Currently protected areas produce very little value in terms of income.
Buoyed by the success attained at the 2016 Nanyuki conservation conference where $5 million was raised by philanthropists to support Kenya’s fight against poaching of the Big Five, the Africa Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Space for Giant Club and the United Nations are now trying to scale up and replicate the effort to increase investment and conservation in protected areas by targeting the private sector.
AWF president Kaddu Ssebunya said the foundation is working with the Uganda government and the UN to raise more than $100 million in foreign direct investments for the tourism sector in Uganda.
A conference organised jointly with the Uganda government attracted at least five dollar billionaires to the pristine Lake Victoria Serena Resort, Kigo, to preach not just philanthropy but also sell investment opportunities in Uganda’s vast wildlife conservation areas.
AWF has already identified more than 11 national parks and forest reserves where investors will bid to establish safari camps, lodges, roads and nature paths.
Promoters think the model is viable and will not only open up these areas to tourist dollars, but also help in conservation efforts where local authorities have encountered challenges.
By working to get investments into conservation, Mr Ssebunya said that AWF and its partners can help African governments better appreciate the importance of protected areas, while at the same time increasing the productivity of some of the most marginalised communities that live in and around these areas.
“Most national parks in Africa are found in the remotest parts of the continent. By taking tourism to these areas, we shall support the employment of marginalised communities,” he said.
With a growing population of youth and increasing unemployment, the promise of jobs is expected to encourage conservation.
According to President Yoweri Museveni, who officiated at the event and hosted prospective investors at the dinner, one in eleven jobs in the world is generated from tourism.
In addition to protecting the natural habitats of animals, Mr Ssebunya added that such initiatives would see conservation agencies more actively involved in helping the African Union achieve Agenda 2063.
Under Agenda 2063, the AU envisions a continent that is integrated, prosperous, and peaceful, with development driven by its own people.
African governments sometimes build infrastructure projects in the middle of national parks or degazette protected areas for agriculture, housing and factories in the mistaken notion that they are increasing the prosperity of locals.
Mr Ssebunya said they propose to get around this by opening opportunities for development through tourism. In Nairobi, for example, Mr Ssebunya cites the debate over the government’s intention to lay a stretch of the standard gauge railway through Nairobi National Park.
“Nairobi is the only city in the world with a national park, just like Paris has the Eiffel Tower. By constructing the railway through the park, Nairobi risks destroying its identity,” he added.
And such dilemmas that force governments to choose between development and conservation are what AWF, Space for Giants, the UN and Uganda seek to resolve through investment concessions in protected areas.
Currently protected areas produce very little value in terms of income. According to Max Graham, the chief executive officer at Space for Giants, most African conservancies generate zero income per acre per year, yet elsewhere the amount can be as high as $5 million. He blames underinvestment for the difference in returns from conservation.
He says African wildlife has the potential to raise $9 billion from conservancies. This would increase the intrinsic value of wildlife to $9 billion, and take away governments’ motivation for getting rid of protected areas in favour of undertakings like infrastructure, industry, housing and agriculture.
In Uganda, for example, the government invested only Ush18.8 billion ($4.9 million) in the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife, Conservation and Museums for the 2017/18 financial year.
This amount is tiny when compared with Uganda’s total budget of $8 billion.
Under the AWF, Space for Giants arrangement, Uganda which is the first to test this model, has floated more than 11 concessions in its protected forests and national parks where both donor funding and private sector players invest in largely high end camping sites, nature trails, restaurants and lodging areas.
The locations have been scouted by AWF and the Uganda Wildlife Authority.
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