From a birds-eye view it’s clear – “we need to conserve our forests”

P1160244It’s a clear crisp morning, and 7 Community Ambassadors (CA) from Mwanya Chiefdom, swathed in green uniforms, gather at the dusty Mukasanga Airstrip around a map.  The air is humming with excitement as BCP’s Lead Community Engagement Manger, Godfrey Phiri, points out features on a map and explains what they will be seeing 2,000 feet above the earth.  When the discussion concludes, the CA’s receive a pre-flight briefing, and in groups of three to four board a small aircraft, and are flown to see what the forest, their community has agreed to protect, looks like from the air.

 

An hour later, the plane lands, and the CA’s disembark with looks of amazement and smiles from this rare opportunity.  “Flying us over our chiefdom has changed the way we view our forest,” remarks Clement Phiri, one of the CA’s and a Mwanya Chief Representative, “There is a feeling and some level of complacency among our people that our forest is not under threat, but seeing it this way you realize that it is a forest that is under serious threat from deforestation.”

 

The “Flying FPIC” process, is a unique innovation, the first of its kind in Zambia, and critical in engaging communities in protecting and conserving their forests.  BCP was inspired by conservation organizations aerial surveys of wildlife, a notable example being the recent Great Elephant Census (GEC).  BCP’s use of “Flying FPIC” is an extra step in the REDD+ project development process by confirming that community stakeholders are aware of the forest area boundaries for REDD+ projects they consent to participate in, in line with the approved principles of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). The principles of FPIC, first developed by the United Nations, are internationally recognized and as “best practice” for REDD+ project development.  Adherence with FPIC is expected under many international standards for REDD+ implementation.

 

P1160221The aim of Flying FPIC is to ensure that communities are fully aware of the areas of forest that they are willing to protect, to be demarcated for protection under a REDD+ project. To do this, key community representatives – “Community Ambassadors” (CAs) – are  selected by the community through a transparent process, and are given the chance to be flown over their Chiefdom’s forest areas. During this guided flight, CAs are made aware of (1) the scale, location and quality of forest areas within their Chiefdom, and (2) the proposed boundaries for REDD+ forest protection, which have been proposed / recommended by community participants in the REDD+ development process for their Chiefdom, to date. By viewing their forests from the air – in addition to reviewing maps – CAs are expected to have a more in-depth and informed understanding about the scale, location and potential impacts of a REDD+ project in their Chiefdom.  Post flying, CA’s will follow the demarcated perimeters by vehicle and foot in order to have a holistic view of the protected forest.

 

Following their participation in Flying FPIC activities, CAs are then trained and empowered to play leading roles in information dissemination about REDD+, and soliciting community stakeholder feedback to inform the design of Participatory Forest Management Plans (PFMPs) for new REDD+ projects. CAs are uniquely qualified to play leadership roles in the REDD+ development process, as a result of their experiences during Flying FPIC.

 

This was just one of many activities that took place in the last several weeks to raise community awareness about the challenges – and potential opportunities – of protecting their forests through REDD+ projects.

 

Mwanya Chiefdom is one of the locations in which BCP is looking to expand and launch new REDD+ projects under the USAID-funded Community Forests Program. However, in order for this to work, the communities must be fully engaged and supportive of the program, and BCP is committed to adhering to the principles of obtaining “Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC)” – essentially, ensuring communities understand what they are saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to.”

 

“We decided to fly our community ambassadors around Mwanya Chiefdom so that they could have a deeper understanding of the state of their forests,” explained Godfrey Phiri, BCP Senior Community Engagement Manager. “They directly saw the extent of their agricultural activities, which they all admitted are located along the river banks. They also observed the extent to which their forests are being cut.”

 

P1160196Being on the plane brought out mixed feelings for Langslord Mbewe, a resident of Mwanya Chiefdom and Community Ambassador. “I am happy to be one of the few people to be flown around Mwanya Chiefdom. But I am saddened by the state of forests. We could see from the plane how human activities have continued to affect the state of forests. In some areas, trees have been cut anyhow and in other areas there were signs of fires. This is a signal that we need to conserve our forests.”

 

The Community Forests Program (CFP) offers the support – and potential benefits – that may help Mwanya communities in conserving their forests. “We have attempted before to teach people about good forest harvesting practices, but to no avail,” said Clement Phiri. “Now we feel the coming of CFP in our chiefdom will change people’s mind-sets and potentially lead to forest conservation.”

 

This blog is made possible by the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The content of this blog are the sole responsibility of BCP and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

 

This blog is made possible by the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The content of this blog are the sole responsibility of BCP and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

Mwanya Chief Representative Clement Phiri (r) talks to BCP's Community Engagement Manager Godfrey Phiri (L) during forest demarcation and community sensitization meetings

Mwanya Chief Representative Clement Phiri (r) talks to BCP’s Senior Community Engagement Manager Godfrey Phiri (L) during forest demarcation and community sensitization meetings

 

 

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