World Environment Day calls us to be good stewards. This is especially important for people living in poverty: their livelihoods depend on the natural resources that are often overexploited.
Our Natural Resource Management advisor explains how we're working to promote good stewardship.
Since 1974, World Environment Day has been celebrated globally to create awareness and spur action for the protection of our environment. This year, the day focuses on illegal trade in wildlife products, a multi-billion dollar industry that erodes the world’s biodiversity, fuels corruption and organized crime, and undermines economies and ecosystems.
Poverty and vulnerability of families and communities living within sensitive habitats are among the main causes of illegal exploitation of wildlife.
World Environment Day calls for each of us to do our part to be good stewards of the environment. Unfortunately, impoverished families are prone to participate in illegal exploitation of natural resources or be complicit through bribery or coercion by poachers and criminal networks. Vulnerable families and communities have the most to lose from overexploitation since their livelihoods depend on natural resources.
For us at World Vision, addressing the underlying causes of vulnerability is critical, not only to strengthen resilience for families, but also to enhance conservation in biodiversity hotspots where the majority of the world’s poor reside. Addressing the underlying causes of vulnerability requires enabling people—including socially excluded groups like women-headed households—to participate in and benefit from improved management of natural resources.
In Zimbabwe, we facilitate the participation of the most vulnerable families in activities that help them meet emergency food needs while building productive assets and strengthening governance of natural resources. During the recent drought caused by El Niño, more than 5,000 people—including 2,800 women—received food for participating in 20 community projects to rehabilitate water sources, improve public sanitation facilities, and re-establish irrigation schemes.
As part of the USAID-funded ENSURE program, communities living on marginal lands are being empowered to invest in soil and water conservation measures such as gully reclamation, installation of dead-level contours (channels) across slopes so that water doesn’t flow away, and re-greening by planting and regeneration of trees to curb environmental degradation. These projects are essential during periods of severe shocks such as drought because they reduce pressure on forests and watersheds that are vital for conserving biodiversity and wildlife habitats.
To improve governance in management of natural resources, we help to build the capacity of community-based organizations, so that vulnerable families have a stronger say in decisions on how environmental goods are used and distributed. We provide training and technical support in resource mapping and risk assessments to establish and strengthen farmer groups, watershed management, and disaster risk reduction committees. These institutions are part of the local system of partners and relationships that can sustain change beyond donor-driven interventions. They also empower communities to work in partnership with public and private service providers to raise awareness about changing dynamics and the impact of climate variability or even market trends that may increase exploitation of natural resources.
Stemming unsustainable exploitation also requires addressing environmental degradation in order to reduce human-wildlife conflicts as well as conflicts between different resource users within biodiversity hotspots. Habitat fragmentation due to unplanned settlements and cultivation is considered one of the biggest threats to wildlife conservation in places like northern Tanzania where we are assisting communities to improve land use planning and security.
Reclamation of degraded lands in Tanzania has restored pastures and secured wildlife corridors. (Photo: 2014 World Vision)
In 2014, we assisted about 6,500 pastoralists and agro-pastoralists in Monduli District to implement disaster risk reduction strategies to combat threats posed by overgrazing, deforestation, and increased competition for pasture between wildlife and livestock. This investment has continued to prove successful in securing wildlife corridors and protected areas that are critical to the country’s tourism industry.
Enhancing environmental stewardship requires a greater appreciation of the complex interactions between human vulnerability and threats to biodiversity. It also calls for integrating efforts to conserve the environment and to empower socioeconomic development of vulnerable people in biodiversity hotspots.
While investments in community conservation (among other measures) have proven worthwhile, illicit exploitation of wildlife and threats to our biodiversity remain rife. It will undoubtedly take a dedicated and sustained effort by each and every one of us to turn the tide.
Gitau Mbure serves as Senior Technical Advisor for Agriculture and Natural Resource Management at World Vision. He currently supports food security programs in Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Niger, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda. Mr. Mbure holds a Bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Africa University in Zimbabwe and a Master’s degree in Resource Economics from the University of Delaware.