Reciprocal Environmental Agreements
For sustainability of action it's important that local people design and own any changes that they agree to make as a result of the project. This philosophy will be captured in developing participatory agreements (Reciprocal Environmental Agreements, REA) between communities and project partners. In the case of the Darwin Initiative project, the REA addresses the problem of external poachers, incorporating methodology emerging from earlier Theory of Change. Agreements specify that local communities will refrain from commercial hunting (all monitored hunting for local consumption/provision of protein according to community hunting management); cease hunting within the reserve; and support Service de Conservation-Dja (the government authorities) to stop outsider poaching (e.g., vigilance committees/intelligence through information on poachers.
To enable local people to adhere to such agreements, for the ultimate protection of biodiversity, poverty alleviation and continued food security, we will implement schemes to provide alternative sources of protein and income. The issue of conditionality is addressed by ensuring that participants are signatories to REAs (i.e., for developing fish farming and cocoa farming). Subsequently, the following methodologies will be employed to catalyse and monitor the indicated desired outcomes.
Signing of REA
The two main activities of the Darwin project are cocoa farming (income activity) and fish farming (protein and income source). These two activities are aimed at ameliorating the livelihoods of the local population in the 17 local villages and in return conserving the forest ecosystem including wildlife population. To ensure success of this project (ameliorate local livelihoods and wildlife conservation) and a long lasting conservation approach, NGOs involved in the execution of the Darwin project in the 17 villages setup an approach which involves going into agreements with villagers who are interested in the project.
1. Preparation of REA
The agreement (REA or quid-pro-quo) is voluntary and individual. It was drafted by NGOs and presented to the local population during several meetings for close examination. They brought up their points of views and those that were focused on the success of the project were considered. REA focused on two main aspects – sustainability of the activity and wildlife conservation. Since two main activities are involved, two REAs were setup; one on cocoa farming and the other on fish farming. Both have the same wildlife management approach but with different sustainability measures. When the two documents were ready, the signing event was planned on the 25th and 26th of July 2018.
The local villages are further away from each other (Elandjo is 31.7km from Schwam) consequently four signing venues were chosen by NGOs and villagers. The furthest one was Ekom (03°20.470'N, 013°02.313'E, 41.4km from Somalomo subdivision). It regrouped villagers from Elandjo, Ndengue, NKolnyengue, Bitchoumam and Ekom. The next venue was Maleoleu (03°20.396'N, 012°58.375'E, 32.3 km from Somalomo). It regrouped villagers from Nke, Mintoum, Njeula, Djouo and Maleoleu. The third venue was Nkolekoul (03°19.680'N, 012°54.101'E, 23.1 km from Somalomo). It regrouped villagers from Nemeyong I, Malen I and Nkolekoul. The last venue was Kagnol (03°20.217'N, 012°49.742'E, 13.7km from Somalomo). It regrouped villagers from Djolipoum, Schwam and Kagnol.
2. The signing event
Signing of REA in Ekom, Maleoleu and Nkolekoul took place on the 25th of July and in Kagnol on the 26th July 2018. In the different venues, villagers expressed their joy and willingness to go into agreements through songs and traditional dance. They sang songs (calling names of the project team members and the different NGOs) and danced. Representatives of the different NGOs involved (FCTV, TFRD, PGS and AWF) were present. The event was introduced by NGOs and villagers were reminded again that signing is a voluntary and individual engagement, and that further project activities – provision of income and protein source, trainings, follow-up, commercialisation, etc. will focus only on villagers that will sign and keep to the agreement. The agreement was read and explained to villagers. Some of them asked questions and received answers. Fish farming is implemented by FCTV and cocoa farming by TFRD. Each of these NGOs brought up several copies of REA and signed together with villagers. Each villager and the representative of FCTV signed four copies of REA on fishing and each villager and representative of TFRD also signed four copies of REA on cocoa farming. NGOs did not invite local government and conservation authorities to participate in the signing event. The presence of these authorities could influence villagers’ decision to sign the agreement. It was therefore important to allow villagers to freely decide to sign without any influence from authorities. Both men and women voluntarily signed REA. 81 villagers signed REA on fishing and 87 signed on cocoa farming. Villagers were not allowed to sign for others. Each villager had a copy of REA. One copy was reserved for the NGO concerned, one copy for the Darwin initiative and one for the local government and conservation authorities. Villagers who were not interested in signing were reminded of the next signing opportunity that will be organised in about a year. Refreshment (covered by AWF and villagers) followed after signing. Both representatives of NGOs and villagers shared meals and later on separated in good terms.