Conservation in Africa benefits from many bilateral and multilateral cooperation programmes. “Large” conservation projects (with financing of several million euros spread over several years) have been or are being developed to support protected areas in their conservation role. Some examples exist in Central Africa such as the Central African Regional Programme for the Environment (CARPE), which is financed by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). This initiative aims to promote the sustainable management of national resources in the Congo basin. CARPE works to reduce the rate of forest degradation and loss of biodiversity while supporting local communities.
Considerable sums are invested in these conservation projects, but the actual results obtained in the field call their effectiveness into question, in particular in terms of sustainability. The main reasons given are that too much money is channelled over too short a time, there is little collaboration with local stakeholders and opportunistic stakeholders appear who are interested in the financing but not in its impacts.
Nowadays, a large conservation project will last an average of around five years. The start-up and implementation phases of these projects are weighed down with various procedural intricacies and complex partnership structures which considerably reduce the effective operational duration of the project. Stakes identified in baseline studies can become obsolete by the time the project is implemented. Difficulties with increasingly complex procedures, problems of unequal distribution between often very large investment funds and less available operating funds often hinder the operation of these projects. These problems are particularly severe when multilateral donors are concerned, the EU and UNDP being cited as classic examples.
Furthermore, the majority of major conservation projects are organised into implementation phases. The lack of continuity between phases causes activities to grind to a halt during the sometimes long months before the next phase is launched. These gaps significantly affect the management and conservation of the sites. This finding is unanimous and pessimistic. Despite the large sums invested, large conservation projects generate poor results and give rise to a feeling of “waste”. In their vast majority, the specific results in terms of conservation are unconvincing and sometimes the opposite effect to that sought is generated by the end of the project as hitherto relatively operational entities have been dismantled.
Of course, certain donors cannot modify their financing systems and these large conservation projects do theoretically bring considerable added value (for instance when data collection is needed on a large scale). They have the advantage of establishing frames of reference, enabling considerable investment at a given time and providing infrastructure for protected areas. The mobilisation of resources and multi-disciplinary teams involved in research or technical assistance offers interesting opportunities (in terms of capacity building for instance). The implementation and support of development projects helps to strengthen or create local initiatives, to motivate community and individual actions. All these advantages are enabled thanks to a considerable investment at a given moment. But to strengthen the advantages of these large conservation projects and to avoid certain mistakes, the guarantee of sustainability and effectiveness must be clearly sought from the beginning.
How to improve the impacts?
Large conservation project procedures are increasingly complex and cumbersome. They hinder the implementation of planned activities. While procedures are often imposed by the donor as guarantees, some can end up being a real factor of failure for these projects.
The unwieldy institutional set-up of large conservation projects mean they have little structural impact on conservation. They should be revised to improve their effectiveness.
- Simplifying operational procedures improves flexibility, speeds up disbursement and improves implementation effectiveness.
- Learning the lessons from past phases promotes sustainable programmes (improving continuity) and enhances flexibility (meaning plans can be adjusted if necessary).
The cross-cutting approach of some large conservation projects calls into question the effectiveness of the actions and thus should be revised in some cases.
- Conservation projects that are segmented into different complementary sub-projects, with specialised operators to implement each project are sometimes more pertinent.
Large conservation projects can retain their own intervention logic but should be better aligned with the strategies of local or national plans.
- Advocacy and lobbying should encourage donors to work within existing reference and management frameworks (an in particular the management plan).
More efforts should be made to seek the investments for these large projects through new financing mechanisms such as trust funds. They make it possible to invest sustainably in a conservation strategy and to finance projects that are of an appropriate size over a more pertinent time scale.
Building a “good-conduct code” for big projects would also be a way to ensure that all donors adopt the same policy and strategy in face to the PA stakeholders. This would avoid misunderstandings and sometimes counterproductive initiatives. This could be easily developed if donors agree the principle and are willing to use it in the future.