Africa is taking the lead when it comes to realising the potential the wildlife economy has to offer. Home to abundant wildlife and diverse habitats, it is perhaps not surprising that the journey to unlocking and diversifying the wildlife economy begins on this continent.
Investing in natural infrastructure is a win-win. It means habitats can be restored, species saved and jobs created. It benefits people, nature and business alike, but governments and policy makers often fail to see nature as a key strategic asset. Instead, conserving wildlife is frequently viewed as a direct threat to economic development.
Helping to turn this view around is the School of Wildlife Conservation (SOWC) at the African Leadership University in Rwanda. Its Director of Research Sue Snyman says the economic value of wildlife in Africa is still not recognised. To remedy this, SOWC has published a report on the State of the Wildlife Economy in Africa to show governments in concrete terms just how much the continent’s natural capital contributes to the economy.
The report focuses on the ‘Big Five’ activities of the wildlife economy: ecotourism, carbon markets, forest products, hunting and fishing, and game ranching. Snyman hopes the research will encourage governments to invest more in nature.
HOW DO YOU PUT A PRICE ON AFRICA’S WILDLIFE?
Traditionally, the wildlife economy has centred on ecotourism. In Africa alone, the wildlife safari industry is estimated to bring in between US$12.4 billion and US$42.9 billion in revenue. In 1981, our client African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) helped found one of the most famous ecotourism projects on the continent – the Mountain Gorilla Project in Rwanda. Thanks to its work, the mountain gorilla population has grown from only a few hundred at its lowest point to over 1,000 today – giving them the dubious honour of being the only great ape species whose population is increasing.
The project has been such a success that it is now facing another problem: a lack of space. The gorillas are so numerous that they are frequently roaming outside the park boundary, putting them in direct conflict with people. The Rwandan Government is planning to expand the park by 37.4 square kilometres, increase tourists’ viewing opportunities and invest more than $70 million in social housing and infrastructure for Rwandans living around the park. This will provide jobs for more than 7,500 people in tourism, construction, agriculture and service sectors.
This is the wildlife economy operating at its best. A system where everyone and everything benefits – wildlife, habitats and people alike. But the Covid-19 pandemic threw this, and many other ecotourism projects across the world, into chaos. When the tourism industry shut down, it became very clear that the wildlife economy needs to diversify if it is going to survive.
One way to do this is to find other uses for species. Developing a sustainable wild meat sector through game farming (think ostrich, crocodile, antelope) can bring benefits to local communities, like food security, and even to the environment if it is done in the right way. So can game ranching – if management practices are up to scratch. The South African government is working with experts to explore the potential for a certification scheme within the ranching sector.
Hunting remains a highly emotive topic. Some countries, like Kenya, have banned it altogether. Others, like Zimbabwe, focus on foreign hunters rather than locals, and countries such as the UK have plans to ban the import of hunting trophies from Africa. Francis Vorhies, Director of the African Wildlife Economy Institute (AWEI) at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, believes that 2022 needs to be the year we start a serious conversation about hunting. To this end, AWEI will be researching the role wild harvesting – including hunting – can play in conservation and economic development.
It can be easy to forget that the wildlife economy is about more than just animals. Traditionally, definitions exclude plants but according to Gus le Breton, CEO of African Plant Hunter, that is wrong. Plants provide both the habitat and food for wild animals and are integral to the wildlife economy, he argues. In his vision, Africa is the new frontier for natural ingredient research.
WHAT IS THE GLOBAL IMPACT?
The FairWild Foundation is trying to ensure that plant species, such as the baobab, rooibos, myrrh and frankincense, are harvested and traded responsibly. It has already certified 25 species from 14 countries. Newly appointed CEO Deborah Vorhies says she hopes the scheme will grow the market for wild-harvested plants and at the same time conserve landscapes and enhance local livelihoods.
Plants and trees also form a central plank to another facet of the wildlife economy – carbon markets. Last year Gabon became the first African country to receive payment for reducing carbon emissions by protecting its rainforest, which covers 90 per cent of its territory and captures more carbon than the country emits. So far Gabon has received $17 million, the first tranche of $150 million from the UN-backed Central African Forest Initiative, by showing it has reduced deforestation.
Private sector interest in natural climate solutions has also grown significantly. French multinational Danone, for example, has invested €3 million in a project to restore a mangrove forest in Senegal, which is expected to capture and store around 600,000 tons of CO2.
Relationships between investors – be they from the private sector, governments or UN agencies – and those on the ground delivering conservation need to be nurtured if the wildlife economy is to blossom. In March, we helped AWF do just this at an event for more than 50 guests from the sustainability, finance and investment sectors and expert speakers from AWF Rwanda, Wilderness Safaris and FSD Africa, at the Royal Geographical Society in London.
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