Guinea Bissau sets the mark for integration

29 January 2009 | News story

A delegation headed by the Deputy Director General, Bill Jackson, and including Jean-Yves Pirot, Sebastià Semene Guitart from HQ and the regional programme coordinator in West and Central Africa, Jean-Marc Garreau visited Guinea Bissau to understand better one of the best examples of how the “One Programme” concept can be applied by convening the IUCN Membership while achieving significant influence and recognition by adapting IUCN’s role to the conditions and needs of the Members. With the perspective of better supporting the integration and the delivery of the IUCN Programme 2009-2012 among the three pillars of IUCN, Guinea Bissau gives the Union a strong signal that the IUCN way is more than words on paper and administrative procedures. An example to learn from and replicate…

The One Programme concept has been in place for several years now, within the IUCN network, stating the basic principle around which IUCN was founded and should operate around the world: the IUCN Secretariat and Commissions implement one programme with and on behalf of Members.

In the last few years, several surveys and evaluations have demonstrated that IUCN often fails to implement this basic concept. Reasons are multiple, ranging from structural barriers to functional and operating defects in the broader IUCN system. The Global Survey of IUCN Members, in 2007, confirmed that Members often see IUCN as competing with them for funds and projects, being overly administrative and bureaucratic or not fulfilling its convening role by acting independently instead of being the voice of the Members. This perception might be true in some cases, but we also have to recognise that IUCN often fails to communicate and publicise its success stories, where the Secretariat and the Commissions work in a totally integrated way with the Members, where the One Programme concept is more than a concept and becomes reality.

From the 18th - 26th January 2008, a delegation of IUCN HQ headed by the Deputy Director General, Bill Jackson, joined the regional programme coordinator in West and Central Africa, Jean-Marc Garreau and the IUCN National team in Guinea Bissau for a meeting with the Members in this country. The purpose of the meeting was to understand better one of the best examples of how the One Programme concept can be applied, on the ground, successfully convening the IUCN Membership for almost 20 years now, and achieving significant influence and recognition by adapting IUCN’s role to the conditions and needs of the Members and of the country.

Set up in 1989, the IUCN Guinea Bissau national office was formed by up to 120 staff and played a crucial role in developing the country’s capacity to conserve and manage its natural resources (Guinea Bissau is one of the most bio-diverse countries in West Africa), and effectively making the link between conservation and development through a large coastal planning programme. The Guinea Bissau office was the catalyst for the creation of key conservation organisations and administrations like the national authority for protected areas: the Institute for Biodiversity and Protected Areas (IBAP), the Coastal planning office (GPC) and several NGOs who became later IUCN members (AD, Tiniguena) among others. Developing technical and human capacities for these organisations to implement their mandates, IUCN has been the preferred adviser and partner for the creation of the country’s network of Protected Areas of for their effective management. Working with development organisations, IUCN has also set up the basis for an integrated approach to both conservation and development by promoting and achieving the legal recognition of community-based marine protected areas, or regulating the fishing industry along the Bissau coasts for example. An example of full integration and cooperation with its Members, the national office has progressively transferred responsibilities and human resources to these organisations to play, today, a coordination and facilitation function for the 9 Members present in the country (Guinea Bissau has the highest number of Members in the region). Staffing has progressively been reduced to the national coordinator, Nelson Dias, and two project and support staff.

When asked about the role of IUCN in the country, Members are unanimously putting forward the key role the office is still playing in providing them fundraising and technical support but also in ensuring the IUCN Membership in the country is properly and effectively convened and coordinated. Members also highlighted the legitimacy IUCN has gained over the years with the government and the administration by demonstrating a real commitment in supporting national organisations and administrations instead of acting as one more organisation in the country. By going through its transition process, IUCN Guinea Bissau has demonstrated its added value by being faithful to its Members and partners playing a key role in bringing their voices to the highest levels of decision making in the country. The Guinea Bissau office has expanded its sphere of influence by being the centre piece of an effective and united network of NGOs and government agencies working together for conservation but also by playing an active role at the regional level, bringing the experience of Guinea Bissau in regional institutions or bringing regional and international knowledge to the country. Guinea Bissau is demonstrating its expertise in environmental education, for example, by being the country chosen by the Regional Marine and Coastal Programme (PRCM) to develop its environmental education programme.

On the ground, most of the conservation activities in the country are done by IUCN Members, with the support of the IUCN Secretariat. The best demonstration of what IUCN can achieve when really applying the One Programme concept probably came from the Members themselves, during a well attended meeting where almost all Bissau-Guinean Members were represented, saying “we” when talking about the successful projects carried out by IUCN in the country. After years of civil unrest, international organisations and aid/cooperation agencies are coming back to Guinea Bissau (IUCN never left the country). Conservation activities are taking place daily to properly manage the Orango National Park and its flagship species, the “marine” hippo, through a pilot project (run by the NGO CBD-Habitat and co-funded by the Spanish Cooperation (AECID) and the MAVA Foundation) aiming at reinvesting the revenues of ecotourism into management of the park. Local guides are trained and people are invited to participate in the management of the Park so that conservation also benefits local villages and communities. A new school has just been built in Eticoga and the construction of an interpretation centre next to the Park’s headquarters will be finished in the next months. A community-managed marine protected area has been officially established and recognized by national authorities around Urok islands (Formosa) and development NGOs like Tiniguena or AD (members of IUCN) are active there to effectively use conservation as a development tool for local people. In the capital, Bissau, the newly elected government has just identified the environment as one of the key priority for the country and Prime Minister, Carlos Gomez Junior has just nominated a State Secretary (special adviser) for Environment directly under his authority and specifically asked IUCN to keep playing its key advisory role in the country.

Still Guinea Bissau, like any other country will be facing new challenges. International trade of cashew nut, once the main pillars of the country’s economy is decreasing drastically and with it, the need for a proper forest conservation and management programme, including the rehabilitation of some areas currently dedicated to cashew is increasingly needed. Climate change will affect Guinea Bissau as much as any other country but as we know now, the impact of climate change is even higher when subsistence economy is based on fishing as it is the case for most of the Bijagos islands communities. The IBAP, created by IUCN some years ago is doing a fantastic job managing Guinea Bissau’s protected areas but more capacities are needed as well as basic tools to do it better. Fisheries control and enforcement of international agreements on fishing (and more broadly) is still very basic and will need some support in the next few years. Sustainable business development and a significant contribution to a greener world economy are emerging issues in Guinea Bissau but will become more and more relevant with time as mining (particularly bauxite and phosphate) and offshore oil extraction could soon represent a threat for the stability of various ecosystems in the country. These are only a few of the multiple issues the Members, the government and the IUCN office in Guinea Bissau will have to face in the next few years. They will surely do it together, as they have been working for the past 20 years now.

Lessons learnt

A great deal of caution is needed when attempting to extrapolate the IUCN experience in one place to others as political, bio-physical, economic and cultural situation differs as the IUCN actors also do. Nevertheless, there are perhaps some general lessons to be learnt from Guinea Bissau:

If the initial focus of the IUCN Secretariat in Guinea Bissau was on developing and sharing knowledge and building institutions and capacity within the institutions, as partners became Members and their capacity increased, the Secretariat role shifted to focus more on convening, facilitating access to resources and helping Members consider emerging issues.

Although not done consciously, the approaches used in Guinea Bissau by IUCN reflect very closely the IUCN value proposition:

  • IUCN provides credible and trusted knowledge;
  • IUCN convenes and builds partnerships for action;
  • IUCN has global-to-local and local-to-global reach;
  • IUCN influences standards and practices.

The relationship between the Members and the Secretariat is built on common aims, mutual respect, complementary roles (and the concept of reciprocity) and acceptance of an adaptive approach. Improvements are always possible, of course, like it is the case for exporting the Guinea Bissau expertise outside its borders. The country’s experience in environmental education or in mangrove conservation would surely benefit other regions and projects around the world, like the Mangrove for the Future Initiative developed by IUCN in South-East Asia.

With the perspective of better supporting the integration and the delivery of the IUCN Programme 2009-2012 among the three pillars of IUCN, Guinea Bissau gives the Union a strong signal that the IUCN way is more than words on paper and administrative procedures. An example to learn from and replicate…

IUCN is currently present in Guinea Bissau with the support of the MAVA Foundation.


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