BIOPAMA Success story - Léonidas, a conservation hero committed to sustainable local development

Driven by a genuine desire for change, he piloted an initiative to support the empowerment of Batwa communities who live near the Bururi Forest Reserve. For this determinant action he has just won the National Geographic / Buffett Award 2018 "Leadership for the protection of the environment".

Léonidas Nzigiyimpa, 56 years old, a forester with training on sustainable development, has been working for 20 years at the Burundian Office for Environmental Protection in the area of ​​nature conservation and management of protected areas.

 

For the last 10 years, Léonidas has been working on a complex of 5 protected areas in the southern region of Burundi. In daily life, with his collaborators and eco-guards, he organizes patrols, development and demarcation activities of protected areas, as well as environmental education sessions. "I spend a lot of time in the field meeting with the community to raise awareness of the importance of conservation and the opportunity to do income-generating activities for the community, such as livestock and ecotourism based on protection of species like Chimpanzees, or agrotourism as result of the promotion of local products, such as coffee".

 

According to him, it is a challenging work, specifically in the context of Burundi, caracterized by demographic explosion and poverty that leads more than 90% of Burundians to depend on natural resources to live, causing conflicts between conservation services and the population.

 

Driven by a genuine desire for change, he piloted an initiative to support the empowerment of Batwa communities who live near the Bururi Forest Reserve. For this determinant action he has just won the National Geographic / Buffett Award 2018 "Leadership for the protection of the environment".

 

Léonidas tells us that he involved the Batwa community in the development of this small 3300 ha reserve during one year (from March 2017 to February 2018). The group was engaged in various activities for materializing boundaries, protection of the reserve and opening of a tourist trail. A total of 53 adults was committed to these activities and each one of them received a salary. The money was divided in two shares: one half was used for community subsistence needs and the other was put in a savings account in a local bank.

 

"The initiative has benefited 28 households and 150 people and with the savings of one year a total of 12000 dollars has been used to buy 3 hectares of land. In less than 2 years we can say their living conditions have changed, families have managed to build a nearly decent house with bricks and steel sheet, and some have goats, oxen and cows, to have more manure and improve the agricultural productivity of their ground ". At present, the batwa live from their land and their house is similar to those belonging to other Burundi groups. Suddenly, they started benefiting from other activities that generate income, such as goat livestock , to obtain manure.

 

Léonidas is also recognized as a leader among his conservation colleagues and the governmental authorities of his country. After having participated in a training process promoted by the BIOPAMA programme, when he had the opportunity to explore the IMET tool for the first time, he facilitated the application of the tool to all protected areas in his country, the first initiative on this scale throughout the African continent.

 

As a coach, Leonidas has traveled around the country, passing through 14 protected areas, to collect data using the IMET tool. He says that "the coach is not supposed to give lessons, but rather to show the manager of each protected area how to use the IMET tool in order to get on the right track, collect the data without bias and see clearly the pathways that lead to good decisions. " He considers that this experience is really important because on the one hand it is possible to evaluate the situation of protected areas and on the other hand it is a managers’ capacity building process.

 

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