Cheetah Conservation Fund joins the Population & Sustainability Network

January 25, 2018


The Cheetah Conservation Fund has become the latest conservation NGO to join the Population & Sustainability Network. The Cheetah Conservation Fund and Network coordinator, the Margaret Pyke Trust, have marked the occasion by publishing “The importance of human reproductive health and rights for cheetah conservation”. This is perhaps the first time a paper making the connections between human reproductive health and rights and the conservation of a specific species has been published.

We are delighted to announce not only has the Cheetah Conservation Fund become the latest member of the Population & Sustainability Network, but has also published a paper co-authored with the Margaret Pyke Trust on the importance of considering human reproductive health and rights in cheetah conservation programmes. Dr. Laurie Marker of the Cheetah Conservation Fund, said, “For the last twenty-five years the Cheetah Conservation Fund has worked tirelessly to conserve the global cheetah population. We have always partnered with rural communities to empower and improve their lives, not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because we believe conservation and community development go hand in hand. As the links between conservation, population growth, and barriers to communities accessing sexual and reproductive health services, including rights-based family planning services, have become increasingly apparent, we knew it was time we took these links into account in our organisational strategy.”

The Cheetah Conservation Fund has therefore joined a growing number of conservation organisations recognising the importance of the sexual and reproductive health and rights of the communities with which they work, and when developing conservation policy and programme design. David Johnson, Chief Executive of the Margaret Pyke Trust, said, “Programmes integrating family planning improvements with conservation actions have been demonstrated to have greater conservation, health and gender outcomes than traditional single sector ‘health’ or ‘conservation’ programmes, so everyone benefits. We’re excited that the Cheetah Conservation Fund has made the first step to implementing such a project with us, by collaborating on this policy paper.” 

Over the last 100 years the global cheetah population has decreased by around 90%, so that today there are only around 7,000 adult and adolescent cheetahs remaining in the wild. Currently classified as “Vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), cheetah face threats including habitat loss, declines in prey, poaching, the illegal pet trade and climate change. Many conservationists believe their status should be reclassified by the IUCN as “Endangered”.

There is very often an overlap of the areas of most conservation significance and where the barriers to family planning services are greatest, and as human needs and settlements grow, so do pressures on cheetah habitat. Improving knowledge of contraception and the provision of rights-based family planning services can only ever be one part of any conservation programme, but it is an important consideration nonetheless. It is exciting that another conservation organisation has recognised these connections, and has committed to collaborating with expert health partner organisations to address human and environmental health in an integrated and holistic way.

Read the paper: “The importance of human reproductive health and rights for cheetah conservation.”

The Margaret Pyke Trust, with the Population & Sustainability Network joins the Planetary Health Alliance

December 22, 2017


The Margaret Pyke Trust, with the Population & Sustainability Network is pleased to announce its membership of the Planetary Health Alliance.

The Planetary Health Alliance works to understand and address the human health impacts of accelerating anthropogenic environmental change. It is a consortium of over 70 universities, non-governmental organizations, government entities, research institutes, and other partners around the world committed to advancing planetary health research, education, and policy. The PHA is housed at Harvard University and funded by The Rockefeller Foundation.

We contribute to the planetary health community through providing expertise and sharing learnings around the roles of reproductive health, family planning, and community-led solutions in planetary health. 

Visit the website to learn more:

Reproductive health and rights, and their role in conservation programmes

December 20, 2017


In December 2017 the Margaret Pyke Trust’s event “A win-win for human and environmental health: How conservation programmes can be strengthened by meeting family planning needs” featured in the magazine Resurgence & Ecologist. David Johnson and Carina Hirsch of the Trust wrote about the event itself, and the work of Population & Sustainability Network members in the field. The article is duplicated below, or you can read it on the website of Resurgence & Ecologist.

Irene, a resident of Tampolove village, in a remote and arid part of Madagascar, was still at school when she had her son. With little to no access to health care, she would have had to walk 30 miles to the nearest clinic to access a modern method of contraception. Women like her were having on average seven children, and faced a 1 in 20 risk of dying in pregnancy or childbirth – many thousands of times higher than in the UK. The population of the region was doubling every 10 to 15 years, placing increasing pressure on fisheries, and couples were struggling to catch enough fish to feed their families.

So women sought help from an organisation working in the area: Blue Ventures, a marine conservation social enterprise that works in many remote communities that often rely almost entirely on fishing for their livelihoods. “Women were telling us how they desperately wanted better access to family planning services, and because we were already partnering with these communities on livelihoods and natural resource management initiatives they turned to us for help,” said Vik Mohan, medical director at Blue Ventures. “So we took what felt, at the time, like a bold and unconventional move [for a conservation organisation], and we opened our own family planning services in the community.”

Since then, Blue Ventures has trained local women like Irene to work as community health workers, and has partnered with Marie Stopes Madagascar, which offers long-acting methods of contraception and provides more complex care. A partnership between the conservation and health sectors, integrating sustainable livelihood and family planning actions, has provided opportunities to engage women in natural resource management, and men have become more supportive and involved in reproductive health.

Vik told Irene’s story at an event organised by the Margaret Pyke Trust as part of the Family Planning Summit held in London. The event, titled ‘A Win-win for Human and Environmental Health: How Conservation Programmes Can Be Strengthened By Meeting Family Planning Needs’, focused on a critical and yet often overlooked issue.

The global human population is increasing – in Africa, it is projected to quadruple from over 1 billion today to around 4 billion in 2100 – with the overwhelming majority of growth taking place in regions facing particularly complex development challenges, including poverty and inequality, envir­onmental degradation, ill health, and a range of other related social problems. The ability of any nation to respond to these problems is further exacerbated when there are a significantly greater number of people whose health, education and social needs must be met.

While rural areas are, almost invariably, of greatest conservation significance, they are also the areas that, generally speaking, have higher rates of population growth. This is in part due to the greater barriers to family planning information, rights and services. People living in remote rural areas are also more likely to rely most directly on their local environment and natural resources for their food, water, livelihoods, medicines and building materials. When population growth impacts on the health of the ecosystem, it therefore also affects the health of rural communities. Reproductive health and rights are critical, not only for the health and empowerment of girls and women, but also more broadly.

Despite this demographic reality, many conservationists have been reluctant to consider population and family planning when developing conservation policy and programme design, but there are positive signs this could be changing.

There is an approach used in the development sector known as Population, Health and Environment (PHE), which recognises this connection. The model addresses the complex connections between families, their health and their environment by combining sustainable livelihood generation with family planning work. PHE is particularly appropriate for people living outside the reach of health-care systems, in sensitive rural areas.

Speaking at the event on the sidelines of the Family Planning Summit, Kristen Patterson of the Population Reference Bureau said: “The PHE approach is one proven method of holistic development [bringing together] conservation and reproductive health actions simultaneously.” She shared her own personal experiences of living in Niger, where she saw first-hand the connections between population, health and environment, and how that changed her perspective on the world.

A review of 10 years of PHE implementation carried out by the United States Agency for International Development sheds light on key benefits of PHE programming, including that communities are often quicker to feel invested and get involved, and that short-term results tend to lead to longer-term sustainable impact. By responding to people’s most pressing needs, PHE projects foster greater local trust and help build local ownership.

One example can be found in Groot Marico, in the North West Province of South Africa. The project, named by the locals A Re Itireleng, which means ‘Let’s do it ourselves’ in the Setswana language, is run by Margaret Pyke Trust, Pathfinder International and the Endangered Wildlife Trust. It was designed to meet the need for sustainable livelihoods in the context of climate change and insufficient access to family planning.

In the heart of the project area are the headwaters of the Marico River, a watercourse of regional importance. A healthy Marico River is critical for the survival of endemic and vulnerable species, and to sustain the livelihoods of the largely agricultural community. Downstream many other communities rely on the Marico River, as do the ecosystems through which its waters flow, such as Kruger National Park.

The area and its inhabitants are increasingly threatened by droughts and the demands being made on water supplies by a growing human population. The Endangered Wildlife Trust had been working in the area for some time, providing training on sustainable livelihoods to enable conservation-focused agriculture practices including water harvesting and permaculture principles, when local people identified the need for greater access to family planning services, and the programme evolved into a PHE project. By themselves, neither environmental livelihood actions nor family planning actions could adequately respond to the interrelated challenges. The community and ecosystem need PHE.

There are hundreds of millions of people like Irene living in sensitive and remote rural areas where human health and wellbeing are closely associated with ecosystem health, where access to healthcare is limited, and where communities rely on the local environment for their food and water security. Many of these areas, such as the coastal communities where Blue Ventures works, and the Groot Marico community, are also particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Population growth, which is in part due to barriers to family planning information and services, exacerbates all these challenges.

But change is possible. Today, Irene makes a comfortable living growing seaweed and sea cucumbers through an initiative supported by Blue Ventures, and is a passionate advocate of family planning in her village.

Programmes like these have changed people’s lives for the better. So why aren’t more environmental organisations and funders responding to these development concerns with integrated approaches? The reality is that most development aid is funded in silos, and most conservation and health organisations lack the cross-sectoral expertise necessary to work simultaneously in these sectors.

For too long, conservation and human development agendas have been distinct from and even in competition with one another, failing to address the critical relationships between people, their health and wellbeing and the environment. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, set by the United Nations in 2015, and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals were hailed as integrated and transformative. PHE programmes are one way to make sure that integration happens and we achieve those goals. It is an approach that we hope and believe will become substantially more common in the coming years. That can only be good news for both human and environmental health.

Official Project Launch: Nndwakhulu - the big fight is on!

December 12, 2017


On 11 December 2017, in Tshilwavhusiku, Limpopo Province, South Africa, a celebration was held, marking the official launch of Nndwakhulu. “Nndwakhulu” is the TshiVenda phrase for “the big fight is on!” The people of Tshilwavhusiku’s fight is to combat sexual, reproductive and gender human rights violations.

With 449,624 Euros of European investment, Network member the Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme (TVEP), and Network coordinator the Margaret Pyke Trust, are working with the communities of Tshilwavhusiku and Midoroni to know, understand, advocate for and exercise their sexual and reproductive health rights. TVEP, whose long-standing status as a champion promoting communities’ sexual and reproductive health and rights is well known, are also partnering with the local Tshilwavhusiku Victim Empowerment Programme (TsVEP), to transfer skills and ensure the impacts of Nndwakhulu are long lasting. Representatives of the European Union, and local government officials, joined the people of Tshilwavhusiku to help celebrate the launch.

Sarina Mudzwari of TVEP said, “I clearly remember the community discussions when the communities were talking about what they wanted to name their project. There was a passion and understanding that they needed and wanted to stand up, and fight against, human rights abuses, that they have rights to healthcare and must exercise them, that it was time to change, and so Nndwakhulu began.”

Mr Raul de Luzenberger, the EU representative, is extremely supportive of the project, “We are very proud to be supporting such a significant effort to address gender based violence and ultimately, empower rural community members, especially women and girls”.

The launch was an exciting moment for all involved, featuring a drama performance, song and dance, speeches from dignitaries and with an inspiring and uplifting poem being read. Community members celebrated the results they are already seeing on the ground.

Although 11 December 2017 was the official launch, project actions commenced earlier in the year. Tshilidzi, a community member who has attended the training sessions, said “I am so grateful to be learning about my rights, no one had ever explained to me what they are, where I can access family planning, who I can turn to in case of abuse, now I know and I can stand up for myself!”

The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of The Margaret Pyke Trust, with the Population & Sustainability Network and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.

European Parliament links family planning and climate justice

December 6, 2017


Excerpt from nEUws: DSW's EU newsletter - edition 331, November 30, 2017

On November 21, the Committee on Development (DEVE) of the European Parliament adopted an opinion on ‘women, gender equality and climate justice’.  

Thanks to joint advocacy efforts on behalf of the Margaret Pyke Trust and DSW, in its opinion, DEVE ‘Calls for the identification and reinforcement of specific gender-sensitive strategies that support the gender and social dimensions outlined by the global climate authority, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), including voluntary, rights-based family planning as a potential adaptation strategy’.

DEVE further ‘Stresses the need to identify and promote programmatic approaches that have been proven to be gender-responsive, such as population, health and environment (PHE) programmes, among others, that provide an integrated solution to health, gender and environmental challenges, including a response to climate change, and contribute to the achievement of the respective sustainable development goals (SDGs)’.

The opinion will inform the Parliament’s position on this topic, a process led by the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM), and which will be voted on December 4.

Click here to read full DEVE opinion.