West African environment ministers want NEPAD to use biosphere reserves as laboratories for sustainable developmentWest Africa’s environment ministers called on the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) to use UNESCO biosphere reserves as laboratories for sustainable development in the region, during a round table held at the Organization’s Headquarters today.
Pendjari Biosphere Reserve in Benin, made up of savannah and savannah woodlands, open forests, savannah grassland and gallery forests. About 30 villages ring the reserve and depend mainly on farming cotton, cassava and rice as well as bee-keeping and fishing. Eco-tourism and safari visits play an increasingly important role in the life of these villages.
“Concerned by the ongoing environmental degradation and the concomitant increasing poverty across the African continent,” announced the ministers, “we are committed to promoting the use of biosphere reserves as operational sites for sustainable development in the fight against poverty and in implementing the action plan of the Environment Initiative of NEPAD.”
The declaration was made during a round table launching a new project involving UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) and the United Nations Environment Programme. With a budget of more than US$6 million, the new project will combine a range of activities over the next four years to improve the protection and sustainable development of biosphere reserves in West Africa. While compiling an inventory of the reserves’ plants and animals, the project will develop a series of scientific and institutional structures to monitor and manage the environmental impact of human activities (such as agriculture, pastoralism, hunting and fishing). Local communities will also take part in alternative economic initiatives, such as eco-tourism.
In his remarks at the opening of the round table, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura said that “biosphere reserves constitute perfect field laboratories for implementing the environmental objectives of NEPAD and the World Summit for Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, 2002).”
UNESCO’s biosphere reserves reflect a modern vision of nature conservation which systematically includes human participation, and which attempts to reconcile conservation with sustainable use of natural resources. Long before expressions such as "biodiversity" and "sustainable development" became popular, the first reserves were laying the groundwork in this direction by bringing together conservationists, park rangers, government officials and representatives of local communities for scientific and socio-economic studies and projects. There are now 440 biosphere reserves in 97 countries.
In the declaration, the ministers lauded the new UNESCO-UNEP project, partly financed by the Global Environment Facility, as well as UNESCO’s AfriMAB network, which includes 63 biosphere reserves in 29 African countries. “We invite UNESCO, in particular the MAB Secretariat and its regional offices in Africa, to pursue efforts to reinforce the AfiMAB network.”
The ministers also invited “the Government of Senegal, as coordinator of the priority progamme in the Environment Initiative to transmit this declaration to the NEPAD secretariat and the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, so that the biosphere reserves of the AfriMAB network are taken into account as operational sites for sustainable development in the implementation of NEPAD’s Environmental Action Plan.”
The new West African project will focus on the following biosphere reserves:
Mare aux Hippopotames Biosphere Reserve in Burkina Faso, a protected wetlands site under the Ramsar Convention, is rich in bird and mammal life, including more than 100 hippopotamuses. The main sources of revenue in the area are fishing, livestock, gathering of fruit, honey and firewood as well as eco-tourism. Poaching, grazing and bush fires pose serious risks to the pristine areas of the reserve.
Comoé Biosphere Reserve in Côte d'Ivoire has a transitional habitat from the savannah to the rain forest, normally found only further south. About 210 people live in the core area of the reserve. However, many ethnic groups live nearby and rely mostly on farming and hunting. Poaching of elephant, pangolin (mammal resembling an armadillo) and waterbuck is a major problem. There is, however, great potential for eco-tourism.
Boucle de Baoulé in Mali, fringed by dense forest, used to have many large mammal populations, which have been devastated by hunting and growing competition from livestock. Various ethnic groups live in the area: sedentary Kakolo, Sarkolés, Malinké and Bambara (farmers), the migratory Peuhls and Maures as well as the Bozos (fishers).
‘W’ Region Biosphere Reserve is Africa’s first transboundary biosphere reserve covering more than one million hectares in Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger. A natural barrier against the desertification further north, the reserve hosts one of West Africa’s largest populations of ungulates (hoofed mammals) and wetlands of international importance. Parts of the reserve are also inscribed on the World Heritage List.
Niokolo-Koba Biosphere Reserve in Senegal includes savannah, grassland and dry forest, wetlands and gallery forests. It is home to the Derby eland (largest of the antelopes), elephants, chimpanzees, lions as well as many birds, reptiles and amphibians. Villages surrounding the reserve rely mainly on agriculture, pastoralism, honey gathering and craft activities.
For more information on biosphere reserves: http://www.unesco.org/mab