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close this bookThe Courier N 160 - Nov - Dec 1996 - Dossier Habitat - Country reports: Fiji , Tonga (EC Courier, 1996, 96 p.)
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When conservation is at odds with the local population

by Hendrik Smets

The clash between the interests of people living on the edges of the Zakouma National Park in Chad and the authorities' attempts at conservation illustrates the situation facing many other nature reserves in Africa. This article argues in favour of a form of eco-development to suit everyone.

When the Zakouma National Park (PNZ) WAS officially set up in 1963 (it had been at the planning stage since 1956), the area it covered meant that local people had to be moved - but the promised compensation was never paid. During the second phase of the PNZ's relaunch, financed by the European Development Fund (EDF), a perimeter path following the 1963 boundaries was marked out, but local villagers opposed this, regarding it as an extension of the Park's area. Subsequently, they rejected a move to build a dispensary in a village located at the edge of the park on the pretext that such a structure would again constitute an extension to the reserve's land.

Conflict between the itinerant stockbreeders of the region and the authorities has simmered for many years. The latter have shrunk from enforcing the 1963 law on transhumance corridors which applies to the fringes of the national park. Under this law, it is prohibited (in principle) to gather wood, hunt for game, fish, or gather honey and other natural produce. The result is a tendency among locals to view the PNZ as an adversary rather than a potential partner in development. Safari tourism is developing too slowly and is not leading to sufficient benefits for example, from a craft industry, or more general redevelopment.

When the second phase of the project was at the planning stage, its organisers recognised that, in order to guarantee the park's future, support had to be given to the people living on its edges. A high-level 'cooperation committee' was therefore proposed. The membership of this committee, which would sit in N'Djamena, was to include ministers, directors-general, park authorities and Commission representatives. Unfortunately it has not yet been brought into operation. By contrast, the local authorities and park management have been able to set up their own committee which met for the first time in January 1996. This body has helped to tackle some of the most sensitive problems.

The second phase also saw the implementation of a series of microprojects. - school renovations, a dispensary, a bridge, the sinking of wells, a dam, a mill and a nursery. But these were set up without preliminary study, and no arrangements were made to sound out the views of the local people, or the form of development they would like promoted. Understandably, local hostility was encountered and the projects cannot, in any real sense, be viewed as offshoots of the wider PNZ scheme.

The future

The project has not been extended to a third phase. Because of this, there is a risk that the capital invested - and the positive results that have been achieved - could be lost altogether. Should any donor choose to 'pick up the baton' in future, they will need to recognise the key imperative of creating a symbiotic relationship between the park and the local population. To do this, there must be an awareness-raising effort, undertaken in parallel with any eco-development programme.

In the first instance, a higher profile should be given to institutional issues. In particular, the cooperation committee in N'Djamena must be able to act, where necessary, as an appeal or arbitration chamber to deal with any disputes which cannot be resolved by the local authorities' committee. The latter, of course, would continue to meet on a regular basis to discuss any problems encountered.

At the same time, there should be campaigns to disseminate information and train local people who are in daily contact with the park's environment. The aim here would be to make them progressively more accountable for conservation and the exploitation of natural resources (cutting wood, gathering produce, hunting, fishing, and so on). They must also gain a better understanding of the effects of poaching and desertification. Above all, such campaigns should seek to convince the people of the benefits they stand to gain from the park, if they continue to respect its integrity.

In this context, some lessons might be drawn from a regional project dating from April 1987 (which was never fully implemented). This was aimed at halting the advance of the desert in the northern Central African Republic and southern Chad. The component of the project which is of interest to the present discussion was its programme to increase public awareness - which involved training organisers, preparing and disseminating information (posters, videos, films), organising information tours and giving support to the Training and Environmental Information Programme of the CILSS (Inter-State Committee to Combat Drought in the Sahel), of which Chad is a member.

One could also learn something from the approach adopted by the Manda National Park which is situated 270 km from Zakouma. This has 'volunteer villagers' appointed by the chiefs of the four cantons making up the park zone, who know the territory well. The volunteers take part in information, awareness and monitoring operations alongside national park and animal reserve employees. Dressed in pale olivegreen uniforms, they cycle between the villages and encampments, providing a link between the villagers and officials in N'Djamena. They have an invaluable role in convincing village people of the advantages of cooperating in the development of the park and its surrounding areas. And the cost of a volunteer is just CFAF 5 000 (ECU 7.5) per month.

Eco-development

Returning to the PNZ, it is true that a small proportion of the population already benefits from the park's existence. Wages are paid to the patrols, and the permanent and seasonal workforce, while micro-projects have been set up. The park pays traders, artisans, farmers and stockbreeders for certain services and there are some tourists. But the bulk of the population does not see these advantages having been largely excluded up to now.

Any future eco-development programme should therefore aim at reducing pressure on the park in order to guarantee its long-term integrity. This would obviously need to be preceded by a clear definition of the action to be undertaken, but in the meantime, it might be useful to offer a few guidelines. The programme should include:

- a series of flanking or support activities providing infrastructure and equipment, such as a dispensary, a school, paths, wells and carts;
- a food-security programme providing for the conservation of agricultural areas, as well as measures to prevent erosion and safeguard harvests (cereal banks, stores, gardens, agro-forestry systems and pest control);
- a project to promote natural resources such as fisheries, gum arable, honey, and straw fodder;
- a wood/energy management programme providing improved hearths and brick ovens, and the organised gathering and use of supplies;
- development of the craft industry and training of tourist guides.

If, in a third phase, an awareness and eco-development programme could be successfully implemented, the Zakouma National Park should be able to look forward to a brighter future.