“Learning gives us confidence…” 

The words from João Vas, the Community Development Coordinator from Zinave National Park (ZNP), when he was asked about the value of the learning exchange with the Community Engagement Team (CET) from Banhine National Park (BNP), were: “Learning gives us confidence and the exchange gives us the tools…”. 

Learning exchanges are becoming increasingly relevant in the design of training and learning programmes. As an in-person mutual exchange of lessons learned between parties, the value of active, reciprocal, and participatory learning is immense in enforcing learning and good practice among practitioners. 

Mr. Vas in discussions

We are seeing evidence of this in the learning exchange programme between the Community Engagement Teams (CETs) of Banhine National Park and Zinave National Park. These learning exchanges are part of a capacity development and support project facilitated by the College through a service-level agreement with the Peace Parks Foundation. This programme is now entering its third year. The focus has remained on the two (2) parks, and the capacity development process has been multi-layered with formal and structured training, onsite coaching sessions, and the added benefit of the learning exchanges towards the end of 2023. 

Learning exchange group

The second learning exchange session held in May 2024 at BNP hosted the full CETs from BNP and ZNP together with the Peace Parks Foundation Community Development (CD) Team. The areas of discussion and lessons shared centred around: 

Community governance linked to natural resource management: The information shared between the two (2) parks revealed how consistent their approaches to the legal framework of Mozambique are. Their recognition of the unique contextual differences between the parks informed the collective understanding of the legalisation phase of the community governance processes. 

Teams in discussion with Peace Parks Foundation with CD Coordinator on human wildlife co-existence

Human-wildlife conflict and/or coexistence remains a critical issue between protected areas and local communities. The Peace Parks Foundation CD team led a lively discussion on what approaches and measures can be considered.

A strong focus of the exchange was on livelihoods and what the parks are and can be doing. Again, consistency surfaced, this time linked to the formal training event in September 2023 (hosted by SAWC and The Hunger Project at ZNP), where sustainable livelihood approaches were featured as part of the training. It is encouraging to hear teams understand the vulnerability contexts of the communities they work with, supported by addressing human capital development in projects to enable people to become resilient.

A highlight of the session was the Peace Parks Foundation’s introduction of the organisation’s Community Development Strategy. The approach of the strategy is founded on the Sustainable Livelihoods framework and aligns entirely with the approaches followed by the two parks. The envisaged programmatic approach of this strategy is compatible with existing processes currently being undertaken by the CETs. This newfound enthusiasm for collaboration has great potential for stronger cooperation between the parks in the conservation landscape.

As a practitioner who has been part of this process since its beginning more than two (2) years ago, I find it very rewarding to witness teams and individuals grow in knowledge and experience. One of the key success factors in this learning exchange process is the consistency that is growing in the larger landscape.

With BNP and ZNP as anchors in future ecological corridors, the role of communities will remain the main enabling process. The CETs from BNP and ZNP are providing the foundation for these corridors. Witnessing teams sharing experiences and not being afraid to learn from each other is what true capacity development is all about. Not only are these teams developing as professionals and practitioners, but they are also becoming people who believe in what they do, and it is visible in the results.

Well done to the BNP and ZNP CETs. You are shining lights in the region. To the new Peace Parks Foundation Community Development Team, thank you for supporting continued collaboration. We are looking forward to our next learning exchange in the third quarter of 2024!

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