An insight piece by Melissa de Kock, Senior Advisor: Conservation, Climate and Communities at WWF-Norway
In the 17 years I have worked in conservation in southern and East Africa, I have seen many successful examples of community based conservation, but also the effects of societal and political pressure on communities and how they manage wildlife. I have also witnessed how climate-related events such as droughts and floods are impacting communities’ ability to generate income from wildlife. Many communities in Africa are reliant on trophy hunting and/or tourism to generate income to manage wildlife and their land. Trophy hunting, particularly, is under increased pressure from animal rights activists and organisations. Tourism also faces challenges as people increasingly recognise the urgency to reduce carbon emissions. However, if wildlife is going to be sustained in Africa, communities must continue to benefit from choosing to live with wildlife. This is why, in my role at WWF-Norway where I support the implementation and evolution of community-based conservation, I approached the Luc Hoffmann Institute to jointly identify and evolve new business models for community-based conservation.
Although my experience is mainly with Africa, there are many communities around the world that contribute significantly to global conservation efforts but also face trade-offs by choosing to share their land with wildlife. This may not sound like much for people who live far away and see only the beauty of wildlife and iconic species. But for rural communities living alongside dangerous animals, this wildlife is often seen mainly as a threat to lives and livelihoods. For example, in many countries in Africa, elephants and lions, among others, kill livestock, eat crops, destroy property, and can even endanger people’s lives.
To be able to live in harmony with these iconic species, local communities need to derive tangible benefits from them. While social and cultural benefits are considered extremely important, financial benefits are also needed to fund the management of wildlife and other natural resources. To date, these financial benefits have come from two primary streams of income: sustainable trophy hunting (particularly in southern Africa) and photographic tourism. Through these two market-based mechanisms, many communities have been able to generate income to cover the operating and personnel costs of managing community conservation areas, as well as for specific community development initiatives.
The world is changing, however. Global political, social, economic, climate and other environmental changes are all having repercussions at local levels. Revenue streams from trophy hunting and tourism may decrease in the future, undermining communities’ ability to generate sufficient income to sustain their wildlife management activities. In some areas already, the real costs for communities in Africa to manage wildlife and habitat exceed current funding.
To me, it’s clear that conservation organisations need to work with communities to find innovative mechanisms that enable communities to retain wildlife on their land.
Working with the Luc Hoffmann Institute, WWF-Norway is looking to find and nurture future business models for community-based conservation, with an initial focus on Africa. The purpose of this work is not to undermine or replace trophy hunting or tourism which, when done sustainably, add substantial value to communities and wildlife. Instead, the purpose is to ensure that communities can continue to sustainably manage wildlife and other natural resources. Finding new revenue streams for community-led conservation is about being prepared for the future. Unless wildlife management is more beneficial than other land uses, communities are likely to shift to alternative uses, such as intensive agriculture, with disastrous consequences for wildlife.
As an initial step in this project, WWF-Norway and the Luc Hoffmann Institute put out a call in the summer of 2019 to investigate existing examples, other than trophy hunting and tourism, of funding models for community wildlife management. The work, which included inventorying models that incentivise community conservation, was won and carried out by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Sustainable Use and Livelihoods network (IUCN SULi).
In order to stimulate discussion around the topic and tap into promising young innovators in Africa, I presented the preliminary findings from the report at the Africa Leadership University's Business of Conservation Conference in Kigali, Rwanda in early September. Participants, which included entrepreneurs, financial experts, and conservation professionals, not only had questions about the project itself and its robustness for financial investment but also had more ethical questions, including how to allow communities to retain ownership, access and management rights over the wildlife. Ideas suggested in the discussions included tax incentives for investors, preferential loans and access to social benefits for communities, funding for landscape-level land leases, and small-scale models aimed at individuals. Participants also reaffirmed the need to look beyond financial benefits for communities. This sentiment echoes what I have heard from many community members in rural areas in Southern and East Africa, who frequently emphasise the importance of many social and cultural benefits from their sustainable management of wildlife.
Going into this, I knew that identifying and devising new income streams for communities that are not reliant on either trophy hunting or tourism would be challenging. But in an era that requires transformative change, finding new opportunities for communities is an imperative. And whilst no new solutions have yet come to light, the many ideas and rich discussions to date have provided a strong foundation to take this work forward.
Luc Hoffmann Institute recognised the urgency of this challenge. Working together with the institute, WWF-Norway has been able to move the idea forward quickly: from thinking through the initial concept to commissioning research to involving stakeholder voices in Kigali. WWF-Norway and the Luc Hoffmann Institute are now hoping to launch an innovation challenge to accelerate solutions for community-based conservation.
If this initiative resonates with you and you’d like to be part of the Beyond trophy hunting and tourism project, please get in touch with: