Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Biosphere Reserves: The 2017 Man and Biosphere Youth Forum

I took a random trip to Dare Salaam one fine Friday in September 2015, I had decided to relax for a few days and enjoy the beauty our neighbour Tanzania had to offer as I thought of what next after a three month internship. It is during this trip that I accompanied a friend of mine, Carole, to the UNESCO Regional Youth Forum that was happening at the British Council. After an exciting weekend in Zanzibar and being left by the ferry, getting to Dar and attending the UNESCO Regional Youth forum seemed like the most reasonable thing to do. After all, other than memories, I wanted to go back home with something to work on, and I figured this would trigger my mind. So off we went… and that is how I got involved with UNESCO’s programs!
Okay now, fast forward to September 2017! What you do with information matters a lot! Seriously, I mean if someone tells you something, think of what it can do for you or how to work with that little piece of info till it works for you- at least that is what I did. Yet again, another internship had just ended in June and unfortunately I was lying in bed unwell, when I got a phone call from a friend, asking me if I had heard of the 2017 Man and Biosphere (MAB) Youth Forum which was taking place in Italy. Honestly I had not heard about it, all I knew was the AfriMAB which was happening in Nigeria a few weeks later and a colleague had mentioned he would be attending. My friend on the other side was quite confident in me, telling me that I should think about it because “it is something that I would definitely be interested in’ and of course, yes I was. He later on sent me the link, I had a look and decided to think deeply about it later. Next day, my condition had worsened and now I was admitted in hospital. I had all the time to browse on the internet on new and upcoming opportunities, and that is when my “deep” thought process about the MAB Youth Forum begun. On this hospital bed, I drafted my letter of interest on my phone and sent it to the UNESCO Kenya National Commission (KNATCOM). I then proceeded to whisper a prayer and wished the best for the application. In a few days, I received positive feedback from the KNATCOM- I was still on my hospital bed; they also sent me an official link to the application for the Forum which I filled in and submitted, and waited for the response- which by now you definitely know was positive!
The 2017 MAB Youth Forum was held at the Po Delta Biosphere Reserve in Italy from 18 – 23 September 2017. I consider myself very privileged to have attended this highly participatory and engaging Forum which had almost 300 participants from 95 different countries. I also was the only Kenyan participant representing the Malindi-Watamu Biosphere Reserve. 
So how did I end up choosing Malindi-Watamu BR? Well, I come from the Kenyan coast and I once had a volunteering opportunity within Watamu, focusing on ecological monitoring and educational programs. During this period is when I first heard about the term ‘biosphere reserves’. According to the UNESCO Biosphere Reserves are “‘Science for Sustainability support sites’ – special places for testing interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and managing changes and interactions between social and ecological systems, including conflict prevention and management of biodiversity”. They are nominated by national governments and remain under the sovereign jurisdiction of the states where they are located and their status is internationally recognized. In Kenya, the Biosphere Reserves are Mt. Kenya, Mt. Kulal, Mt. Elgon, Amboseli, Kiunga and Malindi-Watamu which are all managed by the Kenya Wildlife Service. You can read more about the Kenya Biosphere Reserves here. According to the September 2017 La Gazeta periodical, the MAB Youth Forum was a world-class event that prefigures the exploration and knowledge of territories in a perspective of sustainable development while giving young people a chance to be the center of this process.
I arrived in Rosalina Mare on 17th September and checked in at the beautiful Rosapineta Tourist Village- which is a perfect holiday destination by the way- this place looks like a postcard!! The next day, in the morning we had parallel sessions focusing on Communication strategies. We then embarked on creating a MAB Global Communication Strategy. At the same time the other parallel sessions running were on drawing territories, which we practically did, and also appreciated our smartphones and how we can use them as a strong communication tool. Just before midday we also has a presentation on Swedish MAB Programme, which was a case study focusing on BRs as arenas for implementing the 2030 Agenda. Later on, some of the participants, me included, had a guided visit to the National Archaeological Museum of Adria. This was a good way for me to re-energize after the morning sessions. The Museum exhibits are from Adria and Basso Polestine with a highlight on Bocchi collection and Attica’s ceramics. This was particularly exciting, and the G. Cipriani State Professional Institute of Enogastronomy & Hotel Hospitality made it extra special with professional young people who guided us through the Museum and also prepared for us specialties tastings. After this we headed to a colorful Opening Ceremony of the MAB Youth Forum at the Municipal Theatre of Adria which commenced with a musical opening by the Orchestra of the State Musical Conservatory of Adria, and later on welcoming addresses before we headed out for a concert! On Tuesday, 19th September, we had 6 parallel workshops in different locations (my group met at the Centro Culturale Mercato, Argenta) where we addressed the question “how can young people be more effectively involved in MAB programme and in the Biosphere Reserves’ life?” We had a clear introduction on the methodology and the goals and expectation for the day but the beauty of this session was that it was managed and guided by the participants! I should mention that after drafting these, we had a session to vote on those we felt strongly about. In the evening we had dinner at the Rice Fair of Porto Tolle, Ocaro Restaurant… which concluded with a vibrant performance from a local artist! Wednesday 20th was the day for EXCURSIONS!! Who doesn’t love excursions!! Again we were divided into 6 groups, in mine we explored the youngest land of Italy, though different means of transport. My favorite was canoeing, as this was a new experience and I braved it! Cycling was also another highlight, as I got to see most recent landforms and fully understand the evolution of the Po Delta as well as spot a variety of bird species!! In the evening we had dinner at the “Radicchio Fair” in Bosco Mesola followed by a concert at the Mesola Castle, Mesola.

On 21st September, Thursday, I was back at the Castello della Mesola with a group where we continued with drafting the goals and expectations we had started on Tuesday and afterwards we voted again on those we were passionate about. In the evening we had a “street party” at the Rosapineta Village with lots of food, I enjoyed oysters!! This was followed by a color party and dancing at the Arena! On Friday we then had workshops on digital destination marketing, storytelling with the social media teams and cyclotourism as a development opportunity for parks and territories. The “cyclotourism” session was particularly interesting for me since it is a new concept (to me) and I think it is an area I can further explore. In the evening at the closing ceremony, we had the Final Declaration of the forum presented by selected participants, which was the major outcome of the MAB Youth Forum. The Declaration was mainly on involving the youth in MAB governance by sharing traditional and scientific information related to sustainable development and BRs through an open database, strengthening partnerships and collaboration in institutions to train youth, facilitate access to funding to support sustainable enterprises and to create hubs and incubators to support sustainable business ideas. We as the MAB Youth Forum Delegates committed to creating host projects for young people in BRs to enhance youth exchange and cooperation on the objectives and actions for the Biosphere Reserve, World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR) and the MAB Programme.

After such a busy and fun week of the highly interactive and participatory Forum, it was time to go back to our respective homes and become actors in the MAB Programme to ensure the sustainable development of OUR communities in line with the Lima Action Plan!

PS: Expression of gratitude to the Kenya National Commission of the UNESCO (KNATCOM), UNESCO Regional Bureau in Venice and the Conservation Leadership Program (CLP) who supported me as a delegate.

Monday, 12 June 2017

What’s up 2017!!

Okay I know we are halfway past 2017... It has been a while since I wrote… well wrote here! Honestly I am ashamed that it has been more than a year, but life is like that and things happen, so hey, please forgive me, because I have forgiven myself already.
A lot has been happening since I last wrote, first and foremost, I was doing my thesis and it took a toll on me. All the writing, editing and corrections took a lot of my time and I just postponed writing on this blog about current issues in the environmental sphere. Then just slightly after my last post, I was attending the 2nd United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) here in Nairobi and I got so busy writing applications for jobs and short courses that I got wind of at the UNEA. With that said, let me mention, one application went through and a few months later I was at the University of Dresden (TUD) in Germany, attending a short course in integrated water management and health. I wrote a few posts about my experience on their website CIPSEM you should actually check them out, they have interesting courses focusing on the environment. So me being me, the travel junkie, I travelled to Czech Republic and Switzerland and of course posted pictures of how awesome my ‘euro-trip’ was! Immediately when I got back home, I collaborated with my 350 Kenya counterparts, you know climate change action never gets old for some of us! I went down to the coast to document stories on the impacts of climate change in Kilifi county, these stories would be later show-cased at COP 23 in Marrakech.  So yes, COP 23 went down in Morocco! Did I forget to mention that Trump won the Presidential US election? Oh well, yes he did, and this came with tons of worries by most environmentalists from all corners of the globe. Trump is clearly a climate denier, and having him in power put at risk all the efforts put in by nations to combat climate change, a treaty in which the US previously supported through signing the Paris treaty which was passed during COP 21. Stories about this coming up later by the way…
So anyway, it is in November 2016 that I was awarded through the Conservation Leadership Program (CLP) an internship position within BirdLife International. So far it has been a great experience, with key learning on conservation and how to support conservation priorities. I’ve also learnt a great deal about birds, and can name quite a number. In short, I am enjoying my internship even though it is now almost at its ends. Through this internship I also got a chance to visit the UK, during which I visited the BirdLife Global secretariat in Cambridge and also, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) which is the BirdLife UK partner. I also got to write about my trip here please feel to read this, I promise it is exciting!
What is new in 2017? Other than elections here in Kenya, the ban on plastic bags is soon to be implemented in August. I am actually not sure how this will go down, because the supply is huge and so is the demand! I also feel that many Kenyans are not really keen on this plastic bag ban. I wish it the very best! Next, the #MadarakaExpress! So the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) is now in use, and the maiden trip happened just before Madaraka day, Kenyans were very excited about this. However, some of us still feel it should have been re-routed, because we love the Nairobi National Park for all that it’s got, but mr. president called it ‘upuzi’ so what can we do about it! Okay, let us see how that goes… Have you heard of “The Big Conservation Lie”? This is a book by John Mbaria and Mordecai Ogada, on the management and conservation practice in Kenya for several decades. I am currently reading this book and I would highly recommend it to anyone in the conservation field. That is just as much as I would say about it – get a copy! Globally, the biggest concern this year I think is Trump’s recent move to have the US withdraw from the Paris agreement. The panic that this came with, weuh!! We are just here with crossed-fingers that we will remain strong in fighting climate change regardless of any challenges that come our way. I promise to write soon, and more on the environment, as usual…

So I will get a bit personal here, this very year I lost a brother and that was a big blow, even in my work, after all we are only human and we will get beat by life at times. Ngure Cairo, I will dearly miss you, your support in reading this blog, following my Facebook page and twitter handle. I will miss your critique, you really helped me think much about how to respond to readers. Cheers to the support you gave me in my environmental work and in life generally! You are always and forever fondly loved, and I dedicate this post to you.