CEPF completed its investment in the Eastern Afromontane Biodiversity Hotspot in 2020 after seven years of work. Over that time, CEPF supported 164 projects that were implemented by 115 organizations. Three years later, we checked in with some of the projects to find out what has happened since CEPF wrapped up its investment.
As CEPF Executive Director Olivier Langrand noted, “Rarely is the work complete when the funding ends. Often, it’s just getting started.”
The Mafinga Hills form Zambia’s northeastern border with Malawi. Remote and relatively unknown, the site is a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA), home to blue swallows (Hirundo atrocaerulea) and endemic species of dwarf chameleons and toads. The Mafinga Hills are also the source of fresh water for more than 8,000 people.
No one was doing conservation work in this area until the Wildlife and Environmental Conservation Society of Zambia (WECSZ) received a small grant to prepare a locally driven action plan, and then a large grant to implement the plan, including better management of the indigenous forest along riparian corridors. During implementation, WECSZ organized a donor roundtable in Lusaka that led to additional funding for the KBA.
“CEPF funding put the Mafinga Hills on the map in the eyes of many donors,” said WECSZ Project Manager Gift Mwandila.
Today, WECSZ is still active in the Mafinga Hills, with a site office that coordinates work with the communities. Actions taken as part of the CEPF-funded project continue to yield results: Trees that were planted in 2017 are still alive and growing; firebreaks that were established are still in place and well maintained; the apiary supported with CEPF funds is still functioning and beekeepers are selling honey; and the community continues to be engaged in the protection of their own environment. Last but not least, WECSZ continues to operate. The organization's capacity grew through participation in a project design “master class,” and it has a stable complement of staff. It is now the go-to organization for conservation of the Mafinga Hills KBA.
The Gishwati Forest near Rwanda’s eastern border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a “remnant forest"—a piece of green that once was connected to Volcanoes National Park. In 1990, it was down to just 600 hectares, isolated amidst tea plantations and gum trees, and yet was still home to a population of chimpanzees, stands of eastern Africa’s tallest indigenous tree species (Entandrophragma excelsum), giant tree ferns and blue lichen. In the early 2000s, a group formed to save Gishwati—the Forest of Hope Association (FHA). Over the succeeding years—and with CEPF funding that began in 2015—FHA and others, including the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, Pixels on Screen and Nature Rwanda, established scientific and visual baselines and built trust with the surrounding communities. Most significantly, the Government of Rwanda made FHA the temporary manager of the forest.
FHA kept Gishwati alive. As the CEPF grants concluded, the government merged Gishwati with a neighboring forest block to form the Gishwati Mukura National Park. Gishwati now encompasses 1,570 hectares. It has regular ranger patrols and community members are leading hikes and assisting with chimpanzee habituation.
“With our CEPF grant, FHA was able to draw a line in the sand at Gishwati, to say that it could shrink no more. And now today, it has grown,” said FHA Project Manager Thierry Inzirayineza.
The forests of the Chimanimani Mountains lie on Zimbabwe’s eastern border with Mozambique. During the period of CEPF investment, BirdLife Zimbabwe (BLZ) worked in separate forest plots to train communities in guiding bird-watchers, beekeeping, and forest restoration, and represented Zimbabwean civil society in cooperation with Mozambiquan counterparts for the improved management of the transboundary Chimanimani National Park.
The years since CEPF funding ended have not been easy. Tropical Cyclone Idai, and then Covid-19, took their toll, but BLZ has continued to raise funds and forged partnerships with UNESCO and other local groups to leverage resources.
“We came to know about [the] importance of key biodiversity areas because of you," said Mrs. Tsimiso Chimonya of the Chikukwa community, "We are generating income from beekeeping and gained knowledge on conservation of natural resources. This guarantees life for our children and grandchildren.”
Gishwati, Mafinga and Chimanimani are secure today and for the foreseeable future, as long as groups like FHA, WECSZ and BLZ continue to partner with communities and government agencies to manage these sites for biodiversity and people. These are just a few of many examples in the Eastern Afromontane where the work of CEPF grantees lives on.