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NEWS | A Detailed Recap of the Annual ECF Regional Consultative Forum 2023

Exploring community conservation opportunities through Other Effective Conservation Measures (OECMs)

It was a busy summer for the Eco-Corridor Fund for the Caucasus (ECF), which commenced its second phase officially in February 2022. Since then, much progress has been made on the ground in all three countries. On Thursday 19. October 2023, the ECF held its annual Regional Consultative Forum – a chance to gather representatives from the governments, local administration and the leaders of community-based organisations and other important stakeholders with the ECF team. It was a full day of information sharing, both through the detailed presentations but also in the group discussion and individual conversations. These conversations and knowledge sharing are what make these gatherings so important and effective.

The highlight of the forum was the open discussions session about a new paradigm in nature conservation; Other Effective Area-Based Conservation Methods (OECMs). Many thought-provoking questions were posed to the forum’s special guest and OECM expert from the United Kingdom, Nigel Dudley.

Thanks to the hard work of a skilled set of translators, the session was conducted in all four languages the programme operates in – Armenian, Azeri, English and Georgian – and translated in real-time via headphones.

Official Opening Statements

The opening statement of the forum was delivered by the host nation, where Iuri Nozadze, the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment Protection, Georgia offered a warm welcome to all participants, highlighting the long-term international conservation goals that the ECF is contributing to.

“I am convinced that natural protected areas can play important roles in helping us reach the Kunming-Montreal Global Diversity Framework and that this project will help us to respond to the 30 by 30 targets.” - Iuri Nozadze, Ministry of Agriculture and Environment Protection, Georgia

Unfortunately, representatives from KfW Development Bank were not able to attend the forum in person, but the ECF Project Manager from KfW, Frank Moerschel, was able to join virtually and addressed the forum from Frankfurt, Germany. Mr. Moerschel expressed regret that he could not attend, but was enthusiastic in welcoming the attendees and stated how pleased he is that the ECF is in its second phase.

“This is a very exciting project and I’m very happy that we are having the second phase. It combines nature conservation with social development – it gives locals the chance to take control of decision making and nature conservation measures. (And) I would like to officially recognize the efforts of the local people. When we talk of OECMs as a way to address international targets, this is very important.”

- Frank Moerschel, KfW Development Bank

The Deputy Head of the Biodiversity Conservation Service from the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources in Azerbaijan, Rashad Allahverdiyev, opened with statements about the longevity of the ECF programme and Edward Karapetyan from the Forestry Department of the Ministry of the Environment in Armenia welcomed forum participants. A welcome statement by the Director of WWF Caucasus, Giorgi Sanadiradze, followed as he welcomed all participants to Georgia and commented on both the past and future of the ECF Programme.

“We learned a lot in the first phase and we experimented. And in the second phase we know how to work with the communities and with the partners and that leads us to believe that the second phase will be very successful as well.” - Giorgi Sanadiradze, WWF Caucasus

To wrap up the first quarter of the forum, the ECF’s Chief Technical Advisor, Jernej Stritih took some time to report on the progress of the second phase of the ECF. His presentation provided a brief overview of how and why the ECF came to be, emphasizing the uniqueness of the Caucasus as one of the few global biodiversity hotspots in a temperate zone, compared to the majority which exist in tropical zones. He also touched on the endurance of the programme and the importance of long-term perspective.

“The ECF started in 2015, the first phase ended in 2020. But the Conservation Agreements we set up go to 2028. Now we are in the second phase and Conservation Agreements we will set up now will go to 2034. As Giorgi has said, this project brings a long-term perspective. From a natural perspective 10 years is not a long time but for humans it is and we have already observed changes in the eight years ECF has been here.” - Jernej Stritih, ECF

The progress of phase two of the ECF in the last year and a half was presented, including an overview of the FPAs in all three countries, the soon-to-be-introduced Caretakers Code of Conduct, the ongoing habitat suitability analysis and the wildlife solidarity schemes. He also discussed both the previous and new conservation agreements in all three countries.

“Now that we are in phase two, we are using what we learnt in the first phase and we are working on three levels. The first is to increase the area covered. The second is to embed this community conservation approach into the national policies and institutional framework. And the third is to disseminate our approach globally; to disseminate these methodologies and to share this positive experience worldwide.” - Jernej Stritih, ECF

* * *

Primary Presentations and Keynote Speaker

After a short break, the forum’s special guest and internationally renowned expert in community-based nature conservation took the mic and delivered the keynote presentation for the day. Nigel Dudley of Equilibrium Research, is one of the most widely published and well-recognized experts in the field, and the forum participants listened intently as he discussed what would become the buzzword and primary focus of the forum: the opportunities and application of community conservation through “Other Effective Conservation Measures” (OECMs).

Jernej Stritih provided a brief introduction of Mr. Dudley and also set the scene explaining the relevance of the 30 x 30 targets set last year in Montreal as a part of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework meeting. The 30 x 30 target is essentially a new global commitment that calls for the conservation of 30% of the earth's land and water by 2030 in fair and effective ways. Mr. Dudley has been involved in setting these targets and is one of the authorities on OECMs globally, including implementation in the national systems which is of particular interest to the ECF. He is the co-editor of the book 30x30 - A Guide to Inclusive, Equitable and Effective Implementation of Target 3 of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. Mr. Dudley opened by discussing the complicated origins of the complex term OECMs providing context and perspective.

“The definition OECM ultimately complements the IUCN definition of a protected area. (It is) a geographically defined area - other than a protected area - which is governed and managed in ways that achieves positive and sustained long-term outcomes for the in-situ conservation of biodiversity with associated ecosystem functions and services and where applicable, cultural, spiritual, socio–economic, and other locally relevant values” - Nigel Dudley, Equilibrium Research

He then went on to share detailed slides about the applications of OECMs using example and stories to illustrate what is and what is not considered an OECM by IUCN standards, while simultaneously stressing that within those guidelines the government of each country has the freedom – and challenge – of creating a national framework to define OECMs.

“It’s almost impossible to make a sweeping statement – everything needs to be looked at on a case-by-case basis…and although the definition of OECMs is flexible, they are not generally small areas, hedgerows, fire breaks, beaches, golf courses, areas of intensive agriculture or forests managed for timber.” - Nigel Dudley, Equilibrium Research

Defining and classifying OCEMs was the focus of the discussion session that followed and transformed the forum into a classroom, where participants were able to direct questions at Mr. Dudley and also express opinions and suggestions on how to move forward with the implementation of OECMs through the ECF Programme. Multiple times throughout the presentation Mr. Dudley mentioned the importance of co-learning and working together to utilize OECMs globally.

“It’s up to everyone. We are all learning. We need to use OECMs well, and so I urge you to feed back into the international community - it’s an exciting time and I’m very excited to see it happening here in the Caucasus.” - Nigel Dudley, Equilibrium Research

He addressed the current challenges that creating protected areas face today, and how OECMs help address those challenges.

“When looking at (CBDs) 30x30 targets, we need to figure out what we go for. And many people are asking, do we go for protected areas, or do we go for OECMs? Many countries have realized that they are close to the limit of protected areas that society will accept and we have found, so far, that OECMs are much more likely to be accepted.” - Nigel Dudley, Equilibrium Research

Adopting, identifying and implementing OECMs will require commitment, monitoring, collaboration with professional conservationists and also locals and he stresses that it will require significant government commitment. But he expressed his excitement in seeing three countries sitting down together to discuss the 30 x 30 targets. His final statement was one of support and enthusiasm.

“We are on the crest of the wave! There are already over 800 OECMs worldwide and that number is growing fast. OECMs have driven a new approach to nature conservation that will be very significant in the future. Which is why it’s so exciting to see three countries here today.” - Nigel Dudley, Equilibrium Research

Following up on Mr. Dudley’s information-rich presentation, representatives from ministries in all three countries took time to explain the current status of biodiversity conservation in their country and on how they plan to develop and incorporate OECMs. Karen Manvelyan the director of WWF Armenia started with a presentation showing statistics and maps of the existing protected areas in Armenia, highlighting key species like Caucasian Leopard and Red Deer. He also touched on the importance of OECMs in working toward the targets of 30x30.

“Our protected areas now cover 13% (of the country), and we hope to get to 15% – but we can’t expect to get to 30% by 2030 and that’s why it’s important for OECMs to become part of our legislation.” - Karen Manvelyan, WWF Armenia

Mr. Rashad Allahverdiyev spoke next, highlighting the importance of linking protected areas and various ecosystems in Azerbaijan.

“Most ecosystems in Az have been covered by PAs, and I would like to draw attention to the importance of linking the PAs and that involved including the local population. We have ambitious goals to follow the Global Biodiversity Frameworks – it’s not important to increase the area of PAS but to properly protect and manage existing protected areas.” - Deputy Head of the Biodiversity Conservation Service from the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources in Azerbaijan, Rashad Allahverdiyev

Lika Giorgadze, the Deputy Head of the Biodiversity and Forestry Department, within the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment Protection in Georgia followed with an informative presentation on Georgia’s protected areas network, mentioning the various classifications of protect areas in the country and expressing an interest in incorporating OECMs mentioning various sacred forests that could fall under OECM classification.

“We recognize OECMS as a complementary mechanism to existing protected areas and we are trying to assess our status on OECMS and place a focus not only on the development of classic protected areas.” - Lika Giorgadze, Ministry of Agriculture and Environment Protection, Georgia

Prior to taking a break for lunch, Jernej Stritih summarized this forum segment in the broader context of global targets.

“It is very ambitious – not just for these three countries but around the world - to reach the 30 x 30 targets. What is important is that our three countries work on management and improve the policy to allow new approaches, new methods and new types of Conservation Areas to be implemented.” - Jernej Stritih, ECF

* * *

Discussion Period

The forum reconvened with a discussion period, where participants were given the chance to address the forum and pose questions to Mr. Dudley about how OECMs can be sustained – by whoever has the land-use rights. This session proved to be extremely energetic with almost every forum participant adding comments and questions mostly focused on the criteria and process of identifying OECMs locally, nationally and globally.

“Something I got from this discussion is that we need more detailed or tailor-made criteria – for each country or the region – to respond to each circumstance, which could be linked to existing good practices guidelines like the ECF…maybe what we need is some investment in capacity building and awareness raising to introduce these new models of conservation and governance. There are many models worldwide and we need some guidelines on how to use them. Perhaps ECF can develop such capacity building programs to help facilitate OECMs.” - Jernej Stritih, ECF

“I like the idea of regional guidelines – that can be shared more widely, as there are a lot of countries that are going to be looking to you.” - Nigel Dudley, Equilibrium Research

* * *

Main achievements of ECF in 2023

The final session of the forum included three presentations, one from each of the ECF National Coordinators. Khayyam Ismayil, ECF National Coordinator for Azerbaijan commenced the session with a presentation on ECF Caretakers’ Code of Conduct. He highlighted how important caretakers are to community-based nature conservation as they are the ‘main guardians of the landscape.’ He shared the various chapters of the code including core values, moral and ethical values and definitions of duty.

“The purpose of the code is to guide caretakers of community-based organization - from basic ideas to common values and goals and present norms of moral and ethical values of the duties assigned to them.” - Khayyam Ismayil, ECF National Coordinator, Azerbaijan

ECF’s monitoring concept was then presented by Jernej Stritih. He discussed the challenges related to monitoring and the multiple ways the ECF collects data, including scientific surveys of indicator species to monitor population numbers and remote sensing data to monitor changes to landscape and land use over time. He also discussed ideas to streamline the data collection process in the future, including increasing the use of applications on mobile phones to collect data, a web-based GIS platform that is able to collect, analyze and report that relevant data, and possibly the use of technology like AI to help manage the mass of data that camera traps provide.

“If you want to have effective management then you need to have effective monitoring. Ultimately to know if biodiversity is increasing or at least not decreasing. Easier said than done ….” - Jernej Stritih, ECF

Then, Irakli Gogoladze, the newest addition to the ECF team and National Coordinator for Georgia, provided information on ECF’s newest component to Conservation Agreements – Wildlife Damage Solidarity Insurance Schemes. He outlined the findings of an external study carried out in the summer of 2023 to assess the application of such a scheme, performed by long-time ECF supporter and sustainable finance expert, Anja Deinzer. He also provided background information, explaining how this solidary scheme was implemented in Georgia in the first phase of ECF and due to the positive results, the decision was made to include this in the future Conservation Agreements as well.

“The main idea behind the scheme – like any insurance system – is to try to mitigate material loss. And there is a threefold expected result: reduce the economic damage; improve the attitude toward native carnivores; and reduce the number of carnivores that are killed as a result of interactions with livestock.” - Irakli Gogoladze, ECF National Coordinator, Georgia

* * *

Closing Statement

To wrap up ECF’s Regional Consultative Forum for 2023, Giorgi Sanadiradze provided the closing statement, re-emphasizing the primary topic of the forum which was the understanding and application of OECMs in nature conservation in the Caucasus. He extended deep gratitude to Mr. Dudley for his attendance and insight as well as thanks to the delegations from all three countries for their engagement and participation in this interactive forum. And he also thanked the translators who worked all day to ensure everyone was understood. And he recognized now more than ever, the significance of working together across regions and counties.

“My main message is that ECF operates in different forms in each country but that it is very tangible for all three countries to work together and work towards common goals. An emphasis on deep discussion on mitigation and monitoring, on OECMs and on caretakers has - and will - prove the success of our program.” - Giorgi Sanadiradze, WWF Caucasus


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