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togo: reducing poverty and promoting biodiversity conservation

Togo is one of the world’s most impoverished countries. The systemic problems underlying this poverty include lack of public investment due to high external debt payments and lack of tax revenues. A third of Togolese people, especially those in the rural areas, lack food security, and are confronted with the rapid degradation of their natural resources.
togo: reducing poverty and promoting biodiversity conservationAt the same time, Togo is rich in biodiversity, with a total of 3,752 plant and 3,469 animal species. There are 83 protected areas, and several sacred forests of great ecological importance.

 

This rich natural diversity has always provided local populations with food, fuel, building materials and medicinal plants (often the only form of medicine available to them). In times when farm yields are low, meat and plants gathered from the wild are absolutely vital forms of food. Yet poverty has obliged the population to over-exploit local resources, which is contributing to accelerating biodiversity loss. The erosion of their natural resource base reinforces people’s poverty, and a vicious circle of poverty and loss of biodiversity is in place.

 

what happened?

Friends of the Earth Togo / Les Amis de la Terre Togo ran a programme to raise awareness of the interconnectedness of biodiversity and poverty reduction.

 

They organized two workshops, one on traditional conservation practices and one to identify the needs of communities living around Togo’s protected areas.

 

The workshop on traditional conservation practices took place in June. 29 participants, representatives of government, civil society, local communities and the media heard presentations on traditional trapping, hunting, fishing and plant-gathering and farming practices, and sacred sites and animals, and learned how these methods maintain biodiversity.

 

The second workshop took place in December. 33 participants discussed the issue of protected areas, and the needs of communities living around them. The meeting came up with a list of projects and priority actions to assist these communities, in order to alleviate pressure on the environment.

 

FoE Togo also took part in seven workshops hosted by the National Assembly to help draft legislation on the environment and biosecurity. They lobbied the Environment Minister on the creation of National Commission on Sustainable Development and the Environment

 

FoE Togo continued to play an active role in COPAGEN (Coalition for the Protection of African Genetic Heritage), a network of activists and farmers across Africa. This coalition is helping West African countries to resist the pressure to accept GM crops, through the production and distribution of educational materials and information on the rights of local communities and farmers, and on laws which govern access to biological resources. In June, FoE Togo hosted the annual meeting of COPAGEN Togo, at which members agreed activities for 2008-09.

 

FoE Togo developed and published a bulletin on biodiversity, called NONUDZO (‘Stay awake’).

 

They also produced a report on the impact of extractive and industrial activities and chemical products on Togo’s biodiversity.

 

what changed?

The project has raised awareness of the importance of conserving biodiversity and the serious implications of over-exploiting natural resources, among policy makers, civil society and the general public, particularly women, who play a key role in managing natural resources. Both women and men have adopted better practices.

 

FoE Togo has identified priority actions for defending and conserving protected areas, which take account of the different perspectives of civil society and the local communities.

 

lessons learned

The perspective and concerns of local communities are often poorly understood by official development actors, which means that local people often do not cooperate fully in official conservation schemes. FoE Togo is clear that efforts to conserve biodiversity must be linked to those designed to reduce poverty, or neither will be successful.

 

Some traditional practices maintain biodiversity. These are mostly little known, and it is essential to encourage and popularize them.

 

The bulletin proved a good way to take relevant information and messages out to the general public.

 

what next?

FoE Togo will carry out capacity building among community leaders on legal matters, so that communities are aware of laws and regulations governing the management of natural resources.

 

FoE staff will make regular visits to the countryside, and will research the impacts of extractive industries and use of chemicals, to inform the development of recommendations.

 

with thanks to our funders: the dutch ministry of foreign affairs (dgis)

 

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