Lesson Learned

Robert Müller, Project Coordinator, Asociación Boliviana para la Conservación (TRÓPICO)

Funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, TRÓPICO has been working with local gold miners and municipal governments on a project for ecological restoration, agroforestry, and environmental education in areas degraded by small-scale gold mining in the Bolivian Yungas Mountain Rainforest in the Tropical Andes Hotspot.

What was the most important lesson learned?

The level of organization of project partners is a determining factor for long-term success and should therefore be one of the key criteria for choosing them; locally grown, traditional institutions are especially important.

Describe how you learned this and whether / how you have adapted your approach or specific project elements as a result.

During our reforestation-agroforestry-education project, we worked with several communities. It was no problem to convince people about the importance of the project’s objectives; most of them supported us enthusiastically. But when the real work started, enthusiasm was not enough.

Long-term success was only achieved in communities where the project activities could be embedded in strong, traditional, local organization structures that involved most of the community members.

Where such conditions were lacking, success was only momentary or depended on particular community leaders. When they left, the situation deteriorated.

The same finding was true for institutions at the municipal level. The organization of local government sometimes turned out to be unsustainable: constant personnel changes and a lack of support from the local community meant that the project didn’t live up to its early promise.

On the other hand, working with the well-organized municipal representatives of local teachers was very different. An environmental education committee is now independently running environmental education activities started in partnership with us.

Consequently, we made the level of organization a key selection factor for choosing project partners: working with them not only ensures sustainability for the project in the long term, it can also motivate less well-organized groups to improve by themselves.

It is important to actively improve organizational structures of project partners, but at the same time, possibilities should not be overestimated.

- January 2006