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Please click on the headings below to expand each section.
These sections detail different themes of the Project's activities.
The project uses an innovative participatory approach towards engaging rural communities in natural resource management and agricultural activities. This is important both to ensure that activities fit the needs of the communities with which the project is working, and also to encourage village ownership of activities so that they can have long-term impact. During the first few months in each village, project facilitators explore the history of the village, the power structures and functioning of village society, and the environmental and agricultural context, in order to identify appropriate ways of intervening. This phase is followed by participatory analyses of the agricultural and natural resource problems faced by the villagers in order to identify priority actions. These analyses have helped to determine the activities outlined below. Social events, film screenings, and exchange visits to other villages are also used to stimulate interest in project activities.
Dr Oliver Springate-Baginski of the University of East Anglia and Dr Gill Shepherd of the IUCN are advisors on the project’s community work. Each year the project also hosts agricultural students, who undertake research for their Masters theses whilst providing information that helps the project to better target its interventions.
Natural resource management work in the villages is focused on managing water resources – this has emerged as the priority issue in participatory analyses with community groups. Older Comorians have seen river flows diminish drastically during their lifetimes as forest has been cut down, and communities are increasingly concerned about the future.
The project is helping villagers to identify priority protection zones in the water catchment areas that feed their villages. Village water management committees are being supported to reforest priority areas, support tree-planting and agricultural improvements in the wider zones, and identify and monitor rules of use. These rules can involve banning tree-cutting or forest clearance in particularly important areas, and enforcing guidelines for agricultural activities such as pesticide use. In all cases it is the active involvement and participation of the whole community in deciding on rules and enforcing them which will be critical to ensuring that these schemes succeed in the long term.
Declining soil fertility is a major problem for Comorian farmers, so the project works with individuals to put in place techniques to prevent erosion and improve crop yields. If soil fertility improves, the land can provide for future generations without the need to clear more fields further up the slopes.
If the field is on a steep slope, the first priority is to work on the physical structure of the field to prevent soil erosion. This is done by enclosing the field with hedges of fast-growing tree-cuttings, planting lines of these cuttings across the slope to hold the soil, and terracing the slope. Once these physical improvements are in place, farmers can improve the fertility of their soil through composting or introducing cattle to supply manure.
It can take several years to start seeing the benefits of this work; however, some of the techniques were introduced in the Niumakelé region in the south of Anjouan in the 1980s by a major UN-sponsored programme, and are now well developed. The BCSF project takes groups of villagers to visit farm plots in this area of the island, so that they can see for themselves the benefits in terms of yield and sustainability that they will gain in the long term through implementing these techniques.
Once a farmer has decided to make these improvements to his or her land, the project provides technical support in the form of training and advice, and financial support for the materials needed in the form of subsidies and credit. In 2009, project support enabled farmers to do this work on just under a hundred fields. By the end of 2010 we hope to have increased this to 600 fields across the Moya region of Anjouan, by relying on villagers who we have already worked with to train others in the techniques, for a small payment.
The project is now developing a package of techniques to improve yields in the short term. These include advice on rotations and fertilisation, as well as the introduction of new crop varieties. We are also looking to facilitate access to cattle, a key factor in improving soil fertility. The project will be trialing a loan system in the second half of 2010 whereby villagers can loan a cow from the project for a year, with the project receiving the first calf produced, and the villager the second. This is based on a traditional loan system that is already used between rich and poor villagers in Anjouan.
Alongside supporting subsistence agriculture, the project is also helping groups of villagers to develop alternative sources of income. Increasing the number of income sources mean that families are more resilient to changes or shocks affecting one livelihood activity, and are less dependent on upland agriculture. However, alternative revenue streams are difficult to develop in the Comoros because of the small local market and the competition from cheap imports.
Organic market gardening
Growing vegetables to sell is seen as a quick and easy way to make money by Anjouanese villagers. However, this activity is not without its difficulties, as appropriate fields close to reliable water resources are in short supply. In addition, most gardeners have come to rely on chemical fertilisers and pesticides which are not only expensive, but are damaging to the environment, and can affect human health when chemicals run off the fields into village water supplies. The market is also saturated during the height of the market garden season, with prices for the most popular crops such as tomatoes dropping significantly.
The project works with individuals and small groups of villagers to apply simple organic techniques such as natural pesticides (made from easily available ingredients such as chilli, garlic and soap), composting, crop rotations, and associations of certain crops, as well as introducing new vegetable varieties and planning planting so that harvesting can occur outside the high season.
Most Comorian households keep a few hens which are fed with household leftovers, but they do not keep enough to produce surplus eggs to sell. The potential profit of keeping hens on a larger scale is limited by a dependence on expensive imported chicken feed, which can be very hard to source.
The project has helped a group from the village of Nindri to set up a semi-intensive chicken farm which uses locally produced feed to reduce costs, and makes rearing chickens more sustainable. The hens that were hatched on the premises have now started laying well, producing about 50 eggs each day, which are sold to make money for the families working on the farm.
The project is now working to develop a model that can be applied by individual households, using the farm at Nindri as a demonstration and training tool.
Because of the islands’ small size and political instability since independence, very little research has been done on the biodiversity of the Comoro Islands. The project has set up a network of permanent sampling sites across the three islands to monitor forest quality and cover, and also the populations and distributions of butterflies, reptiles, birds and important mammal species. The monitoring programme aims to build a reliable picture of habitat and biodiversity patterns across the islands, in order to identify priority areas for conservation, and to monitor the impact of the community conservation actions.
Alongside the ecological monitoring, the team also conducts more detailed research on individual species in partnership with visiting students. In 2008 and 2010, the project led research on the Anjouan scops owl, classed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN’s red list of endangered species. Since April 2010 the work has been funded through BirdLife International’s ‘Preventing Extinctions Initiative’. The aim is to produce a reliable population estimate and a map of its distribution, with results to be published in an international journal in 2011. Research to assess the current Livingstone’s fruit bat population and investigate threats to its survival will start towards the end of 2010.
This area of work is supported by Dr Richard Young, Head of Conservation Science at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, and Dr Christoph Schwitzer, Head of Research at BCSF.
Take a look at previous publications here.
The project is in the process of producing the first high-resolution land-cover maps of the three islands using satellite images. These maps will identify areas of natural forest, agricultural land and settlements, and along with the results of the biodiversity monitoring, will allow areas to be classed as high-priority for protection and management measures to be identified. Combined with participatory mapping to identify land ownership and uses, these will enable the impact of project interventions on land use, forest quality and extent, and biodiversity to be monitored.
Technical support for this work is provided by Dr Tim Brewer of Cranfield University.
The project has funding to run until the end of 2012, but most of the activities we’re will only see results in the long term, and require continued support if they are to have a big impact on livelihoods, the protection of natural resources, and wildlife conservation. Key to sustainability is the development of a local, independent NGO that will be able to develop and expand the project activities to provide support to Comorian rural communities long into the future.
Following a workshop involving WWF-Madagascar, Birdlife International-Africa and Conservation International-Madagascar, the project team is now in the process of planning the development of the local NGO, consulting with stakeholders, identifying roles and training needs, and making links with key partner organisations.
This work is supported in particular by Dr Andrew Terry, Head of Conservation Programmes at Durrell Wildlife and Conservation Trust.