Africa’s park tourism crash is a wake-up call

THAT African governments have failed to raise funds to conserve their vast protected areas is beyond doubt.

Countries barely managed to pay basic salaries to rangers who barely had enough to power their patrol vehicles.

COVID-19 has exacerbated this already dire situation, with the loss of income from foreign tourism.

The continent has more than 8,500 protected areas, described by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as government-run national parks, areas jointly governed by state agencies, communities, wildlife reserves private sector and public-private partnerships between governments. , businesses and non-governmental organizations.

Also included are what IUCN calls “territories and areas conserved by indigenous peoples and communities”.

East and southern Africa has about
5,000 protected areas, occupying 16.5% of the land area or more than two million square kilometers.

Protecting wildlife over such a vast expanse of land is a huge undertaking for African governments with competing priorities including infrastructure, health care, education and food security.

A 2018 study estimated the annual cost of managing one square kilometer of an unfenced area with lions at around $ 2,000 and $ 500 per square kilometer of fenced area. However, an IUCN report in 2020 found that most areas operate on less than $ 50.

In Kenya, where the government tries to prioritize wildlife conservation, only 47% of the Kenya Wildlife Service budget was provided by the state in 2015.

Unfortunately, most government parks on the mainland are “paper parks”, with not enough revenue to fund even basic policing services. In Tanzania, 75% of its 14 national parks revenue in 2013 came from just two, Kilimanjaro and Serengeti.

In South Africa, nearly 80% of national park visitors visited Table Mountain and Kruger from 2017 to 2018.

Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park accounts for 38% of all visits and generates over 90% of the revenue for the country’s wildlife department.

Of Kenya’s 58 parks and reserves, less than 10 report 85% of Kenya Wildlife Service’s revenue.

No wonder Africa is home to the largest set of non-governmental conservation organizations, many of which operate with funds raised overseas.

Yet conservationists in the region believe that if governments fully appreciated the role of protected areas, they would increase conservation funding and reduce overreliance on donor-led conservation models.

Fred Kumah, vice president of the Nairobi-based African Wildlife Foundation, said governments must view parks as more than just places to keep animals in order to achieve sustainable conservation.

Africa’s protected areas, he says, are important sources of drinking water and natural medicine, and act as natural air purifiers. Budget allocations, he said, should match the vital resources they provide.

But they don’t. An analysis of 2020 declarations submitted simultaneously in four East African countries shows that spending in conservation sectors such as tourism, wildlife and environment was 1.4% in Kenya; 1.7% in Uganda; 3.8% in Rwanda and 1% in Tanzania.

However, the contribution of sectors to the GDP of these countries varied from 5% to 11%. The $ 380 million available to protect wildlife in protected areas across the continent is a drop in the ocean of what’s needed; it is estimated that 1 to 2 billion US dollars is needed to provide protection for lions alone.

Environmentalists have linked insufficient funding to growing threats such as the poaching of bushmeat, ivory and rhino horn.

Are there models of conservation financing that favor Africa? Kumah thinks they exist, but says they should be rooted in the mainland. “Why should foreigners be more interested in the assets that matter most to us? Potential models include carbon offset programs, with laws requiring polluters to buy carbon credits.

Meanwhile, an initiative backed by the United Nations development program called Lion’s Share, where commercial companies using animals in their branding and advertising donate 0.5% of their marketing spend to conservation projects in the whole world, has already been set up.

Africans should not be forced to choose between conservation and development. The lack of resources for one will spell the death knell for the other.

Recently, Kenya’s Minister of Tourism Najib Balala suggested that the country adopt public-private partnerships to increase revenues from parks and reserves. His feelings caused a ruckus and he was accused of attempting to sell Kenya’s parks.

But Balala’s thought was not without precedent in Kenya. The 20-year successful management of the Mara Triangle, a wildlife-rich enclave in the Maasai Mara Reserve by the Mara Conservancy, has been managed by a non-profit organization.

In 2010, the NGO African Parks took over the management of Akagera National Park, turning once overgrazed land with more than 30,000 head of cattle into an income-generating resource for humans and wildlife. The park’s successes include the reintroduction of lions in 2015 and black rhinos in 2017. African Parks maintains 18 other reserves on the continent.

Kumah says such partnerships do not cede government control, while generating money and providing leadership. “You don’t kick your kids out of the house just because you don’t have the money,” he says. “But as the head of the family, you are looking for ways to support them.”

To wean African conservation off Western models, conservation organizations have proposed a Pan-African conservation trust fund in the amount of between $ 90 billion and $ 225 billion.

More than 54 African governments would support the plan, says Kumah, and it is expected to be launched in March next year at the first IUCN Congress on Protected Areas in Africa in Kigali, Rwanda.

Rather than compete with current funding models, supporters of the new fund say it will play a complementary role in filling gaps and expanding sustainable resources.

It is a long plan that will require enormous political will. But the cost of not funding conservation properly is high. Countries allocate large sums to security, but if more money could be set aside for conservation, sporadic insecurity due to depleted natural resources would reduce.

Africans should not be forced to choose between conservation and development. They are linked, and the lack of resources for one will spell the end of the other. COVID-19 was just a red flag. Africa needs to chart a clear path towards financing conservation.

-The Guardian

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