CANARI was contracted by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago (http://www.ema.co.tt). to facilitate a participatory management planning process for the Aripo Savannas Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA), located in north-east Trinidad. The project started in December 2006 with final plans and documents being completed in February 2009. During that period, over 250 stakeholders, including representatives of more than 40 organisations, participated in the management planning process. These included persons from government agencies, community-based and non-governmental organisations, universities, private sector organisations, the surrounding local communities, and associations.

The Aripo Savannas, Trinidad’s largest remaining natural savanna, was selected by national stakeholders as a priority for designation as an ESA. It was formally declared an ESA in June 2007, primarily to protect the biodiversity while recognising the areas’s secondary value for recreation, scientific research, education and livelihoods.

Although the Aripo Savannas had been protected under other pieces of legislation for many years, the savannas, palm marsh and marsh forest of the Aripo Savannas had been subject to extensive disturbance due to quarrying, agricultural and residential squatting, fires, illegal extraction of plants and animals, and surrounding physical development. Designation as an ESA enhanced the legal protection of the Aripo Savannas and provided an opportunity to engage its stakeholders in planning how to manage this unique, valuable and highly sensitive area.

The participatory planning process included:

  • appointment by the EMA of the Aripo Savannas Stakeholder Management Committee (ASSMC) to act as the steering committee for the project;
  • regular meetings of the ASSMC, including opportunities for field trips to assist with the planning process;
  • a comprehensive review of published and unpublished literature on the Aripo Savannas;
  • a two-day stakeholder strategic visioning workshop, followed later by a two-day strategic planning workshop;
  • meetings with the squatting communities in and around the Aripo Savannas;
  • meetings with managers and technical staff of the Forestry Division, the agency with legal responsibility for management of Aripo Savannas;
  • training stakeholders in participatory GIS mapping and developing maps to guide the management of the Savannas, including proposed zones for restoration and recreation;
  • creation and facilitation of specialist stakeholder groups to assist with identification of:
    • potential tourism and recreation activities;
    • interpretive and educational opportunities;
    • resource management and research needs and priorities, and
    • surrounding land use issues;
  • several community meetings and a national stakeholder consultation on the final draft plans.

The following management plans and supporting documents were produced:

  1. Overall Management Plan
  2. Resource Management Plan
  3. Recreation Management Plan
  4. Interpretive Plan
  5. 10-year Implementation Plan
  6. Training Manual in Participatory Planning and Management of Protected Areas
  7. Popular Version Management Plan
  8. Training Manual on Participatory Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Mapping
  9. Case Study describing the participatory planning process and evaluating the results

Stakeholders evaluated the process very favourably, noting as particular successes:
o the mobilisation and active involvement of a wide range of stakeholders;
o the contribution of the participatory approach to increasing stakeholder understanding of the key issues and of differing stakeholder perspectives, which in turn facilitated negotiation among stakeholders to address conflicts and, where possible, build consensus; and
o the enhanced interest and capacity of stakeholders to effectively engage in and support planning and future management of the Aripo Savannas.

For more information or to obtain copies of the reports and other documents, please contact the EMA at [email protected].