Family planning, cheetah conservation, and cross-sector collaboration
How combining rights-based family planning with sustainable livelihood initiatives can help humans and wild cheetahs co-exist—and thrive
Interview with David Johnson, CEO of the Margaret Pyke Trust, with the Population & Sustainability Network
David Johnson is the chief executive officer of the Margaret Pyke Trust, which coordinates the Population & Sustainability Network. The Network is a global alliance promoting reproductive health and rights as a critical element of sustainable development. Through joint advocacy, project design, and implementation, Network members work together to address human and planetary health needs in communities with poor health care provision and high unmet need for family planning.
The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), the world’s leading organization dedicated to saving the wild cheetah, teamed up with the Margaret Pyke Trust earlier this year to co-publish a policy paper on applying the PHE approach in cheetah country: The importance of human reproductive health and rights for cheetah conservation. The Margaret Pyke Trust and CCF are now seeking funding for a pilot project in Namibia, home to the largest remaining wild cheetah population. A PHE program would combine family planning programming and outreach services with the livelihood training that CCF is already conducting.
How did the cheetah connection come about? Did you reach out to the Cheetah Conservation Fund or did they reach out to the Population & Sustainability Network?
Dr. Laurie Marker, the founder and director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund, was aware of our work and contacted us. They already had close relationships with their rural partner communities and although they knew that there were barriers to family planning, they knew it wasn’t their field of expertise. We spoke about PHE and it became clear that it would be an obvious way to benefit both human and ecosystem health.
Why is cheetah conservation a good candidate for PHE programs?
Perhaps a better question is why CCF is a good partner organization for a health NGO to implement PHE. The answer to that is that they have worked in partnership with marginalized rural communities (in particular in relation to generating sustainable livelihoods) for decades, and are extremely well regarded by the community. As this is rural Namibia, it means they are the hard-to-reach last-mile communities that the health sector is particularly concerned about. CCF is an expert in their field, and wants to work with expert health organizations to collaborate. So as a starting point, CCF is a conservation partner we would recommend, in the same way we would also recommend working with MSI or Pathfinder. As we have our feet in both health and conservation sectors, we know who would make good partners.
Then, considering the cheetah, in our policy paper we looked particularly at Namibia. That is the CCF base and the most important cheetah range state. Some 90% of Namibia’s cheetahs live outside protected areas, making them particularly susceptible to anthropogenic impacts such as human wildlife conflict and habitat loss. These and other impacts intensify as human populations grow and land use becomes more intensive. Also, cheetahs are good for PHE simply because they are cheetahs. They are beautiful and iconic (as well as being critically endangered, with only around 7,000 wild cheetahs left on earth). From an advocacy perspective we are keen to promote the PHE model, and it helps if one of the species benefitting from the approach is likely to draw media and policy attention.
Furthermore, many PHE projects are connected to marine and fresh-water ecosystems (with livelihoods connected to sustainable fishing and population pressures being on fish stocks). To help PHE go to scale, we want to highlight that it is appropriate for a diversity of ecosystems and habitats, not just coastal communities. Rural marginalized Namibian communities, far from the sea and relying on their arid lands to eke out a meagre living, are also appropriate communities for PHE. Launching a PHE project with CCF would therefore serve both programmatic, advocacy, and publicity purposes.
How would the pilot program be structured? With CCF handling the livelihood/conservation aspects, which partner or partners would implement the family planning component?
It is a fundamental to us that just as family planning nurses don’t do conservation, conservation NGOs don’t do contraception. The Margaret Pyke Trust has developed an institutional family planning training methodology known as USHAPE. We could ourselves be the reproductive health partner if we were to gain funding; if we were able to get funding for a larger health organization we would connect CCF with one of the organizations which are respected.
What advice would you give to other organizations considering a PHE approach?
The absolutely fundamental point for us is that if the health sector wants to convince another sector (whatever that sector is), it is not good enough to use health arguments for why they should work with us. Of course family planning is good for SDG 3 and SDG 5, but conservation NGOs don’t work under those SDGs. We need to learn about the SDGs they do work under, learn about their treaties, their frameworks, their strategies, their missions, their priorities, and then adapt our arguments for family planning to fit under them.
The absolutely fundamental point for us is that if the health sector wants to convince another sector (whatever that sector is), it is not good enough to use health arguments for why they should work with us. Of course family planning is good for SDG 3 and SDG 5, but conservation NGOs don’t work under those SDGs. We need to learn about the SDGs they do work under, learn about their treaties, their frameworks, their strategies, their missions, their priorities, and then adapt our arguments for family planning to fit under them. It wouldn’t work for conservationists to tell us, “you should do PHE, it leads to more people supporting sustainable fishing and helps fish stocks,” because our mission is not to conserve fish. If conservationists were to say, “you should do PHE, it leads to more men engaging in reproductive health, and we have strong community relations that could facilitate your program,” that might work. That second argument means they have learned that male engagement is important to us. We need to learn what is important to them.
The sector we have chosen to focus on is the conservation sector, and that means we must (and are) learning about what arguments convince them, not what arguments we are most used to. It is because of this that a British zoo is funding our family planning training program at Bwindi Community Hospital; that the UK government Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (not DFID) is funding us to design the PHE project in a different part of Uganda with the International Crane Foundation, Endangered Wildlife Trust, and Nature Uganda; and that we were able to set up our first PHE project with the Endangered Wildlife Trust in South Africa. Advocates undertaking cross-sector advocacy need to be more aware of the other sector to be successful.