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Today, on 26th June 2024, APEFA’s Executive Director, Oscar NZABONIMPA, attends The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Africa Conservation Forum, which kicked off, in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, under the theme African Solutions for Nature and People: Creating transformative responses to the biodiversity and climate crisis in Africa.

Over 500 delegates are in attendance for the three-day forum, which has brought together IUCN Members and stakeholders from across Africa and beyond to discuss biodiversity, conservation and the sustainable development challenges faced by the continent.

Over 500 delegates are in attendance for the three-day forum

Dr Alfred Mutua, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife of the Republic of Kenya, warmly welcomed participants. In his address, emphasized the importance of placing local communities at the heart of all conservation efforts. “For conservation to be truly effective and sustainable, we must ensure that local communities are not only involved but are also primary beneficiaries,” he said. Dr. Mutua acknowledged Kenya’s rising human-wildlife conflicts and the lack of adequate funding for conservation, advocating for innovative partnerships to enhance Africa’s conservation efforts. “Kenya, with its rich biodiversity, is actively implementing the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, focusing on locally led and appropriate solutions for nature and people,” he stated.

Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism & Wildlife in Kenya, Dr. Alfred Mutua opens the IUCN Africa Conservation Forum

At the Ongoing Africa Conservation Forum, Oscar NZABONIMPA was among the IUCN panelists, he discussed and shared insights on how environmental conservation requires setting aside land, and Communities in Rwanda require the same land for crop production. He emphasized on how APEFA deal with these competing needs, he said that “At APEFA Rwanda, we believe that environmental conservation and agricultural productivity should go hand-in-hand through an integrated landscape approach. Rather than viewing conservation and farming as competing forces, we work closely with communities to harmonize these needs”.

APEFA’s Executive Director, Oscar NZABONIMPA, speaking at the IUCN Africa Conservation Forum

Some keyways APEFA use to address aforementioned challenge are:

  1. Promoting agroforestry systems that integrate trees with crops on the same land. This allows farmers to maintain agricultural production while also restoring soil health, preventing erosion, and providing ecosystem services. Over the past few years, we have converted over 120 hectares to climate-smart agroforestry.
  2. Championing sustainable intensification practices that boost crop yields without expanding land under cultivation. By training farmers on techniques like improved seeds, integrated pest management, and efficient irrigation, we’ve helped achieve 25-35% productivity increases.
  3. Rehabilitating degraded lands through afforestation and reforestation. To date, we have planted over 1 million trees and enriched 2,800 hectares of forests. This restores ecological functions while reducing pressure to clear new lands.
  4. Enabling livelihood diversification through activities like beekeeping, aquaculture and eco-friendly enterprises. This improves incomes and food security, building resilience to keep communities invested in conservation.

In essence, APEFA take a holistic view – working landscape-wide to optimize both conservation and community needs through tailored, context-specific interventions co-developed with the farmers and communities we serve. It’s a challenging balance but one that is essential for long-term sustainability.

APEFA’s Executive Director, also discussed how does the APEFA Community–centric approach operate in our organization and specific roles communities play, He said that “At the heart of APEFA Rwanda’s work is the firm belief that sustainable solutions emerge from the communities themselves. We see the farmers, cooperatives, women’s groups, and local leaders we work with not as beneficiaries, but as partners and change agents in their own right”.

Moreover, He highlighted some keyways APEFA’s community-centric approach manifests:

  1. Participatory project design: Before initiating any intervention, we undertake extensive community consultations and needs assessments. We work with communities to identify felt needs, local priorities and traditional knowledge that can shape project design. This ensures our work is demand-driven and locally relevant.
  • Capacity building: A core focus is on training and skills development to empower communities to sustainably manage their own natural resources. Whether it’s training farmers on climate-smart agriculture, or building cooperative capacities on governance and marketing, the aim is to enable communities to carry initiatives forward independently.
  • Farmer-to-farmer extension: We actively work through local farmer organizations, relying on lead farmers and peer educator models to accelerate the dissemination of best practices. For example, our farmer field schools allow farmers to learn experientially from each other.
  • Inclusive governance: We facilitate community-based governance structures like water user associations, watershed committees, and forest user groups. These platforms allow communities to meaningfully participate in transparent decision-making and resource management.
  • Social accountability: By consistently reporting back to communities, enabling participatory monitoring, and maintaining open feedback channels, we try to be accountable to the people we serve. Their assessments guide our adaptive management.
  • By conclusion, he told panelists and audience that “in the over 220,000 farmers we’ve engaged to date, we’ve seen the immense power of this approach. When communities have the tools, knowledge, and agency to drive their development, the impact is lasting. Our role is to be facilitators and partners in that empowering journey, walking alongside communities, and learning as much as we share.
IUCN President Razan Al Mubarak

In this IUCN Africa Conservation Forum 2024, IUCN President H.E. Razan said “As a Union, we are glad to see the growing recognition of the need for inclusive conservation in the African region, and the engagement of so many different organizations and individuals in achieving our common goal of ensuring equity, justice and rights during its implementation”.

IUCN Director General Dr Grethel Aguilar 

Director General Dr Grethel Aguilar  said ” It is the first time we are holding a forum as one African continent, and I know this was the correct decision, because the voices of Africa are better and stronger together. People must be at the center of our actions. United, we can create solutions that help people and nature thrive, recognizing the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities.”

The event, held under the theme ‘African solutions for nature and people – creating transformative responses to the biodiversity and climate crisis in Africa’, gives participants the opportunity to use the Union’s platform to amplify their voice and influence policy at regional and global levels.

It is one of several IUCN Regional Conservation Fora, held across the globe this year, that offer Members an opportunity to shape the agenda for the IUCN World Conservation Congress, to be held in the United Arab Emirates in 2025. The IUCN Congress in turn sets the global conservation agenda for the years ahead.

This event also features engaging high-level panels comprising African government representatives, scientific experts, Indigenous peoples, and local community representatives – in plenary and thematic side event sessions – to address critical conservation challenges and trends in Africa.

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