Hope for the future

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Jack Andrew Cribb talks to Charly Facheux, the Vice President for Conservation Projects of the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), about his work, achievements and aspirations

You were born in Cameroon. What was it like growing up there?
I was born into a family of six, but I never remember our house with fewer than 15 people living in it. My father was a civil servant based in Douala. Most of his siblings’ and relatives’ children stayed at our home. That situation taught me to be open, to share and respect others.

What does the AWF do?
The AWF finds ways to make conservation in Africa work for people. Without buy-in from local communities, governments and stakeholders, conservation won’t succeed. It partners with protected area authorities and local NGOs to build up their capacity on the ground and works with communities to plan sustainable land use in wildlife areas. It also advocates, at the highest levels of government, for policies that prioritise animals and their ecosystems.

What is your position there?
My main role is to ensure effective and efficient implementation of landscape projects on the ground, to monitor our impact and generate knowledge.

How important is conservation to economic stability?
We must remember that economic development and all life depend on ecosystems. Without viable and ecologically functional wildlife populations and natural habitats, Africa’s advancement will slow and ultimately fail. The continent should develop, not just grow; the two are not the same. Development means improving people’s access to healthcare, education and a good quality of life. Conservation will lead African nations toward development.

What is the current state of deforestation in Africa?
Disastrous. According to the UN Environment Programme, Africa is suffering deforestation at twice the world rate. Some sources claim that roughly 90 per cent of West Africa‘s original woodland areas have been wiped out. One factor contributing to this is the dependence of 90 per cent of its people on timber as fuel, another being its high population growth rate. As a result, Africa needs sustainable energy sources and to engage communities in land-use planning to save its remaining forests.

How does the AWF protect land and promote sustainable agriculture?
We stem biodiversity loss by helping to set up conservation reserves outside national parks. These areas are very important for wildlife corridors and provide opportunities for the local people to earn from tourism. We help the communities to determine the best long-term purposes for specific zones. We also train farmers in intensification techniques that increase their yields without needing to augment the amount of land under cultivation. Because people sometimes rely on wild trees for food or income, we encourage agroforestry — growing both crops and useful trees together.

In what ways does global climate change affect Africa’s ecosystems?
They are experiencing high disturbances with the shift of migration patterns, geographic range and seasonal activity of many terrestrial and marine species. If we add the collateral impact on water supply, agriculture, human health and food, the negative impact could be multiplied.

What is the next big challenge facing African conservationists?
To convince African governments that economic growth, which is a necessity for developing countries’ agriculture, infrastructure and industry, is not incompatible with sound environmental policies.

Tell us a scary tale from the bush
After two days patrolling in the Iyondji Community Bonobo Reserve in the DRC, we pitched our tent for the night, when suddenly we saw a big snake. It slithered away and we were all aware that it was hiding nearby. It was too late for us to move camp, so we were forced to stay there. Nobody slept a wink. In the morning, we found the snake sleeping in the middle of the forest path, resting after eating a wild animal.

What is next on your African bucket list?
I would like to hike to the summit of Mount Kenya. I’ve heard it’s very challenging. My other goal is to go gorilla trekking in Rwanda. I have seen western gorillas but not mountain. Most of all, I want to come face to face with a silverback.

How can our readers get involved with AWF?
The organisation and its impact investment subsidiary have helped set up several lodges in key wildlife areas that support conservation projects and provide communities with livelihood opportunities. I would recommend Limalimo Lodge in Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains, one of the regions where we work. Part of its revenues go to the Adisge Primary School, which we are rebuilding through our Classroom Africa programme. Your support is always welcome, so please visit www.awf.org for further information.

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