Tanya Merceron is IUCN's new regional coordinator for Western and Central Africa of the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management (BIOPAMA) Programme, based in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. In this interview, she tells us about her professional career before joining the IUCN, the implementation strategy and the main activities of BIOPAMA in the region for the year 2019.
The Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management (BIOPAMA) programme aims to improve the long-term conservation and sustainable use of natural resources in African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, in protected areas and surrounding communities. It is an initiative of the ACP Group of States financed by the European Union’s 11th European Development Fund (EDF), jointly implemented by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (JRC). Building on the first five years of activities financed by the 10th EDF, BIOPAMA’s second phase provides tools for data and information management, services for improving the knowledge and capacity for protected area planning and decision making, and funding opportunities for specific site-based actions.
Tanya took up her job with BIOPAMA mid-September, at the same time as the launch of the second phase of the programme in this region. Tanya is a Haitian national with a background in law, specialized in human rights ethics. She also holds a Master's degree in Development from Senghor University with focus on environmental management.
Can you tell us about your professional path before joining IUCN?
I come from a city in the south of Haiti called Les Cayes. I began my professional activities as a volunteer by providing support to the Young Women and Children's Coaching Program (PEJEFE), a Haitian non-profit organization working in disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Port-au-Prince and the rural areas of Haiti. That is when I began to understand the links between communities and their environment, and when started my strong commitment to the peasantry and the project of society that it carries.
I continued with consultations with national organizations such as Enfofanm, the Haitian Platform for Advocacy for Alternative Development (PAPDA), the Papay Farmers' Movement (MPP) but also with international NGOs such as Oxfam and Action Aid, which helped to refine this orientation.
The connection with the communities allowed me to discover very interesting dynamics analysing the links between the current state of the natural resources, the anthropic pressures to which they are submitted and their consequences on the populations way of life.
All this has given me the tools to design strategies that take into account both environmental challenges and public policies in order to ensure participatory environmental governance when I joined the UN system. I first worked at UNDP to implement a capacity building project for the Ministry of the Environment of Haiti, through which I had to put in place a decentralized management system of natural resources with the local authorities. I also facilitated a process of taking environmental assessments into account in policy design.
Then I joined the UN Environment team in the management of the project "ecosystem approach for the South Coast of Haiti", which has a significant component on marine protected areas (MPAs). This initiative allowed me to contribute to the participatory development of the management plans of these MPAs while training the local population and introducing income-generating activities to reduce the pressure on fish resources.
Finally, I also taught at the Faculty of Agronomy at the Notre Dame University of Haiti. I was in charge of the introductory course on environmental management and one of my goals was to enable students to design a system that combines agriculture, respect for the environment and for the human rights. We implemented very interesting projects on the university campus including a peri-urban garden. It was really a beautiful experience.
What is your insight of the future of BIOPAMA?
BIOPAMA is a global programme that aims to improve the long-term conservation and sustainable use of natural resources in protected areas and surrounding communities. The programme supports the development and application of tools for data and information management, services for the improvement of knowledge and capabilities, always through the regional observatories, for improved planning and decision-making of protected areas at national and local levels.
We are at the beginning of its second phase, so it is crucial to capitalize on the achievements and lessons learned during the past five years while introducing an innovative spirit, to find solutions to challenges already identified and to guarantee the execution of activities thanks to new partnerships to achieve long-term results.
In fact, in early December we started the BIOPAMA Experiences Capitalization initiative, which aims to identify, analyze and document the experiences of the first phase of the BIOPAMA program to guide the second phase interventions based on results, lessons learned and good practices identified.
We hope this initiative will result, among others, in the development of a series of short publications and other communication products to describe the experiences of the program, based on an analysis of experiences, individual and institutional points of view. This would also allow more qualitative data to be available to support the scaling up of BIOPAMA initiatives.
Which strategy will be used for the implementation of the second phase of BIOPAMA?
The implementation strategy will be articulated around 3 axes:
- Strengthening of Partnerships, for the creation of the Observatory in West Africa and consolidation of the Observatory in Central Africa.
- Establishment of synergies with other actors related to the biodiversity protection and protected area management sector in the region, but also in other BIOPAMA intervention areas, such as East Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.
- An action plan, developed in a participatory way and based on the sub region specific needs.
What are the key actions planned for the continuation of the program in Central Africa?
First step is the signature of a memorandum of understanding between the Central African Forest Commission (COMIFAC), the main partner in the region, and IUCN that will have effects extended beyond BIOPAMA, and afterwards the conclusion of an agreement to implement BIOPAMA.
Furthermore, our priority is to give support to COMIFAC through the Observatory of Forests of Central Africa (OFAC) to:
- Develop the State of Protected Areas report among other knowledge products for the protection of biodiversity and the improvement of protected area management in Central Africa;
- Promote the engagement of providers and data users in an efficient regional information system;
- Provide support to protected area institutions at national and regional levels while ensuring capacity building where necessary;
- Promote the use of data and the regional information system by protected area institutions at national and regional levels to guide public policies and strategies evidence based.
Please share with us the prospects for Western Africa.
The dynamics in Western Africa is a little different compared to that in Central Africa. Thus, the first step is to set up the Observatory of Protected Areas of West Africa in collaboration with UEMOA and the sub-region actors such as the West Africa Protected Marine Areas Network (RAMPAO). A road map has already been drawn up for this purpose.
The next step is the development and signature of a charter for protected area governance in West Africa. It is an initiative that will be submitted to the concerned States so that the activities implemented in the field go hand in hand with the main political orientations. Some more concrete site based activities will be conducted through the implementation of IMET with the national agencies/directions responsible of protected areas.
Is there a difference between the two phases of the BIOPAMA programme?
The grant making facility is a new component of BIOPAMA that aims to contribute to the achievement of management and governance objectives through concrete actions implemented in and around protected areas based on clearly identified priorities. This initiative is interesting because it will allow to:
- Improve the mechanisms for the long-term conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and natural resources in protected areas;
- Strengthen the capacity of national institutions concerned with protected areas, including the use of evaluation results for planning and decision-making;
- Support community initiatives to strengthen the livelihoods of local people while effectively contributing to the management of protected areas.
The first call for proposals will soon be launched and I take this opportunity to invite national protected areas agencies, civil society organizations, municipalities, community organizations, regional organizations, local and international NGOs to apply.
What is your message for the BIOPAMA partners?
BIOPAMA is a promising programme, but it is important to have the involvement of all stakeholders, especially those who live on a daily basis in and around protected areas, in order to obtain results that may have an impact on the long term.
The message would be to invite all stakeholders in the protected areas and biodiversity protection sector to engage with regional observatories in establishing a powerful information system, by which all actors who produce data make them available to the stakeholders who need these data for decision-making- either at the local level, to improve the management effectiveness of protected areas, or at the national level, to influence public policy in behalf of the protection of biodiversity. So together we will be able to move from knowledge to action for a protected planet!