Landscape co-management successes revealed

Chris Mesiku

Seven years ago, the World Agroforesty Centre and the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) took part in a bold, USAID-funded project that aimed to protect and enhance biodiversity in four of Guinea’s 156 ‘classified forests’.  The Landscape Management for Improved Livelihoods (LAMIL) project succeeded by creating incentives to encourage farmers to respect and accept responsibility for the forests. Seven years later, a booklet called ‘Restoring Lives and Landscapes’ details how the project’s aims were achieved and how it became a catalyst for the establishment of many other livelihood options.

The LAMIL project was the culmination of two previous projects that tried to get away from a historically heavy-handed approach to forest management whereby the villagers had no legal right to use the forest. For example, when Guinea’s Balayan Souroumba forest was classified in 1951, around 500 people were forcibly evicted and subsequently forbidden from entering a forest they had always considered theirs.

The first project, called ‘Natural Resources Management Activity,’ took place between 1993 and 1999. Although it had the aim of improving environmental management in seven forests by working with local communities, it fell short of meeting its aims. Moreover, when this project was later expanded from 1999 to 2005, its achievements were also below expectations.

The two projects together with the LAMIL project were funded by USAID.

At the end of 2005, an evaluation found that the two projects failed to fully consider the needs of the people living in and around the forests. USAID then funded the LAMIL project with the aim of clearly measuring livelihood changes while influencing forest and land policy.

Unlike its predecessors, LAMIL had a strong element of research from the Centre and CIFOR. "Its development activities were only formulated after an extensive period of interviews and fieldwork in and around the four classified forests of Balayan Souroumba, Sincery Oursa, Souti Yanfou and Nyalama," claim contributors of the booklet.

This research approach brought about immediate changes such as the reorganisation of the previous local forest-management committees to firstly make sure positions were filled by those with genuine interest in forest management, and secondly that at least 25% of executive committee members were women.

The key to the success of the LAMIL project was reportedly the legalisation of the committees managing each classified forest.

“Before we got legal recognition,” explains Mamadou Diallo, the secretary of Sincery Oursa Forest Management Committee, “We derived hardly any benefit from the forest. But, thanks to LAMIL, we’re profiting from the forest and it is now in a much better condition.” Management plans, drawn up in consultation with the government, helped influence policy while guaranteeing the project’s long-term sustainability. The co-management approach ensured that the government took responsibility for the forests, together with the local farmers.

Kourouma Christine Sagno, the director of the Department of Forests and Fauna (DNFF), believes that co-management has helped to reconcile local communities and government departments. “DNFF no longer sees local communities as murderers of the forests,” she says, “And local communities are no longer afraid of DNFF. They no longer see us as the enemy.”

The positive way the communities felt about the LAMIL project created demand for seedlings. This demand grew the local economy because community members who had established nurseries flourished and where able to invest in other activities. During the financial year 2006-07, over 120 000 seedling were distributed. Over 300 000 trees were planted mostly in classified forests between 2005 and 2008.

With such visible successes, other farmers were inspired to set up other LAMIL-aided, self-sustaining projects that were centred on co-management of forests. One such project was a biodiversity program that helped change attitudes towards forest conservation.

LAMIL project officer, Amara Keita, believes that the project’s heavy reliance on government staff helped to ensure its sustainability. “One of the differences between us and the NGOs,” he says, “Is that we are still there, working with the villagers.”

Guinea’s national extension service disseminated new technologies and provided training to the farmers by using the Farmers Initiative and Vision-Based Approach (FIVA) that was developed with the World Agroforestry Centre. They found that once farmers were given a leading role in choosing and promoting new farming and agroforestry technologies, the level of uptake of those technologies were visibly higher.

Although LAMIL came to an end in 2008, government staff who worked with the project continue to provide advice and support to well-established forest-management committees.

According to Gregory Booth of USAID, other African countries could learn from LAMIL's experience.

"Co-management in Guinea is both unusual and important. What makes it different from any other natural resource management activities I've seen in Africa is the legal contract, signed between forests communities and the government. This means there is a high level of accountability and expectation on both sides,” says Gregory.

A similar success is expected from a 10-year global research programme devoted to forests, trees and agroforestry. The program is one of 15 multi-centre programmes of the CGIAR, aimed at improving food security and sustainably managing the water, soil and biodiversity that underpin agriculture in the world’s poorest countries.

Download the project booklet.