Environmental education groundwork in São Tomé and Príncipe, West Africa

29 April 2013 | News story

The island country of São Tomé and Principe, West Africa is a biodiversity hotspot. Yet, little work has been done around the human dimensions of conservation. CEC member Diogo Verissimo worked in schools and communities to gather information that can help future conservation efforts.

The island of São Tomé, on the west coast of central Africa, is rich in endemic biodiversity but has received little attention in terms of biodiversity conservation. This is reflected in a lack of investment in environmental education and consequent low levels of knowledge on sustainability and on natural resource management. To address this gap we conducted a project to disseminate information about biodiversity conservation and sustainability, and also to identify knowledge gaps in two important stakeholder groups, communities surrounding the Obô Natural Park and school children.

The project took place during the months of October and November 2012, directly reaching 13 local communities and six schools, from kindergartens to high schools.

Local communities: The results show that local communities still largely ignore the existence of the Obô Natural Park but are generally aware of the problems surrounding natural resources management. People from local communities have a considerable knowledge of the species around them, although they usually do not know that these can only be found in São Tomé.

Schools: In relation to schools, and bearing in mind the large age interval encompassed in this project, there is an overall better awareness of the existence of a Natural Park and the endemic species, which is possibly linked to the recent introduction of environmental education in the national curriculum. Most students, and especially those living closest to the Obô, recognise a large number of species. The younger students usually are not aware that a number of these only exist in São Tomé.

Given the scarcity of financial resources in São Tomé and Principe, it is likely that foreign actors will play a significant role in ensuring biodiversity conservation. However, conservation will only be successful if Santomean stakeholders are engaged. In this report we describe and comment on our experience in the complex social context of São Tomé and Principe, providing clues on how to improve awareness and engagement in future conservation projects.

Diogo Veríssimo, veríssimodiogo@gmail.com