Sarah Tolbert ’16 M.E.M., M.A. worked on two separate projects. The first was with the UN Development Programme’s Global Environment Facilities (GEF) Small Grants Programme (SGP) in Ghana. The second entailed doing research for the Forest Dialogue Fellowship in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), around Kahuzi-Biega national park and the Bhuryini Community Forest.
“Within the development field, there has recently been a huge push to ‘scale up’ to reach a larger population, to impact government projects and policy. While this sounds great on paper, this new benchmark of success has not been questioned and might not be best for local communities. For the GEF SGP, in fact, this is the opposite of what their original goals were; they are one of the few international NGOs that actually targets small, grass roots projects, to reach the people whom most large development organizations bypass because their budgets are too small and the number of people they impact is not in the thousands. Yet, because they rely on donors, scaling up has become a central objective of their current work. Still, they have not accepted it without question. For my project, I evaluated three sustainable land management SGP projects to 1) understand if they are being replicated either within the community itself or to other communities and 2) if other donors, or government programs are further adopting these projects and replicating them on a much broader scale 3) is larger replication benefiting people and the environment. What I found was that bigger is not always better.
“Then for my TFD research, I moved to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The DRC is a fascinating place with a wealth of minerals under the ground as well as an astonishing amount of biodiversity. Throw in a recently ended civil war with the prospect of billions of dollars in oil profits and you have a whole host of different opinions on how this landscape should be managed as the region becomes more stable. For my research I interviewed indigenous groups, local NGOs, park officials, and civil society members to better understand why the law was pushed for, what each stakeholder hopes to gain from the law, and if it has the potential to promote good governance and conservation beyond a protected areas framework. I spent most of my days channeling my inner mountain goat as I scaled up and down steep mountains to interview people about their thoughts on forest, rules regulating them, and whether they think a national park would be in their best interest.
“It has been great hearing about how forests are traditionally managed here in the DRC. While this country is well known for its protected areas, there is a lot of variation in the ways that forest are being conserved, including sacred forests. Local customs and tradition should be the starting point, the foundation for any new forest policy and for conservation. Start with what people know and the rest will hopefully follow.
“The Forest Dialogue had a great fellowship opportunity in the DRC so I applied and was able to connect with people in their network. The Coca-Cola Fund, Lindsay Fellowship, the Jackson Institute, and Carpenter-Sperry all are helping support my work this summer too.”