go directly to communities. 

  • In Panama, the project created a governance structure that formalized the role of members within the committee, supported activities that provide economic value (tourism, employment, and services for scientific research), and defined an equitable profit-sharing mechanism to distribute the revenues without an intermediary organization. By directly linking the benefits of the group to community members, the project incentivized efficient management of the group. 

3) Sustainability of community groups  

  • Enabling communities to lead the process of creating, governing and managing the group ensures the long-term sustainability of the group.

  • In Mozambique, the project did not lead the process of establishing a community conservation area, instead playing a facilitator role. This helped build the trust of the community to own and lead the process. Once communities identified their own priorities and solutions, the project helped build capacity and trained the members in implementing those solutions.