Time for African states to think about the future of their protected areas

Tourists watching elephants at Sarova Salt Lodge in Taita Taveta County. [Maarufu Mohamed, Standard]

To date, African governments have collectively designated over 6.7 million sq km as protected areas, corresponding to an area roughly three times the size of Democratic Republic of Congo - Africa's second largest country. This attests to the high level of commitment by African nations to the principles of conservation and sustainable development.

Protected areas are significant drivers to achieving biodiversity conservation and anchors that contribute to the implementation of sustainable development strategies. Apart from environmental benefits, protected areas are a source of economic opportunities for most African countries whose economies rely heavily on natural asset bases.

Despite these benefits and advances, numerous challenges continue to threaten the existence of protected areas. Global drivers of biodiversity loss, such as climate change, food production, pollution, infrastructure development, and unsustainable consumption of natural resources, have been responsible for the loss of 83 per cent of all wild animals and nearly half of plants. These drivers contributed to the loss of 42,000 sq km of forest within Africa’s protected area estate over 2012-2020. The continued growth in these drivers is greatly hampering conservation efforts and if left unchecked will lead to increased conflicts among communities and nations.

In addition to the importance of protected areas for biodiversity conservation, preserving important habitats, water provision, provision of food security, among other benefits, protected areas also play an important role in human health. There has been no better wake-up call than the Covid pandemic which presented the perfect opportunity for us to recognise the link between health, nature, and economic development. Improved understanding of the ecological context of pandemics among decision makers will assist with disease mitigation efforts, lower the costs of responding to pandemics and increase investment in protected areas and biodiversity conservation.

For these reasons and many more, the upcoming International Union for Conservation of Nature Africa Protected Area Congress (APAC) in Kigali, Rwanda, from July 18 to 23, 2022 provides an opportunity for Africa to have a much-needed dialogue on the future of its protected areas and the millions of people who benefit from them economically, socially, and culturally.  

APAC brings together key stakeholders vital to biodiversity conservation, and protected and conservation areas. These groups will share key learnings, experiences, challenges, and best practices in the conservation of protected and conservation areas.

We recognise that effective protected area management depends on many factors, including legal status, clear management and conservation objectives, the types of governance, human resources, budgets, legislation, ecological and socio-economic contexts, human skills and available equipment and resources required for success. That is why we are heavily expectant that APAC will create a surmountable baseline for these strategies to be developed.

We at the Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group, a consortium of the seven leading global conservation organisations - realises the importance of protected areas as critical elements of global, national and local conservation strategies, providing protection for ecosystems, and species.