Decolonise conservation, put it in hands of locals

Space and Style Head of Commercial James Kimotho (3rd right) waters tree seedlings as part of a Corporate initiative for Environment conservation at the Nyanza Golf Club on Saturday, June 04, 2022. [Samson Wire, Standard]

Despite Africa accounting for up to 30 per cent of the world’s biodiversity found in at least 8,600 protected and conservation areas, there is little say from local communities on how the resources are managed.

But why would local communities be quasi partners in management of this kind of wealth?

According to the African Wildlife Foundation, up to 70 per cent of funding for conservation is from donors. Besides, a lot of the conservation areas are in the hands of people deemed foreigners, but who have undeniably given the resources commendable attention, sometimes even paying with their lives.

But the fact that protected areas are left in the hands of people perceived to be foreigners also underscores the assumption that such places need to be protected from Africans. As a result, critically endangered species continue to diminish because communities view them as things that belong to tourists. They grab any opportunity to kill animals that stray into their homes in search of food, water or safer breeding grounds because they do not see the value, economically or even socially, of the protected areas.

If this view sticks for every generations, Africa’s most treasured assets will remain in the hands of non-locals. Yet we cannot succeed in any other sector without excelling in conservation.

And so which way forward?

Until this week, there had not been an African conservation convention as key as the IUCN Africa Protected Areas Congress that took place in Rwanda. Such meetings are key to establishing biodiversity populations, trends, threats, who manages them, the gaps, and how nations can pool resources to conserve them better.

This kind of congress also boosts political will necessary for protecting transboundary natural resources such as rivers, islands or forests. A good policy or law that restricts environmental degradation in one country may not achieve much if abuse of shared natural resources is allowable across the border.

Secondly, a pan-African mechanism to raise funds to finance conservation must come sooner.

Third, communities must be enlightened to see the benefits of conservation. Invest in them twice as much as is spent in protected areas.

Let locals know this school, that hospital, stadium or college was built using money from parks near them. Locals must be put at the centre of conservation to increase their responsibility to nature. Putting conservation at the heart of policies must come with putting the same in the hands of people, because protectionism for conservation is expensive.

Difficult as it may look at the start, we can have our priorities right, walk the talk on climate change, pollution and conservation. Fires are burning in the UK. Roads are melting, and people suffer the effects of heat waves. Climate change is accelerating biodiversity loss.

As the fight against pollution and climate change continues, let us tell people why they should not degrade land, yet they need money to survive.

Curate messages for different demographics to rally everyone in conservation efforts. Still, no continent will achieve climate action without Africa, with its many species, including dik diks that Tourism CS Najib Balala recently told communities to spare.

We can be helped to take care of biodiversity without being pushed to the periphery.