Misbahou talks to us about his Darwin fellowship

Misbahou was the Assistant Coordinator for ECDD. At the end of ECDD he was awarded a Darwin Fellowship to develop his management and leadership skills to improve his contribution to the new NGO Dahari.. Misbahou explains what he is doing on the fellowship.

What is the Darwin Fellowship?

The Darwin Fellowship is a scholarship awarded to local staff working on Darwin Initiative projects, which are carried out in countries that are rich in biodiversity but poor in resources to protect that biodiversity. I was one of thelocal staff working within the ECDD project in the Comoros, which was financed by the Darwin Initiative and the French Development Agency between January 2010 and December 2013. The aim of the scholarship is to improve the competences of local staff working in the field of biodiversity conservation by broadening their skill sets.

After four years of input in the ECDD project, my determination and engagement helped me to win the prestigious Darwin Fellowship. It was a great achievement that I haven’t taken lightly, and which will allow me to learn many new things as well as to travel to Europe for the first time.

What shape will the fellowship take?

The fellowship will last a year. It began in September 2013 and will finish in June 2014. It will take place in two countries, Madagascar and England. Madagascar was chosen for its similarity to the Comoros in terms of the issues and challenges it faces in the conservation of its biodiversity, and also because there are several organisations that have been doing conservation there for a long time, and we felt we could learn from. Bristol UK will be the setting for a two-and-a-half-month apprenticeship inEnglish, followed by a training course in leadership for natural resource management at the Durrell Conservation Academy in Jersey.

What is the aim of the fellowship?

I’ll be spending time with these organisations in order to improve my project management and leadership skills for conservation and rural development, as well as my technical capabilities in subject areas relevant to Dahari’s work in the Comoros, through training, exchanges and field visits.

What has your experience been like so far?

On 2 September 2013 I arrived in Madagascar for the first two months of the fellowship. My time was to be spent with two organisations: first was Blue Ventures, a UK-based international NGO which has worked on marine conservation in the south-west of Madagascar for over ten years; second was the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, another British NGO which has more than 25 years’ experience in protecting species and supporting communities in Madagascar.

On the morning of Friday 6 September 2013, I left Toliara and travelled for six hours by 4×4 down sandy roads that took me to Andavadoaka, the site of Blue Venture’s work. The next day I wasted no time in immersing myself in learning about their approach to marine resource management. My work involved carrying out a field visit in partnership with one of the local BV techniciansto discuss several BV projects with the communities, including discussions with members of BV’s team on specific aspects such as social marketing, population health and environment (PHE) strategy, participatory environmental monitoring and support for local organisations.  I had encountered some of their methods with Dahari, but others were completely new to me. For example, I had never learnt how to manage participatory environmental monitoring with the communities or how to put in place a plan of action with local organisations. There was also an integrated approach to the PHE strategy, which was among the most important ideas that I took away with me. This approach deals with three issues at once, and the great thing about it is that whenever two elements are working well, the third element is automatically dealt with too. It’s a 1+1=3 formula.

Mission accomplished with BV, I flew to Antananarivo and made contact with Durrell Madagascar. We had decided that Marolambo would be the ideal area for my training. There, Durrell works in partnership with Conservation International to protect the Nosivolo River, which is home to Madagascar’s most endangered native fish species, such as the songatana. I arrived on site after a three-day drive down muddy roads and made contact right away with the local organisations that work to protect the Nosivolo, with the aim of sharing their experiences of community management of natural resources.

The aim was for me to come to understand Durrell’s approach to the process of creating local organisations and the associated support required for strengthening local capacities. To that end, I visited four villages to meet communities and local organisations. Durrell has managed to bring together all the different influence groups in each village, which has meant that they’ve succeeded in putting together strong organisations. The NGO has also been able to group them together regionally in order to create synergies between the various stakeholders who work with natural resources. This approach has also benefited from the Malagasy people’s social cohesion and by the existence of ‘Dina’, a type of customary law ratified by the Malagasy government which has power equivalent to that of a regional decree. Dina means that social harmony can be safeguarded, and in some ways it is a modern form of justice for resource management and conservation. This simply means that the communities are one hundred per cent in control of their resources.

As a result, I’ve come to realise that we in the Comoros can draw inspiration from the experiences of Malagasy communities in reviving the local systems of social governance that were once administered by Comorian communities. Of course, those communities will require support throughout that process. They see the protection of their biodiversity as a global priority – it certainly is for their survival, since the irrational exploitation of resources has become an economic necessity.

On the whole, I am really satisfied with the two months that I spent with these two organisations. I learnt a lot, and I’m now finalising my report while continuing with the fellowship. I have now been in England for a couple of weeks, and I’ll be staying with a host family for six months. I’ll let you know very soon about my English experiences and all the skills that I’ll have acquired here. Until then!