Some 250 representatives from North-West African countries and their partners from around the world met in Conakry, Guinea, from 23 to 27 October 2017 for the ninth Forum of the Regional Partnership for the Conservation of the coastal and marine zones in West Africa (PRCM by its French acronym). The motto of this year's Forum was "Let's invest into coastal resilience for a prosperous future of the West African region".

Attracting a diversified crowd of national and international environmental NGOs and civil society organisations, government representatives, parliamentarians, scientists, educators, practitioners, donors and media people, the Forum offered ample opportunities for exchange and collective learning.

The most common formats were plenaries, workshops, thematic sessions, side and social events and exhibitions. Mundus maris was among the invited with Vice President Dr. Aliou Sall speaking in one of the thematic sessions.

Aliou Sall during his presentationAliou Sall spoke about the experience with developing teaching aids about the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries (EAF) for West Africa. This was part of pilot activities carried out by Mundus maris for FAO's Fridtjof Nansen Project and which involved intensive work with primary and secondary schools in coastal and fishing towns in Senegal and Gambia.

The five to six schools respectively were willing to invest in the pilot and benefit all the while relying on their own teaching methods and curriculum development backed also to the extent possible by the school inspections of the day. From the first needs assessment in 2011 to the conclusion of the pilot phase with FAO the intensive interaction took more than a year. Details can be seen on the project webpage here.

The FAO turned the product that builds naturally also on regional experiences (see e.g. the Knowledge Handbook about ecosystems in the region) of the pilot into nicely illustrated printed guide for teachers and a workbook for pupils. Many other resources, including a fish ruler for The Gambia, are available on the Mundus maris webpage for the project.

Pierre Campredon of IUCN and JL Sanka chaired the workshopThe initiative did not stop there. In April 2013 Mundus maris convened a review workshop to get all those involved together again to keep learning lessons and getting inspiration for their own educational work. It was indeed a memorable and very productive workshop for the participants: school inspectors, directors, teachers, students.

Thanks for FAO making available some of the beautifully printed materials available, schools participating earlier and others joining later have benefited from the earlier effort. Moreover, the teaching aids have also started attracting the attention of fisher organisations in their drive to update their understanding of changes in the marine ecosystem and exploring approaches to their more sustainable use. 

As Aliou explained, clearly, broader regional cooperation to support the sharing and use of these and other teaching materials could go a long way towards enhancing the resilience of coastal populations, their ecosystems and enabling their future prosperity. The slides can be seen here (in FR).

A. Sall shows the teaching aids to Mr. Kaba of the Union of Guinean fishersUnder the able chairmanship of Pierre Campredon of IUCN, a key-author of the Knowledge Handbook (see above) with many years of tireless work in this area, and Jean Louis Sanka, Coordinator of the Regional Environment Education Platform, formerly an IUCN project (PREE), this was a tailor-made joint learning space on primary and secondary education. The two animated also a side event with this exclusive focus.

IUCN had brought a number of school inspectors, national focal points for environmental education and directors with responsibility for curriculum development from throughout the region specifically to the Forum.

There were such specialists from The Gambia, Guinea (4), Guinea Bissau (2), Mauritania (2), Senegal (1) and Sierra Leone (2) engaged in cross-fertilisation in education by enabling sharing and exchange of experience with PREE and like with the FAO-Nansen Project-Mundus maris pilot and its follow-up driven by Mundus maris.

The thematic workshop thus laid the foundation for closer links between the focal points for curriculum development associated with environmental education supported by IUCN in the region and the follow-up to the FAO-Nansen project.

A. Sall shows the teaching aids to the representative of the national fisher organisation in The Gambia In particular, Mundus maris hopes that any collaboration will help to consolidate the efforts made so far in Gambia and Senegal through greater institutional recognition that helps the schools to persevere. That would also be an encouragement for others to use the resources and emulate whatever good experience has been made.

The Forum also allowed productive exchange around educational opportunities with participants from other walks of life, such as Mr. Kaba, representative of the Union of fishers in Guinea, the representative of the national fisher organisation in The Gambia and Col. Diop, the Director of the Marine Protected Areas in Senegal.

The PCRM Forum is convened every 18 months and enjoys a growing number of partners and participants making active use of these excellent opportunities for exchange and strengthening cooperation links. Let's hope the spirited atmosphere of Conakry inspires a fresh boost of collaborative activities.