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Promoting communities’ managed protected areas

‘We need to be intentional in the protection of our environment because our well-being depends on it’

By Kome Odhomor

After several decades of oil and gas exploitation activities in the Niger Delta, hope for the restoration of communities’ degraded ecosystem remains largely a mirage.

The need for communities to have effective ecological monitoring skills led to the hosting of a training programme to that end.

Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) organized monitoring training for Kono and Dic Fiberesima-Ama, both in Rivers State, Nigeria.

The communities harbour important ecosystems including estuaries, mangrove forests, and other aquatic habitats.

The training promoted and strengthened popular monitoring methods by communities, and provided knowledge of the benefits of having people-managed marine protected areas that would help restore livelihoods for artisanal fishers and others.

The Executive Director of HOMEF, Nnimmo Bassey, while addressing community members, urged them to be eco-defenders and good monitors.

“We are here to share knowledge with you and share skills on how to protect our environment and live in harmony with nature and other beings.

Also read: HOMEF visits govt agencies

“We need to be intentional in the protection of our environment because our well-being depends on it. We also want to learn how you have protected and managed some parts of your aquatic ecosystem with the objective of encouraging the government to support your initiative and to create more community-managed Marine Protected Areas.”

Bassey further stated that having community members protect their environment like in the case of Kono, confirms that communities are the best eco defenders because they have deep knowledge of their territories and derive direct benefits from their environment.

“Kono community in Khana Local Government Area of Rivers State has been able to set an example that other Niger Delta communities should learn from. Through the use of cultural norms, the Kono community has been able to create a mangrove and Marine Protected Area (MPA) and has thereby ensured a healthy habitat for a diversity of species.

“We encourage other communities to do the same in protecting their environment.”

Programme Manager and project lead for the Fossil Politics Desk, Stephen Oduware, during the training, said that communities depended on their environment and aquatic ecosystems for livelihoods, and expression of their cultures and traditions, and must be in the forefront in its protection.

“There is the need to understand the issues that are affecting us in our communities. Before we begin to monitor, organize, and advocate, we must first, as community people, understand that our environment is important to us and determines our well-being.

“When our environment is sick, we become sick as well.”

He stated that communities that protect their environment must be recognized and supported with the tools to monitor and secure such environments for changes.

“They need to be supported to act as watchdogs, report changes, organize themselves, and advocate for what they collectively need as a people.”

The paramount ruler of Kono community, Chief Monday Anson Nwige, charged his community members to be vigilant and keep protecting their environment, while demanding improvements.

“We need to protect our natural environment for healthy living. We must learn how to use available tools to protect the source of our livelihoods as a people.

“We thank HOMEF for bringing this learning event to our community. We must, as individuals, learn to play our part including in the management of our wastes.”

The training exposed challenges faced by coastal communities that are affected by oil and gas extraction activities.

HOMEF trained over 200 community participants from Dic-Fiberesima and Kono and equipped them with the knowledge needed to monitor and advocate for community-based marine ecosystem conservation.

The training also examined the weight of impacts on the environment and the people as well as the power asymmetry between the government, the polluting corporations, and communities.

The monitoring training exercises were supported by the Small Grants Project of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

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