Mozambican Community Leaders Honored for Conservation Leadership

National Geographic News
December 5, 2003

Community leaders working at the Quirimbas National Park in Mozambique have been awarded the 2003 edition of the National Geographic Society/Howard Buffett Award for Leadership in African Conservation.

Aida Safira and Augusto Assane Omar, of Mozambique's Cabo Delgado Province, are the recipients of the 2003 award. The U.S. $25,000 prize was established as a result of a gift from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and it acknowledges lifetime contributions that further the understanding and practice of conservation in southern and eastern Africa.

Omar and Safira founded the Associação Karibo, an association of friends and natives of Ibo Island, the spiritual home of the Muani people. Ibo Island is an ancient trading and slaving city, but it is now in ruins. Omar is also president of the Islamic Association of Cabo Delgado. Safira is an active member of her mosque.

"The nomination of Augusto Assane Omar and Aida Safira for this year's National Geographic Society/Howard Buffett Award is to acknowledge the amazing commitment of two personalities through their beliefs, perseverance, and passion for their work," the WWF said in a news release issued by the organization's Mozambique Programme Office.

WWF is an independent global network of conservation organizations and programs that is based in Switzerland. The group partnered with Omar and Safira in their work to establish and promote local acceptance of the Quirimbas National Park.

The WWF statement said: "The well-deserved award prizes [Omar and Safira] for their leadership in the creation of the Quirimbas National Park, a bottom-up, community-based effort; their ground-breaking contributions in harmonizing community development needs with international conservation agendas; their current successes piloting the creation of sanctuary zones within the park, and in the reduction of elephant/ human conflicts; and their use of community organization, education, and mobilization techniques to involve rural communities in park management, thereby increasing both effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of conservation activities."

According to WWF, Aida and Omar realized that the key economic problem of the Cabo Delgado coastal zone was the depletion of fishing resources, and that existing donor programs of handing out fishing nets, boats, and fish hooks were unable to solve this problem. Omar and Sarifa were convinced that the best way to help the Muani people was through the declaration of the Quirimbas National Park, according to WWF. "Only through a degree of legal protection could fish stocks be recuperated and marine habitats protected."

Using the battle cry of "More fish!", the two leaders set out to promote the park as a response to the needs of the rural population, WWF said. "Off they went into the bush to consult with and convince local communities of the need for better resource management and more conservation. They worked with few resources and no salaries. They reached every one of the 40 villages to be affected by the park by riding buses and local sailboats.

"Sometimes they were chased away, sometimes threatened, sometimes welcomed, and sometimes stranded by storms on sandbanks in the middle of the ocean … In the end they returned from the bush with agreements from every community. All were united in support of the park and had signed agreements so testifying," the WWF press release said.

Safira and Omar had great influence on the park management plan as well, the WWF statement continued. "They distilled the results of the community consultations … into two priorities, issues that had to be addressed in order to maintain community support.

"The first of course was more fish, to allow for more protein and family income. The second was the high level of animal/human conflicts on the continent; thousands of fields were being destroyed annually by elephants. On the basis of these recommendations, the creation of fish sanctuaries to protect key habitats and to allow for the recuperation of fish stocks, and a human-elephant conflict management program, became the two key priorities."

A zoning plan was developed for the park to allow space for both human livelihood activities and conservation. This zoning plan was based directly on community maps created during the community consultation process, WWF said.

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