Conserving natural havens is the life’s work of Alfredo Simão da Silva, Director of the Institute for Biodiversity and Protected Areas (IBAP). Established in 2005 with funding from the World Bank, the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), and the European Commission, IBAP coordinates the management of protected areas, maps outs species and ecosystems for monitoring, develops action plans for endangered species, and works to create new protected areas.
Simão da Silva’s fierce dedication to IBAP’s cause has led to the creation of five national parks and one community reserve: João Vieira-Poilão, Orango, Cacheu, Cufada, Catanhez, and Urok, respectively. Two additional terrestrial national parks (the Dulombi and Boé parks) and three environmental corridors (the Tche-Tche, Salifo, and Cantabane Corridors), which connect natural areas and permit wildlife movement while buffering human communities, are on the brink of being added this year.
Protected areas in Guinea-Bissau are set up on a zoning system, where central zones are completely untouched and oftentimes overlap with sacred areas determined by inhabitants’ traditional beliefs. Then there are zones where limited activities can be practiced, as long as they are sustainable and are compatible with conservation interests. Lastly, there are zones where villagers reside, fish, and farm. “By allowing the protected zones to be inhabited, we give value to them, which encourages local populations to also work towards protecting them,” emphasizes Simão da Silva.
In many respects, this natural capital is the bedrock of Guinea-Bissau’s development and its continued management will be a defining factor in the country’s rise to a more prosperous future. As Guinea-Bissau works to build its nation, it will rely on its natural resources particularly in the areas of agriculture, mining, fisheries, and tourism, to overcome its development challenges. However striking the right balance between exploitation and conservation will be extremely critical.
The World Bank has been assisting Guinea-Bissau with its conservation efforts since the early 2000s, supporting a series of coastal management and biodiversity projects to help establish IBAP and the protected areas system. These efforts have contributed to conserving the country’s rich biodiversity while simultaneously improving the quality of life of local communities.
Conservation, which can be costly and from which income is generated indirectly, often gets swept under the rug when the pressure to develop increases. However, with the creation of the BioGuinea Foundation, Guinea-Bissau will be able to fund surveillance and conservation efforts in the long term, ensuring the sustainable management of ecosystems and protected areas.
The Foundation is working towards securing seed capital to launch its activities, and has an initial goal of $10 million. With current conservation efforts entirely dependent on funding from external donors, this foundation will serve to protect against vulnerability to changes in funding priorities and give Guinea-Bissau the means to continue and increase conservation and sustainable development.