|The Courier N° 148 - Nov - Dec 1994 - Dossier: Education - Country Reports: Saint Lucia - St Vincent and The Grenadines (EC Courier, 1994, 104 p.)|
An object lesson from the Caribbean
by Keith Bensen
The Levera area coastline on the Caribbean island of Grenada has been described as one of the most scenic anywhere in the West Indies. Considering the quality of the competition, that may be a bold statement but it is one that many Grenadians would happily defend. Long stretches of undeveloped white sand beaches, large and healthy mangrove swamps and dry tropical forests, exotic wildlife and the dozens of small islets stretching to the horizon that make up the Grenadine archipelago create an idyllic tropical scene. These types of places tend to attract large tourism developers in the Caribbean, not internationally funded conservation projects. But Grenadians have long had a sentimental attachment to the Levera area. Many locals will tell you of fond childhood memories that were created during school trips to the beaches there.
The idea of creating a national park in the Levera area was first considered in the early 1980s when Grenada had a left-wing regime. Subsequent political upheavals temporarily put the idea on hold but in the latter part of the decade, it was revived and, in 1988, a project proposal was submitted to the European Commission. The scheme seemed to have all the right components. The north-eastern comer of Grenada, where Levera is located, had long been neglected because of its isolation and distance from the capital, St Georges. The area had a high emigration rate and a depressed economy. The park was seen as a sustainable form of development which would fit nicely into the Grenada Government's 'eco-tourism' development policy. Endangered sea turtles nested on the Levera beach" and endangered endemic wildlife used the zone as a refuge. Many local people also depended on the natural resources of the area for their livelihood, engaging in activities such as fishing, crab hunting, charcoal production and animal grazing. In 1990, funding was secured under LomII and project implementation began.
By most development project standards, the Levera National Park scheme was small - ECU 979 000 to be spent over a period of three to four years. Three quarters of the money was to be used for infrastructure improvements, mainly roads and the building of the Park's headquarters. But it was also originally designed to have a large amount of local community input and thus was seen as being different from a traditional capital development project.
Throughout the world, significant local participation in the creation of national parks is seen as the ideal situation. Previous attempts to conserve areas without local involvement have almost always failed.
Unfortunately, the initial plan of action fell by the wayside in the drive to facilitate implementation. This oftens happens with development projects, as managers and governments become frustrated at the delays, additional work and constant compromising that are necessary when local communities are genuinely involved. Thus it was that the first three years of the Levera project passed with almost no local consultation. The net effect of this was that local people saw the park's creation as a threat to their livelihood - something that belonged not to them but to the foreign tourists and the 'powers that be'.
Entering the final year, the project managers realised that things had gone wrong. Somehow, the project had to bring in the surrounding communities and to make up the lost ground as quickly as possible. A new management team was appointed and the technical assistance mission was finally started.
Island countries have certain advantages. Their small size and tight sense of community can be used to a project's advantage when rapid communication is necessary. Village leaders and community groups were targeted in an effort to recruit people who were interested in becoming involved. A long series of community meetings, workshops and training seminars started to turn things around. Both the Government and local villagers realised that it was in their best interests to cooperate in developing the park because the real benefits could only come when the needs of both sides were met.
A community co-management committee was set up in order to better facilitate the passage of ideas between the local communities and the project management. Its membership was drawn from a broad spectrum - from fishermen and crab hunters to vendors, local business-people and farmers. All were seen as community leaders and stakeholders in the Levera National Park.
Local consultation leads to changes
The committee discussed a wide variety of issues and the nature of the developments was often radically changed as a result. The park headquarters became a visitor orientation centre highlighting local cultural themes as well as nature conservation. Community members were brought in to help in the design and manufacture of the educational displays. An amphitheatre was added to the visitor centre complex that would be used by local cultural groups to display their talents to visitors and other Grenadians as well as provide a place to help preserve rapidly disappearing arts and crafts. Vending issues were discussed and plans agreed for the more effective management of the sale of local items to visitors in a controlled and quality manner. And the committee took on the task of organising and managing the opening day ceremonies and activities. These were a huge success.
Today, Levera has again become the most popular local recreation centre on the island. The National Park is also quickly becoming a major tourist attraction for people who want to experience the 'real Caribbean'. The committee is the conduit for communication between the park managers and the local villagers. Initially, many people viewed the park and its conservation as anathema to development. That opinion has been turned around and the park's obvious popularity is making it much easier for the management staff to tackle the controversial issues of controlled charcoal production, sea turtle protection and the elimination of beach sand mining. Locals now feel that the park belongs to them.
Of course, no one can ever be sure of what the future holds. The beauty of the area and its many natural and historic landmarks are rapidly attracting developments on the boundary of the park. But a good sign of the participatory feelings of local people was recently demonstrated by a man who owns land adjacent to the park and wants to build an inn on his plot. Without being approached first, and under no legal mandate to do so, he has asked the National Parks department for their input and approval for his small development. That bodes well for the future.