Major conservation projects on protected areas in West and Central Africa: what is their contribution to conservation?
Probably as it happens in other regions, major projects have made an undeniable contribution to the cause of protected areas conservation. They have often taken up the challenge of restoring a situation after the almost total loss of control of a natural site. But cumbersome decision-making processes, the persistence of ill-adapted procedures in the conservation sector and the mobilization of civil society as well as a lack of political commitment, coupled with a lack of voluntarism, considerably encumber the sustainability of achievements and the impact of these major projects.
It is pointless to delude ourselves: most states in the two regions will not be able to continue the activities initiated by major projects. The conservation of protected areas will remain dependent on external public or private assistance, probably for a long time given the current increase in pressures of all kinds. And this support for a field too often neglected by governments must remain large-scale, in terms of financial volume. It must also respond to conservation challenges and provide technical assistance, still being necessary whether contributing to advocacy or in specific areas.
Success obviously cannot depend only on major projects. It will pass first through a profound change in attitudes in the countries concerned. Creating conservation alliances, pooling various complementary approaches, and above all the actors in different sectors, will allow bringing their contributions in support of protected area management and managers. But also we need to provide the services responsible for the conservation of natural resources with more than symbolic means to enable them to properly accomplish their mission which is of global interest.
Demanding more financial and technical assistance is not an automatic reflex: if the aid provided on a global basis for the conservation of protected areas is examined in detail, discussions and administrative aspects far outweigh the effects obtained on the ground. The path of pragmatism should be remembered: we are looking for intervention at appropriate and complementary scales, better identification of needs, more attention to the selection of actors and stakeholders by involving them as early as possible in the sake of ownership, commitment to sustainability of results including ensuring the adequacy of aid management capabilities and opportunities for higher cover recurrent costs. In a figurative way, some people are quick to translate this as “put in less money over more time.” This is a short-cut as easy as it is dangerous, because on the contrary, the conservation of protected areas and the sustainable management of their peripheral areas are far too underfunded.