NST Online, December 16,
Employing everything from
funky music to beauty contests, one group shows how connecting with people on a
personal level changes minds and lives, writes ELIZABETH
THE stories seem unbelievable.
Melodramatic soap operas that turn people off turtle eggs. Baking contests that
get folks worried about threatened species and infectious mariachi tunes that move farmers to
halt forest burning.
But they're real. No kidding. These
strange-but-true tales of quirky deeds that triggered amazing changes are
all part of a Rare Pride campaign experience. And this experience is coming
A Pride campaign is how US based
conservation group Rare reaches out to people living near important but
threatened biological hotspots, like forest reserves and coral reefs. Rare
trains and helps passionate locals to use a range of tools from
billboards to mascots to build a community's awareness and support for
They bring the message to these usually
far-flung areas in fun and very personal ways. The campaigns instil pride in the
natural wonders of the regions these people call home and create communities
that push for better treatment and protection of their environment.
Three such campaigns jointly funded by Rare
and YTL Corporation, are expected to kick off in Malaysia
sometime next year. Rare is now working with Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF)
Malaysia to identify partner
organisations here who'd like to volunteer one of their staff to train and run
such a campaign over the next 1 and a half years.
The group is looking for young, gung-ho and
committed people who'll be able to inspire conservation as campaign
managers. And, hopefully, this someone will have some experience in
community development, too, because that's what it's all about,' says
Rare's Nigel Sizer.
Some years back, as a 20-something
researcher studying ecology in some of the most amazing forests on earth in
South America, Sizer watched as local communities were left out of
conservation efforts and turned into its enemies. I was deeply concerned to see
very poor people's livelihoods being destroyed even dying as a result of the
efforts of conservation organisations.
"So from that time on and throughout my
career, I've been very supportive of grassroots conservation efforts," explains
Sizer. Since his student days in Cambridge and adventures in the mighty
Amazon, the tall lean Briton has served as a policy maker at the World Resources
Institute and programme director at The Nature Conservancy.
The latter brought Sizer to Jakarta, Indonesia and finally to his permanent home in
Bali from which he now serves as Rare's
vice-president for Asia Pacific. There's little wonder why Sizer ended up with this organisation. Both recognise that
communities play a very important role in conservation.
"We feel the environmental community in
general doesn't work effectively enough with local communities," Sizer
continues. He's quick to add that there's already a lot of very good work
going on in other areas like policy, regulations, changing trade
patterns and raising awareness in urban areas which guzzle up most of
nature's resources. .
So Rare focuses on mobilising local
communities living near the forests to change their behaviour because what they
do also has a very big influence. Often communities are marginalised by
conservation efforts, he says. Parks are often created without consulting
communities. Communities resent it, they don't understand why it's there.
they're not partners in the conservation-effort although they're the primary
users of the resources and, perhaps also, the primary threats to it.
if we donít work with them ' effectively; the conservation programmes will
fail and we've seen that again and again." Sometimes, when they're lucky, says
Sizer, campaigns bring the urban and rural policymakers and people together as
it has with one project in Indonesia.
The group has been campaigning, with
WWF, to create anew 800,000- hectare national park in central Kalimantan in a
very, very important area of forest just across the border from Sarawak. The Indonesian government was always supportive
but at the grassroots, there was only fear' and concern. People living in and near the area were
directly dependent up on those forests and grew worried at news of a park.
Would they be kicked out of the area? Would
they be stopped from fishing or hunting? This
is where Rare entered the picture. Their Pride campaign with communities there
is helping to calm fears; create better understanding and binds support for
the park. It's challenging work; says Sizer, and not always successful.
"Campaign managers' get tired by their organisations, run away with the money
and the earn campaigns collapse. It happens in about five to 10 per cent of
cases." It's especially tough when campaigns
sometimes involve funding alternatives to the more tempting, quick cash
activities like illegal logging.
This is a subject he knows well Sizer spent
his World Resources Institute days focused on global forestry issues. In 2000,
he also co-authored a controversial report for the European Commission on
the expansion of logging companies into the former European colonies
some Malaysian companies featured prominently in that report, mostly
for misbehaving in forests overseas.
But Sizer is the first to commend
Malaysia's calm but concerned
response at the time, particularly that of then Primary Commodities
Minister Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik. Now a resident in neighbouring Indonesia, he also sees the many
problems the long, porous and ungovernable borders, the cash strapped
enforcement agencies and, most of all, poor local communities at the front
line of illegal logging.
says people who promote illegal logging activities buyers of the wood
financiers or those supplying the
communities and encourage them to take up these activities. Of
course, it's tempting, says Sizer. There's money involved and sometimes quite a
lot. But its promoters often exaggerate the benefits of illegal
None talk about what happens when a poor
family's breadwinner ends up in jail because he's caught with a chainsaw
doing illegal logging for some organisation. So Rareís campaign managers
help communities and alternatives like small scale timber production
from managed forests or ecotourism. Rare's Pride campaigns also help these
communities understand the alternatives and encourage them to give
them a try. "Making them see the risks and making thern emotionally inspired by
the forest they live in helps to reduce the risk that the had guys can come in
and take over."
not easy and it's why so much is demanded of campaign managers and so much is
invested in training them. But for all the difficulties and the couple of
failures,' it's still worthwhile says Sizer. "Because in 20 to 30 per cent of
projects, the campaigns have had impacts far beyond expectations and that
justifies all the work we do."
From ecotourism projects that benefit
hundreds of families to dozens of large new protected sites, Rare does have a
decent portfolio of achievements to show. Rare will bring its aims to
inspire to Malaysia
through one project each in peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak. In places where people have a , great influence
over the future of the flora and fauna around them, and soon where they'll have
some unbelievable stories of their own to tell.
details or to apply to be a partner organisation, go to www.rareconservation.org