Mariteuw Chimère Diaw recently joined our Board of Directors. In this short interview conducted in July 2015, he discusses the career path that led him to found the African Model Forest Network, and what eventually connected him to EcoAgriculture Partners.
What’s your background and how are you involved with the African Model Forest Network?
Chimère Diaw: I’m an economic anthropologist. I would say I have had three lives, professionally. For a long time I worked in fisheries research and that’s where a good deal of my work is. I started very early but as a volunteer working with farming communities in West Africa and Senegal, I’ve gone with the fisheries, gone to many different places in West Africa looking at migration of fisherman, their systems, and their adaptation to climate change. I’ve also spent time studying West African history, particularly how the people came together, how the state was configured, and how they worked. And what was the role of ethnogenesis, the coming together of different people to develop systems of polities and also of management for natural resources. So that was very rich and I thought I would do it all my life.
But actually at some point I moved on and started working with agriculture and also fisheries, and later with forests and also land tenure, how this all got together. One of the contributions I made in the fisheries was in the share system, which is a mathematical model to explain how people share not only its benefits and risks, but also profits, actually. Then when I came into the forests, I saw a systemic issue related to land tenure and I developed a theory of embedded tenure. How tenure is embedded into matrimonial relations and how private rights in the type of systems you find in Africa, Indonesia, and Thailand, how in those systems private rights are embedded into common property and into collective rights and family matrimonial relations. So basically that was a transition from fisheries to forests and agriculture. Through that process of course we worked on forest policies. I went to CIFOR where we worked a lot on interactive and social science methods for assessing sustainability. Through that process I came to understand we needed more than just working on methods.
There was a need to have scientific engagement, and to understand how you can be scientific while engaging in social change and transformations. At the time we worked on a program called Adaptive Collaborative Management, which was looking at the conditions for self-sustaining systems of forest management. How could a system dealing with complexity, with relationships with different things and sustain itself in the long run, and be governed in a way that will bring prosperity and sustainability? Through that process when I started working at the project within CIFOR, with the International Model Forest Network, it was part of my engagement with Adaptive Collaborative Management.
After a couple of years, I also saw the concept that was proposed by the International Model Forest Network was actually a hardware. That we had extremely sophisticated methods for facilitation, participatory action research, action, and learning. We had scenarios – it was very complex as well as interesting and we worked a lot on community forestry. I realized something that was specific to what these people were proposing was a vehicle that could be owned by people long-term, across generations. In Ontario the indigenous people call it a forest for 7 generations, but mainly it’s a method for convening stakeholders and allowing them develop a common vision, develop a governance structure, and do a number of things. Within my forestry life, that’s where it had a shift.
So that was when you started the African Model Forest Network? What was it like starting out, and what did you learn?
Chimère: So that became a passion after a while with my team, the people working with me. And at some point we moved out of CIFOR because CIFOR is an organization that is more dedicated to international research. It became a question of choosing and we chose to do it. It was an adventure. We spent two years without funding, in Africa for a long period without funding. We worked for 2 years without funding, basically. And everybody stayed in place, the people on the ground. And through that we entered another phase in landscape convening.
You realize that when you bring people together, especially in Africa, it’s not enough, it’s just not enough. It’s a necessary condition, but it’s not enough. Then we learned other things. That governance really does not make sense unless you connect it to the economy. That when you have a project, it can be great, but it stops when it stops. The resources tend to stop, and then it stops, the people tend to stop. They seem to take away something (from the project) but that something is unbound to the change trajectory in their communities.
We started looking at other aspects and one of things that came out of this after a few years was the Africa Living Land, which is a social business umbrella for the African Model Forest Network Green Productions. So we connected governance with a project of transformation which after a number of years, would allow people to own their own businesses, their own enterprises. This would create density, more connections in local places, and also use the power of the local and regional networks, with many countries involved, to connect the experiences and facilitate the necessary shift in mutual learning and feedback that allow people to learn from others. Now we’re linking the governance in the Model Forests with the development of the social infrastructure in the economy of Model Forests. Of course it’s extremely difficult to do something like that in Africa, because you depend a lot on the external funds and you want to move to something that will make you more self-reliant.
At the same time, if you start a business or enterprise you’re confronted with the problem of businesses, that you need resources and you need finance. All of that is easier to deal with with a network such as this one because of the mutual support. For instance we finished the main program of the last five years about a year and a half ago. We functioned with very little funding and we know that things are still in place. We have people from the field that invest in the network, their own money. Women in particular, they are extremely strong in what we do.
How did you come to know EcoAgriculture Partners? What attracted you to be involved with us?
Chimère: We’ve heard EcoAgriculture Partners before I even met Sara. We met in relation to a discussion related to the SDGs. Through this interaction, we came to appreciate many things in EcoAgriculture Partners and of course there is the Landscapes for People Food in Nature, the initiative bringing people together, where EcoAgriculture Partners is playing the lead role. We realized in the content of what’s being done, this trend of bringing all the landscape approaches together and building a critical mass; putting it on the map is fundamental. We have a network where we have something like 70 sites around the world — and they’re big places. In Africa we some places that are 1.5 million hectares, 2 million hectares – just enormous.
But, our network internationally, and at the African level, has not bridged the gap with the all the other forces that are doing landscape work. I think that EcoAgriculture Partners is playing a lead role in that movement and that we need it. And LPFN is also a wonderful platform will do that. So we discussed it within the Network and we said “yes, great, this is coming at the right time.” IMFN has been doing work of this type for something like 23 years now but this is bringing it to a new level.