2016 Highlights

Using Small Investments for Large Conservation Impact

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We gave a voice to threatened plants vanishing in complete silence and anonymity.

Magda Bou Dagher Kharrat, director of the Faculty of Science’s Department of Life and Earth Sciences, University of St. Joseph, Lebanon

While CEPF provides relatively small grants, CEPF-funded projects, through their focus on relationship building and empowerment of civil society, can transform countries and landscapes at a larger scale.

Mediterranean Basin Biodiversity Hotspot

Lebanon is home to a stunning variety of plant life. Of the almost 2,600 species of plants known to naturally grow there, 12 percent are found nowhere else on Earth. Its plant and habitat diversity, combined with its location in the heart of the African-Eurasian flyway, make Lebanon a prime resting and feeding stop for migratory birds.

Though illegal, hunting has taken a toll on bird populations, while pressure from growing human population, quarrying, urban development, overgrazing and climate change have led to significant habitat degradation and destruction.

Lebanese organizations have been combating such threats to their nation’s nature, but historically, there has been little coordination. Since 2012, CEPF has funded multiple projects led by civil society organizations in Lebanon, encouraging grantees to strengthen relationships with other nongovernmental entities that are working toward shared goals. Grantees have been invited to exchange information, attend workshops and participate in joint trainings.

“The focus on relationships, shared capacity building, and data sharing has resulted in significantly strengthened collaboration among civil society organizations in Lebanon,” said Sharif Jbour of BirdLife, who serves as the Middle East program officer for the CEPF program in the Mediterranean Basin Biodiversity Hotspot.

The grantees’ parallel and complementary actions have also put conservation on the radar of government. One example is work grantees have done to address illegal hunting. Grantee Environment for Life documented the benefits of sustainable hunting on cedar forest habitats, while the Lebanese Environment Forum established more open collaboration among nongovernmental organizations and government staff, including establishment of Lebanon’s first establishment hunting area, where regulations will be enforced by local authorites.

Other examples:

  • The University of St. Joseph and partners filled major knowledge gaps through a first national assessment of Important Plant Areas, which resulted in a new Red List for the country’s plants, while the Arts, Sciences and Technology University in Lebanon produced the first photographic guide of Lebanon’s wildflowers.
  • Al-Shouf Cedar Society conducted the first ecosystem valuation study, demonstrating the economic importance of maintaining Shouf Biosphere Reserve and showing that protected areas are good investments.
  • The Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon established a new Hima, a traditional approach to sustainable land use practiced in the Anti-Lebanon Mountains Key Biodiversity Area, in collaboration with local authorities.
  • The University of St. Joseph also established the first Arabian micro-reserves, very small areas that hold globally important pockets of threatened endemic species. The micro-reserve approach appeals to government agencies, private landholders and religious communities, all of whom have been open to working with the university to develop participatory management approaches in cooperation with local communities.

Eastern Afromontane Biodiversity Hotspot

The Sheka Forest in Ethiopia is one of the largest continuous stretches of forest remaining in the country, featuring rainforest, bamboo thickets and wetlands. These habitats support a variety of species, such as lions; African buffalo; and many birds, amphibians and reptiles. The forest is also home to rural settlements, towns and agricultural land, and local communities rely heavily on the forest for survival.

Ethiopian organization MELCA, a two-time CEPF grantee, has worked since 2004 to bolster both the forest and the people of Sheka. MELCA was invited by the Sheka zone government to nominate the area as a UNESCO biosphere reserve. After biosphere status was registered in 2012 and MELCA became a CEPF grantee, MELCA was invited to participate as a partner to the government in developing management plans for the reserve. In most countries and contexts, this is a government-led and government-managed process, but in Sheka, through MELCA-led stakeholder engagement processes, community members and their representative bodies have been key partners.

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“MELCA’s work in the Sheka Forest Biosphere Reserve both enhances people’s livelihoods and ensures environmental sustainability at the same time, rather than focusing on one aspect as a solution,” said Bereket Weldegiorgis, program manager, MELCA-Ethiopia. MELCA trained local women and youth to form cooperatives for sustainable production and sale of non-timber forest products such as honey and spices.

Although declaration as a biosphere reserve offers some protection, 76 percent of the 238,750 hectare reserve is outside the most highly protected core areas, and is under threat of conversion for subsistence agriculture, charcoal production or small-scale coffee plantations. Development of private tea and coffee plantations threatens to lead to further degradation and infringement of customary land rights.

With CEPF funding, MELCA is identifying and delineating additional core sites within the Sheka Reserve, seeking protection of sacred natural sites, and continuing to support alternative livelihoods, promote inter-generational learning, and facilitate learning networks among biosphere reserve managers and other stakeholders.

Further, the exercise of developing the management plan for Sheka Forest provided lessons that the government is using to inform plans for the other three Ethiopian biosphere reserves, as well as wider conservation and development work in the country.

Photo Credits

Child manually pollinates an Endangered Nazareth iris (Iris bismarckiana) at Sarada Plant Micro-Reserve, Lebanon. © Université Saint‐Joseph/photo by Magda Bou Dagher Kharrat
Baro River, fed by Sheka Forest, Ethiopia. © BINCO vzw – Siel Wellens