The GEF Strategic Program in West Africa (SPAW) launches protected areas project in Guinea-Bissau

By Charlotte Gobin and the Guinea-Bissau project team 

Threats to biodiversity in West Africa have been a subject of major international concern over the last three decades. The main forces threatening West Africa’s rich biodiversity are: habitat loss and fragmentation due to agricultural conversion; and species loss due to overexploitation.

For the Global Environment Facility (GEF), protected areas are among the most cost-effective tools to conserve globally relevant biodiversity. So far, the GEF has invested more than US$574 million for marine and terrestrial protected areas, leveraging an additional US$2.4 billion in co-financing from other partners. This support has helped the West African countries develop an extensive network of protected areas across the region.

A consensus emerged, however, that many priority areas for biodiversity conservation fall outside the protected area network and face intense pressure from habitat loss and hunting.

To overcome this challenge, in 2008, the GEF developed a programmatic approach for the biodiversity conservation which enables integration of efforts across multiple scales and national borders, and takes full account of the magnitude and extent of fragmentation across ecosystems. The Program aims to extend the Protected Areas network, and to take into consideration the buffer zones and corridors that make them more effective.

In the community of Dulombi. ©IBAP/UNDP.

So far, 20 projects have been funded in the region. The project “Support to the Consolidation of a Protected Area System in Guinea-Bissau’s Forest Belt” is one of these projects. It will echo the ongoing work undertaken in riparian countries and will reinforce the ecological representativeness and connectivity of the national PA system. Furthermore, this project will contribute to the achievement of the Aichi Target 11, which states that by 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, be conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscape and seascape.

Between 24 and 29 October 2012, the Institute of Biodiversity and Protected Areas in Guinea-Bissau (IBAP), together with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other partners, conducted in Guinea-Bissau an Inception Workshop for the project, “Support to the Consolidation of a Protected Area System in Guinea-Bissau’s Forest Belt.”

Funded by the GEF (US$950,000) and the implementing agency, UNDP, (US$760,000), the project is executed by IBAP. The other co-financiers are the Government of Guinea-Bissau, the Chimbo Foundation and PRESAR. The total project budget is US$3.16 million.

The project, which had encountered delays caused by the long-standing political turmoil in the West African country, aims to strengthen the National System of Protected Areas (NSPA) through the creation and management in the country’s continental interior of five new protected areas. These areas, two national parks and three wildlife corridors, are collectively called the Dulombi-Boe-Tchetche Complex (DBTC). The DBTC encompasses greatly diverse ecosystems including sundry forest (palm, riparian, closed and open canopy rain forest), savannas, important wetlands, as well as rivers and streams. In addition to its recognition as an International Bird Area, DBTC is a critical cross-border migration corridor for large mammals, and the complex thus establishes connectivity between the parks of neighboring countries and already established coastal parks of Guinea-Bissau. The region offers refuge to African elephants, hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibious), elans (Taurotragus derbianus), and different species of primates including the endangered western chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes). Leopards (Panthera pardus)and lions (Panthera leo) have been sighted in the past, but populations have declined in recent decades.

Local chief in front of a natural wetland in Dulombi National Park. ©Yves de Soye/UNDP.

The Dulombi-Boe-Tchetche Complex faces huge conservation challenges exacerbated by climate change and desertification. Direct anthropogenic drivers leading to progressive habitat degradation and fragmentation include but are not limited to slash-and-burn agricultural techniques, charcoal production, wildlife hunting, the spread of human settlements, the widespread conversion of native habitats to low-labor but high-return cashew plantations, and the emerging environmental threats posed by mining adjacent to the protected areas. The complex will protect a set of representative wildlife and terrestrial ecosystems that complement the coastal and island ecosystems already included in Guinea-Bissau’s NSPA. A key initial element of the project involves strengthening the institutional capacity of IBAP in managing protected areas and establishing a governance framework allowing the adoption of a participatory management approach in the targeted protected areas of DBTC. The project will also involve engagement with the mining sector to encourage adoption of environmentally sound mining practices along with appropriate financial compensation mechanisms.

The Inception Workshop was held in the city of Gabu in the country's east, and followed by two days of discussion in the project intervention areas. It brought together representatives from the national and local governments, UNDP, local non-governmental organizations, traditional village chiefs, and co-financiers. Participants recognized the urgent need to take action and reaffirmed their commitment to the project.

Charlotte Gobin is a senior environmental specialist on the Global Environment Facility’s Natural Resources Team.