Environmental success stories get second life
While the motto 'local problems, local solutions' holds particular sway for environmental problems, is it possible to take one local solution and transfer it to another region? Yes, according to EU-funded researchers who did exactly that in Latin America.
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The CiVi.net project identified four regions in Brazil and Costa Rica where local communities and civil society organisations (CSOs) had developed and implemented solutions to environmental challenges – from preserving wetlands and local biodiversity to fighting deforestation and reversing environmental degradation.
The local communities then pinpointed other regions experiencing similar challenges, and after analyses to make sure a transfer was feasible, helped introduce the solution in a second location. The project carried out accompanying research, and also offered training and capacity-building support to local people putting the new approach in place.
The central role of civil society
The involvement of CSOs was central to the project. Several were partners in the project consortium, while others were involved as stakeholders in the different case studies. Why is civil society involvement in environmental management solutions so important? Their very involvement increases the chances of success: “Civil society organisations act across governance levels and can be the bridge between them,” explains project coordinator Claudia Sattler of the Leibniz-Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF).
This multi-level status also links community actors to actors at the national and international level, explains Sattler, and thus enlarges the network of local players.
And as CSOs depend on voluntary engagement, they are also highly motivated and purpose-driven. “They get things done,” summarises Sattler.
Involvement by local players is also key to the continuation of work started by CiVi.net – and the organisations have lived up to expectations, continuing to implement the ideas and processes that the project brought to them.
The solutions selected for transfer had already had concrete impacts in their original locations, improving environmental management and supporting both conservation and local livelihoods.
Encostas da Serra Geral in Brazil’s Santa Catarina State is a case in point. The region is extremely rich in biodiversity, but the area’s main activity – agriculture – has not always protected the region’s precious flora and fauna.
Dairy production provides an important source of income for families, and farmers had taken to using eucalyptus trees to provide shade for cattle – important as too much heat reduces milk production. Eucalyptus trees are fast-growing and selling the timber provided farmers with an additional and welcome income.
Eucalyptus is however not native to Brazil, and has no value for biodiversity in the region. In 2011, the civil society group ‘GPVoisin’ (connected to the Federal University of Santa Catarina) introduced the idea of replacing the eucalyptus trees with native tree clusters. The farmers are able to sell non-timber products from the trees, such as fruit and honey, and don’t therefore miss out on any income. “Eucalyptus only provided a financial benefit. The solution based on the native tree clusters provides a financial benefit as well as benefits for biodiversity,” says Sattler.
The transfer to other farmers in Santa Rosa de Lima, as well as nearby Imaruí, involved training farmers, organising field days on the farms to show how the solution works, and general awareness-raising on the approach It is an ongoing process but shows big promise, says Sattler.
A recipe for success?
“It’s tricky to say, ‘this is the solution’ for environmental management – the solution must be a good fit with the local situation,” says Sattler when asked about any common factors that make the difference between success and failure.
But there are nonetheless some ingredients that are more likely to achieve the double objective of conservation and improved livelihoods. While CSOs are often the initiators and likely to provide the initial push, close cooperation with local stakeholders is also important, as they know best what will work for them says Sattler. And extending networks to include universities and agencies can also provide access to additional knowledge and funding.
It also helps to have committed individuals involved, with vision, a strong personality and the ability to motivate others.
Could the Civi.net approach be used outside of Latin America? “Absolutely”, says Sattler. Two regions need a connector for a transfer to work – something in common – such as the need to protect the same type of ecosystem. CiVi.net’s Costa Rican region had previously shared ideas on protecting mangroves with a region in Benin, for example.