Cablegate: (Sbu) European Union Assesses Support to National Parks

DE RUEHBZ #0349/01 3480715
R 140715Z DEC 09



E.O. 12958: N/A

1.(SBU) Summary: The European Union has supported a selected
number of national parks in Central Africa beginning in 1992
through a series of projects termed by the French acronym ECOFAC
(Conservation and Valuing Forest Ecosystems in Central Africa).
The current phase, ECOFAC IV, is nearing the final stage and
therefore the European Commission (EC) held a broad-ranging
discussion and review of the progress, challenges and next steps
in Brazzaville on December 9-10. ECOFAC IV targeted 8 national
parks in 7 Central African countries including the UN-designated
Biosphere Reserve Odzala National Park in Northeastern Republic
of Congo, a park noted for large populations of western lowland
gorillas and forest elephants. So far none of the models
attempted by ECOFAC show promise of being either financially or
technically sustainable, though recently they have make
considerable effort to develop means to support local
communities in an attempt to reduce poaching and environmental
degradation in and around park areas (End Summary).

2.(SBU) ECOFAC supports the Congo Basin Forest Partnership

The EC implements the ECOFAC project through a single European
technical assistance consulting company procured through a
competitive contract for which the contractor deploys personnel
to support the targeted park network. A management team is
based in Libreville, Gabon and expatriate technical advisers are
posted to each of the targeted parks. Each of the four ECOFAC
phases has involved separate contract solicitations through a
tedious and lengthy process, accompanied by numerous contract
disputes and slow mobilization of personnel. These processes
have caused long gaps when little support or no has been
available. The EC was prepared to terminate the program after
ECOFAC III, but with the CBFP launching, was convinced to
continue its involvement as a CBFP founding member.

3.(SBU) The EC Takes Stock

The meeting was billed as a regional technical monitoring
committee session to compare notes on activities over the past
three years of the ECOFAC IV project, to assess project status
toward reaching the objectives and sharing technical lessons
with ECOFAC staff, national park staff and park services
managers of the seven countries Central Africa Republic,
Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo,
Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome Principe). A selected
number of invited participants, including the USAID/Central
Africa Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE) director
were invited. A second day closed session was limited to the
actual implementing partners, but was to focus on future
financing methods and to consider how the investments can become
technically and financially sustainable.

4.(SBU) RAPAC to the Rescue?

The EC has established a regional NGO based in Libreville known
by its French acronym RAPAC (Network for the Protected Areas of
Central Africa) with the view of using it to channel funding
directly to the national administrations of the targeted parks.
Now in its seventh year, the EC hopes that for any future EC
financial support, the RAPAC channel will bypass the tedious and
ineffective contracting systems that have been fraught with
difficulties and are widely considered to result in disruptive
and ineffective support. While it is not clear whether RAPAC
will be tapped by the EC to take on this role at the end of
ECOFAC IV, the RAPAC clearly has ambitions to play a much larger
role. RAPAC has been accepted as a subsidiary organization
under the Ministerial Commission for Central African Forests
(COMIFAC), and therefore it is politically poised to play a more
active role in regional protected area management. (Comment:
RAPAC remains a very weak organization and it is highly unlikely
it will have the capacity in the near term to play a significant
technical role, and its capacity to manage finances is also not
yet tested).

5.(SBU) Sustainability is Elusive

The technical presentations painted a disappointing picture of
both the technical and financially sustainability of ECOFAC
efforts to date. A great deal of concern was registered over
the fragile nature of the two parks in Central African Republic,
given extremely strong poaching and human pressures in the
surrounding areas and the lack of alternative livelihoods for
the thousands of poor rural villagers who have increasingly
surrounded the parks, apparently creating extreme pressure on
both the wildlife and the forests. Suppression of wildlife and
wood harvesting of the local people through ecoguard patrols has
reportedly resulted in ever increasing hostility toward park

BRAZZAVILL 00000349 002 OF 002

authorities and more difficulties. In the last few years,
ECOFAC has increasingly tried to find means to provide more
alternative opportunities to village residents through tourism,
for example safari hunting revenue sharing (Note: one
French-owned safari company, RED Buffalo CAR has developed a
scheme in northern CAR with ECOFAC support whereby tourist
hunting revenue is paid directly to local village
organizations). One of the parks with fewer local resident
pressures is the Odzala National Park in NE ROC. This is part
of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership TRIDOM landscape with
major technical and financial support through CARPE partner
Wildlife Conservation Society (WSCS) in the community zones and
a major logging concession by the Danzer group in contiguous
areas to the south and east of the park. (Comment: WCS believes
that the CARPE support and the collaboration with the private
logging companies in the periphery of Odzala have played a much
more important role in maintaining wildlife populations in the
park than the ECOFAC park activities. End Comment).

6.(SBU) The way forward

The EC would like to continue to support the park development in
Central Africa though they have not found a sustainable formula
after nearly 20 years since the first ECOFAC phase. The EC is
also supporting protected areas through bilateral programs in
ROC (a project to develop a new government park and wildlife
service) and the DRC (direct euro 50 million over five years for
four major parks (Garamba, Virunga, Salonga and Upemba). They
have tried several models including contracting park management
to the NGO Africa Parks in the case of Garamba and direct
support to the DRC park service in Virunga. A financially and
technically sustainable model is still not on the horizon,
though the region is rich in different models which are expected
to serve as a laboratory for the long term.

(drafted: CARPE JFlynn)

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