I have spent two weeks in Lomé, finishing up my paperwork with my internship supervisor. I already received the ministry of environment authorization letter in February, but now I had to get a letter from la Direction des Resources Forestières in Lomé that is directly addressed to the regional director of environment in the central region of Togo, Sokodé.
Although I am working with the National Environmental Management Agency, where I have been able to secure an internship and support for the collection of my data on the field, I have to go through the government officials to inform them of my presence in the region and inform them of my research.
The National Environmental Management Agency (l’Agence Nationale de Gestion de l’Environnement) is managed by a Board of Directors composed of representatives of public and private institutions, of NGOs, professional organizations and, as an observer, a representative of the development partners. Its mission is to ensure quality of environmental assessment and environmental information service for the benefit of a sustainable development. After, I received the letter, I was heading to the central region of Togo.
But first I am going to give you, a little background on my research.
The idea of protected areas was introduced in Togo in 1925, and the general governor ordered that the protected areas should be free of human contact (Tchamie, 1994). To understand how and why the establishment of protected areas affect the local population, we first need to understand what is the value of the land to the local population and how is it being used. This information was not provided before dedicating lands as protected areas. In Togo, at the time, land was not owned by an individual, it was at the disposal of the community who used it to their own benefit (Tchamie, 1994). However, in 1955, a new statute came into effect that recognized the input of the local population and their participation in the establishment of protected areas, a statute that was not followed (Tchamie, 1994). The first protected areas were established in Togo in 1933 (Tchamie, 1994). Then, in 1971, more than 10 years after the Togolese independence, the protected areas were expanded and classified as three different national parks: the Fazao-Malfakassa, the Keran and the Fosse aux Lions national Parks. However, in the expansion of the protected areas, the government failed to take into consideration the future land use of the growing local population. As the population increased and land pressure started to become a problem, local populations have moved into the lands that are adjoining the protected areas (Barrow, Lembuya, Ntiati, & Samba, 1993).
Tchamie wrote on the issue that: “The deliberate destruction by local people of natural resources in protected areas in Togo is evidence of conflict between government programmes and people’s needs. A new policy to safeguard protected areas and manage their natural resources must reconcile government interests with those of the local populations.” When Tchamie (1994) conducted surveys in villages adjacent to the the Keran and the Fosse aux Lions National Parks, he found that the local populations were bitter, hostile, feeeling like their voices were not being heard and blaming the establishment of the protected areas for the lack of economic development in the region (Tchamie, 1994). Soumia (1990) described the parks as “food larders surrounded by hunger”. The local populations had inadequate amounts of land to cultivate. Furthermore, wildlife conflict intensified as elephant or monkeys or warthogs destroyed their crops.
For my study, I will conduct a household survey in villages adjacent to the national park of Fazao-Malfakassa to analyze (1) how the locals work with the national parks managers to avoid conflict, (2) how the villagers have been affected socially, economically and culturally by the national parks. At the end of the research, I will be able to understand the attitudes the rural population have towards conservation, especially towards protected areas in the central region in Togo. I will also be able to improve the understanding of some of the knowledge that the rural population has in regard to conservation and natural resources management. I will develop recommendation on how to improve the relationship between the locals and the national parks authorities through collective management of natural resources that will benefit people and wildlife.