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MEA Bulletin - Guest Article No. 52 - Thursday, 14 August 2008
Bridging the Gap Between the Rio Conventions: The RNSCC Experience
By Theodore B. Mayaka, Coordinator, Regional Network for the Synergy between the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention to Combat Desertification in West and Central Africa (RNSCC)
When promoting synergy between the Rio Conventions, an obvious approach is to focus on the ecological and political processes common to these agreements. Efforts have been made along these lines at both the global (conventions’ active bodies) and national (ministries and agencies of country parties) levels. These efforts are commendable and must be pursued, despite procedural constraints (e.g. differing agendas, which require painstaking processes to build consensus, institutional inflation, and heavy bureaucracy).

However, the drive for synergy is relatively overlooked at the field level, where its impact will ultimately face the most critical test: implementation. It is at this very level that, out of necessity, local communities are applying synergies through grassroots activities that combine holistic management, adaptation and innovation. Yet these local communities and their supporting environmental civil society organisations (CSOs) are stymied in their endeavour by several constraints, including physical isolation, lack of a proven track record, and difficulties in accessing information and funding sources. Consequently, these local communities are often absent from public debates, and their aspirations are not sufficiently heeded (with perhaps the notable exception of Conferences of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)).

These are the very reasons behind the creation, in January 2005, of RNSCC. RNSCC is a network of 13 environmental NGOs from nine countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Ghana). The network is coordinated by the Centre for Environment and Development Studies in Cameroon (CEDC), in collaboration with the Institute of Environmental Science (CML), Leiden University, the Netherlands. Having two academic institutions as foster parents, RNSCC is clearly a science-based network, which focuses on learning with minimal involvement in lobbying.   

Our vision at RNSCC is that the reference MEA’s have collectively generated a substantial amount of knowledge, which can be translated into grassroots projects that foster ecological, economic and social sustainability in resource use. Granted this premise, RNSCC intends to act as a broker between the Secretariats of the Rio Conventions and the grassroots actors. Thus, RNSCC is committed to providing its members with science-based insights on thematic synergies for the Rio Conventions as well as the Millennium Development Goals. Conversely, RNSCC’s ambitions include providing the three Rio Secretariats with grassroot-level examples to inform their deliberations on sustainable resource use. With respect to its members, RNSCC is assigned a dual objective, namely (i) facilitate information access and knowledge transfer and (ii) contribute to capacity building.  

RNSCC is focused on the Rio Conventions, because the CBD, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are undoubtedly the leading MEA’s on global environmental protection, and their synergistic implementation is a concern shared by environmentalists and policy makers. RNSCC’s choice to concentrate on the dry and sub-humid savannas in West and Central Africa is consistent with its focus on thematic synergy. Indeed, the targeted biome faces (i) the desertification frontline (driven by extensive agropastoralism and persistent droughts), (ii) an ominous threat against its important parks (e.g. Arly, Pendjari, W, Pô, Waza, Bénoué, Faro, and Bouba Ndjida), and (iii) the consequences of climate change (with recent cases of dramatic floods). Furthermore, these savanna ecosystems are inhabited by some of the most impoverished populations on Earth.  

In order to achieve the objectives stated above, the network coordination has carried out several activities, including the following (see for further details):

  1. The organisation of four cycle events, each comprising a one-day scientific seminar, a two-day workshop and a five-day short training course. These activities are all intended to facilitate knowledge transfer through (i) a bridge of the science-action gap (scientific seminars), (ii) a shared learning process based on peer-to-peer exchanges (workshops), and (iii) a more orthodox, vertical approach (short training course).
  2. The management of a Trust Fund with an annual endowment of Euro 40,000 has enabled network members to carry out small-scale projects on a variety of subjects related to the thematic synergy (i.e., biodiversity conservation, combating desertification, sustainable natural resources management, environmental protection, research and training, education and awareness rising, capacity building, and communication).

To be eligible for RNSCC small grants, projects should (i) exemplify the thematic synergy with a clear capacity building component, (ii) strive for gender balance, and (iii) aim at poverty alleviation.

A CD ROM and a companion book are now being edited to illustrate the kinds of projects that RNSCC promotes, as briefly indicated in the following three cases. In Niger, management of the invasive water hyacinth transformed the plant biomass into compost used in vegetable production and reforestation. The project effectively conserved the river’s ecosystem while contributing to poverty alleviation and combating desertification. Under the lead of traditional healers, local communities in Northern Benin undertook to establish and reforest botanical gardens with medicinal tree species that have become threatened. This example of in-situ, community-based conservation has also contributed to fight desertification and improve carbon sequestration. In Ndoff Valley, Senegal, local communities were assisted in reclaiming saline soils (through the construction of a dyke) and producing seeds of traditional rice varieties that were becoming increasingly rare in the custody of old women. The project thus contributed to food security, conservation of genetic resources, and combating desertification (as the reclaimed soils were colonised by plant and micro-fauna species).

In only four years of existence, the achievements of RNSCC have been remarkable considering the difficulties with previous networking experiences on the continent. Our hope is to raise enough funds to keep up the good work after the current phase ends in December 2008.    

Maroua, 27 June 2008.
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