The Albertine Rift touches six countries in East and Central Africa and is home to thousands of unique species, including more than half of continental Africa’s bird species and nearly 40 percent of its mammal species, making it one of the world’s most important biodiversity and bio ecological areas. Yet, poverty and population pressures—exacerbated by armed conflict in the 1990’s—is putting enormous pressure on its rich natural resources and has accelerated environmental degradation. This negatively impacts hundreds of unique species of fish, wildlife, and birds, as well as rich forest, river, and lake ecosystems.
Encroachment, illegal logging, pollution and soil erosion are just some of the threats that jeopardize the Albertine Rift’s ability to regulate the local environment and provide a livelihood to communities across the region. The Albertine Rift Conservation Society (ARCOS) works to mitigate these threats by championing collaborative conservation and sustainable development in the region.
Established in 1995, ARCOS was founded to address critical factors derailing conservation efforts in the Rift such as a lack of public awareness and effective policies on the conservation and sustainable management of natural resources, and limited capacity and collaborative action by local institutions to address these problems. In response, ARCOS promotes integrated management of biodiversity and ecosystem services; facilitates mechanisms for assessing and addressing climate change; and empowers grassroots organizations to participate in environmental governance and threat reduction.
ARCOS achieves its goals by partnering with other organizations to deliver its programs, support informed decisions, and empower and network with local NGOs. From 2001 to 2003, ARCOS led a planning process in the region involving a range of national and international players, which led to a broad consensus on the geographical boundaries and conservation priorities for the entire region—a major accomplishment considering the diversity of institutions, conservation management regimes, and political contexts across the six countries.
ARCOS recently expanded to include implementation of pilot programs for ecosystem services in Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, and support for community-based organizations located in remote areas of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. In order to build on its tremendous progress and create capacity among its partners, ARCOS will use its $350,000 MacArthur Award to build a new regional information and training center located in Kigali, Rwanda. This center will improve accessibility to services for the NGOs and community-based organizations supported by ARCOS, particularly in difficult to reach areas in Burundi and the DRC, while new information technology infrastructure will improve the delivery of support and services provided to local organizations.