The concept of interaction indicators, set up in the 1990's, is at the centre of the regional programme UNESCO-MAB / UNEP-GEF on "Building scientific and technical capacity for effective management and sustainable use of biodiversity in dryland biosphere reserves of West Africa". Through the co-construction of the interaction indicators which implies the integration of the local know-how and the mediation, the project MAB-GEF implements the objectives to attain sustainable development of biodiversity set out in 1992 by the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
The Interaction Indicators: What does this mean?
Agenda 21, adopted during the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, set out the objectives to attain sustainable development. It calls for the harmonization of efforts to allow the construction of sustainable development indicators. Indeed, knowledge on the environment is dispersed in reports, institutions, expertise and memory. None of the stakeholders - as individual or a group - has enough knowledge to solve a problem or address an issue that is collective in nature. The interaction indicators allow gathering together the profane and scientific know-how for better understanding of society-nature interactions. They identify anthropogenic pressures exerted on the environment, thereby offering opportunities to envisage the changing of use practices. Without denying the significance of ecological sciences, the regional programme gives primary importance to social sciences.
The local communities of the West Africa, their knowledge on the savannas, their relationship with the biosphere reserves, are at the centre of the project which implies the local know-how into the process of co-constructing interaction indicators. The interaction indicators therefore represent socially constructed tools whose purpose is to provide concise information about the way in which various phenomena have a reciprocal influence on one another, with the aim of communicating or taking decisions about such co-evolutions.
The Role of the Interaction Indicators in the Regional Programme
The co-construction of interaction indicators is organized in several phases over three years. During the first phase (October - November 2004) the programme of co-construction has been launched in three biosphere reserves - Mare aux Hippopotames (Burkina Faso), Boucle du Baoulé (Mali) and W du Niger (Niger). The same has been done in the other sites (Comoé - Côte d'Ivoire, Niokolo Koba - Senegal, Pendjari - Benin)
The co-construction of the interaction indicators is carried out in two steps. The first takes into consideration the interactions which have a direct or indirect impact on the evolution of biodiversity. This includes the ecological interactions, the interaction between human activities and the dynamics of the biodiversity, but also the social interaction regarding the biodiversity.
The second step involves, within the framework of the interaction indicators co-construction process, the representatives of all activities existing in biosphere reserves. The objective is to abandon classic "expert methods" in favour of an approach which would take into account the variety of the perceptions concerning the uses of the biodiversity, so as to produce operational and justifiable indicators for all parties.
The dialogue between the scientists and the villagers, which is supposed to provide the information for indicators construction, is based on a number of simple questions:
The dialogue is facilitated by the mediators who have been recognized as legitimate by local communities as well as reserve managers. Familiar with biosphere reserves, they are selected, most of the time, among the animators of the ecological projects. Their work is based on the utilization of mediation tools (icons, figurines, charts/tables, role-playing, etc.) that enable local communities, most of the time illiterate, to express their viewpoints and to better appropriate the interaction indicators.
For better understanding of the biodiversity there is a need to take into consideration two important elements: users of biodiversity and resources which represent the biodiversity. These two elements provide the opportunity to draw up tables based on social and ecological interactions.
The interaction indicators built during the first phase of the project will be tested in the Component 2 which aims to use the biosphere reserves as operational sites of the sustainable development including conservation, combating poverty and sustainable use of the biological resources. This phase, which will take place in the demonstration sites identified by each country, will provide the managers and the local communities with a tool for decision making on resources management.