From Birdcages to Biodiversity: A Journey of Conservation and Community Empowerment
BY Valery Binda, GEN member and 2023 Seed Project funding recipient
25 OCTOBER 2023
PHOTOS BY VALERY BINDA
Valery recounts his journey from a childhood passion for wildlife to his current role as a conservationist and community advocate. Supported by GEN 2023 Seed Project funding, Valery takes a unique approach to conservation in a project that aims to develop the njansang value chain, benefiting both the environment and indigenous populations in the Mbam Djerem National Park area.
My passion for wildlife started when I was 9 years old. Back then, I used to buy small birds, especially the black-crowned waxbill, from older boys in my community and keep them in cages, thinking they would be safer. However, the birds always died in captivity. Eventually, I learned that these animals are best left undisturbed in their natural habitats and decided to release them back to the wild. After being away from this community for over 15 years, I returned and found that the bushes where my birds had lived were destroyed by infrastructure. This meant that my birds had lost their home. Devastated by this, I vowed to dedicate the rest of my life to protecting not just birds but nature in general. I pursued a master’s degree in applied ecology and wildlife management, which sparked a special passion for community-based conservation in me. Realizing that I could not achieve my goals alone, I built a team and started a grassroots conservation organization called ABOYERD. Through this organization, I am currently leading the conservation of pangolins, their habitats and associated wildlife species in and around the Mbam Djerem National Park using a community-based approach. The main threats to these species in the area are poaching for protein and income, and habitat degradation caused by the cutting down of non-timber forest product trees for their fruits. We believe that the best way to prevent the local extinction of pangolins and other wildlife species in the area is to provide alternative livelihoods to indigenous communities while improving the habitats of these species. As a recipient of the GDF seed project, I wanted to highlight the important role that developing green value chains can play in supporting the conservation of pangolins and other wildlife species while improving the livelihoods of indigenous communities.
In the last quarter of 2021 and the first quarter of 2022, I led an extensive socio-economic study and market survey in the MDNP area to identify green value chains that could be developed to promote both community development and biodiversity conservation. Through these surveys which were followed by a botanical inventory, we identified that the njansang Ricinodendron heudelotii value chain if locally developed would greatly improve community livelihoods while motivating long term community support for the conservation and restoration of njansang tree species that are under serious threats from unsustainable exploitation practices.
Unfortunately, while this NTFP has been demonstrated to have a high economic and ecological value, its exploitation in the MDNP area has been very unsustainable – entire trees are felled to harvest njansang fruits, the transformation techniques used in obtaining nuts from the fruits are quite inefficient and the commercialization of the final products remains poorly developed.
Background on the Project
With financial and technical support offered to Aghah Valery Binda through the Global Diversity Foundation’s GEN Seed Funding, Valery in collaboration with his ABOYERD team members is working towards developing the njansang value chain as a pro-biodiversity green value chain while promoting restoration through tree planting and assisted natural regeneration. In each of three target key villages close to the park namely Megang, Makouri and Guere, ten women and girls are being trained and empowered on the sustainable collection, first transformation and commercialization of njansang. In each village, beneficiaries are being structured under groups and empowered with basic materials and equipment. The groups will be empowered with entrepreneurial skills and structured in a way to admit and train new members in order to achieve greater impact. While the development of the value chain in general will improve income generated from the activity, the use of sustainable collection skills will abate the current alarming loss of njansang trees.
Beneficiaries are also being trained and engaged in regeneration activities that will include the integration of njansang in agroforestry systems and the implementation of assisted natural regeneration actions. Previous studies by our team identified a huge preference of njansang trees for open forest spaces thus making their integration in farmlands quite suitable. These studies also identified possible sites for assisted natural regeneration activities. In each target village, each group is being trained on improved techniques in nursing njansang especially considering how difficult it is for njansang seeds to germinate. The training in each village is hands-on and will thus result in the creation of a community njansang nursery. This nursery will be managed by the group in each village and when ready, saplings will be distributed to group members for integration into their farms. Training in assisted natural regeneration activities will also be hands-on and will see the protection of at least 1000 young njansang plants in the process. It is hoped that the improved benefits from njansang that will result from the development of the value chain will motivate more community members to join and will also encourage long term engagement in assisted natural regeneration activities. Over the course of the ongoing mentorship support from GEN, this project over the next few months will host at least one international student, most probably from the UK for internship.