NAIROBI, KENYA: A global conservation organisation that operates in 12 African countries including Kenya has put in place programs aimed at generating immediate dividends for communities living around natural resources.
Conservation International (CI) has identified Government support, dividends for relevant communities and their ownership of resources in their midst as key factors for any conservation efforts to succeed.
Senior Vice President for Africa Field Division (AFD) at CI Mr Michael O’Brien-Onyeka says the approach is already yielding results in Kenya, South Africa, Botswana, Madagascar and other countries where its roots are taking hold.
“Our strategy to make communities see natural resources as their own by ensuring they benefit directly has worked wonders where destruction had become the norm,” he said in an interview with the Standard at the organisation’s Africa regional headquarters in Karen, Nairobi.
He cited the example of Kyulu Hills, the lungs of Mzima Springs where the port city of Mombasa draws much of its water saying the community there had taken to jealously guarding the forest covering the water tower in return for benefits amounting to millions of shillings.
“These include bee keeping, dividends from eco-tourism to the tune of US$200,000 to US$250,000 per year, compensation in case of damage by wild animals, improved health and education services for the population, employment of forest rangers and the sale of over two million carbon credits to corporations and individuals with accruing revenue ploughed 100 per cent back to the community.
He describes as a disaster of monumental proportions the fact that Africa is losing its forest resources to the tune of US$17 billion per year through wanton destruction such as illegal logging, agricultural expansion, charcoal burning and ineffective forest governance.
“Priceless unquantifiable loss include the decline of fresh air and shortage of water with varied health repercussions and the reduction of rainfall with its negative impact on food production and pasture for livestock and wildlife,” says O’Brien Onyeka.
To save rangelands that comprise 42 per cent of the African continent, Mr O’Brien Onyeka says his organisation takes over community livestock and engages local pastoral communities in cutting away alien vegetation species that exasperate the damage.
“We hire and pay the communities for the work that includes feeding their livestock on the cut alien species. With time, natural regeneration occurs impregnated by animal droppings and urine, suppressing alien species for good.
“Besides, we train the pastoralists to become eco rangers who totally transform the rangeland to their advantage,” says Mr O’Brien Onyeka adding that 50 million pastoralists and 50 million small scale farmers are affected by the degradation of grasslands, savannas and woodlands that cover approximately 5.1 million square miles of Africa.
He blames the run-away menace of poaching that has driven to near extinction Africa’s iconic species such as elephants and rhinos for their tusks and horns on failure to own the resources. “Many of our people living in the vicinity of national parks still regard wildlife as a nuisance and not an asset that can change their fortune to the better. They associate the parks with the colonialists who created them and foreign tourists who visit from distant lands,” he laments.
“We in CI make the community appreciate this resource by developing an insurance policy supported by the national government and using revenue from tourism to assist them improve the quality of their livestock herds through services such as disease control,” he says.
“We provide their youth with employment by recruiting them as rangers and the money so earned supports the community. Poachers find it difficult to bribe their way to wildlife through economically empowered communities whose sons are paid to provide security to the animals,” he says.
On climate change predicted to cause 50 per cent decline in rain-fed agriculture by 2020 if unchecked, Mr O’Brien-Onyeka says nature provides 30 per cent of mitigation. “The solution is going back to our culture and conserve our natural resources in-stead of looking to the industrialized world to cut down on industrial pollution,” he advises.
CI Africa Field Division will from October 11 to 13 argue the merits of sustainability and natural capital as the centre piece of economic planning and development at the Forum of Ministers Conference on the Gaborone Declaration for sustainability in Africa (GDSA) in Maun, Botswana.