Pride and participation

Sixto J. Incháustegui and Elizabeth Mook

‘The project was our salvation. It allowed us to develop as a community group, as a cooperative, and as a microenterprise. Were it not for the project, we probably would have disappeared.’

The speaker is a member of a cooperative in Samaná, on the Dominican Republic’s north coast, near the spot where the Atlantic Ocean’s highest density of humpback whales shelters to whelp each winter. She is one of many beneficiaries of a popular grassroots project designed to protect the biodiversity of the country’s rich coasts, while finding ways to use key resources sustainably.

The country’s social and economic well-being largely depends on the health of its coastal zone. But this is suffering from intense competition for resources, dramatically altered rural land use, demographic pressures, and poorly planned tourism development.

Support network
The project – developed by a diverse coalition of national non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and university groups, with funds from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and guidance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – has pioneered an inclusive, participatory process, attracting a broad array of supporters and successfully educating communities nationwide.

By conducting workshops and encouraging institutions to undertake planning and research together, it has strengthened national and local management capacity. It has collected much information, creating several databases, including a geographical information system (GIS). And it has improved local appreciation for biodiversity and its relationship to human welfare by holding over 50 workshops, broadcasting a dozen media outreach programmes, and training over 300 schoolteachers.

Project managers mobilized a network of enthusiastic and committed, if diverse, community groups to help plan resource management at four project sites. Indeed, the project’s final evaluation highlighted the striking sense of pride and commitment they all shared.

CEBSE, a national NGO supporting sustainable management and development, invited the Centre for Marine Conservation, an international NGO that has performed considerable work to protect humpbacks in their North American and Caribbean feeding grounds, to participate at Samaná.

Grupo Jaragua, another national NGO focused on Pedernales province, serves as co-manager of the Jaragua National Park near the Haitian border.

PRONATURA, a third national NGO, coordinated the involvement of local NGOs and grassroots groups in the Montecristi area and worked with the Center for Research in Marine Biology, from the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo, to complete the biodiversity assessment.

With CIIFAD, its longstanding partner from Cornell University, the National University Pedro Henríquez Ureña worked to demonstrate the sustainability of the traditional agriculture practised in the buffer zone of the Los Haitises coastal park, a protected area that has long generated substantial social and political conflicts.

If these organizations were the project’s backbone, the local communities were the muscle, committing time, energy and creativity. In Los Haitises, for example, project participants – many organized through the local Catholic Church – studied soil types and composition and native vegetation, especially species that could be used for agrosilviculture in the buffer zone. To help develop ‘ecoconucos’ – a variation on rural residents’ small agricultural backyards – they assisted scientists in gathering information on traditional practices.

Community leadership
At each site, local participants constructed community centres for environmental education programmes, training workshops for tour guides, and project meetings. In Jaragua, a local youth organization called Voluntarios Comunitarios de Jaragua (VCJ) were leaders in this, while a community reporter regularly interviewed local participants for nationally distributed radio programmes. Esteban Garrido, a VCJ leader said: ‘We had to work very hard. At times, we were not sure if we would make it. Now we feel very proud. The community centre is of great benefit for us all.’

Women were a primary force throughout the project, both nationally and locally. Housewives from a local club were early participants at the Samaná site, where small craft enterprises were developed; they later enlisted the local men’s club. In fact, CEBSE and Grupo Jaragua are both led by Dominican women and served by female board members from urban and rural communities.

From Government agency staff to local fishermen, this project integrated a wide cross-section of Dominican society. By involving those who benefit directly from managing local resources sustainably, project planners have paved the way for continued progress in preserving their country’s biodiversity.

Sixto J. Incháustegui is Program Officer in the UNDP Dominican Republic field office.
Elizabeth Mook is Assistant Editor with the GEF.

PHOTOGRAPH: Juan José Nuñez/UNEP/Topham Picturepoint

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Editorial M. T. El-Ashry | Let action... | The size of the problem | Looking good... | Vanishing islands | Whispers and waste | At a glance | Competition | Preserving paradise | Coral grief | ...biodiversity and beauty | Grassroots | GEF - helping small islands | Making a difference | UNEP - new books | Small is vulnerable | Measuring vulnerability | Exporting solutions | New friends in...

Complementary articles in other issues:
Don de Silva: Hope in a raindrop (Oceans) 1998
Edgardo D. Gomez: Fragile coasts (Oceans) 1998
Cedric Schuster: Tradition matters (Oceans) 1998
Andrew L. Hamilton: A vulnerable global heritage (Freshwater) 1998
Elizabeth Khaka: Small islands Big problems (Freshwater) 1998
Mohamed T. El-Ashry: Global environmental benefits through local action: the GEF (GEF Assembly) 1998
Oscar B. Zamora: The real roots of security (Food and Sustainable Development) 1996