Pro-People and Pro-Conservation
In 1982, in the aftermath of a bloody civil war, the community of Mahenye ward in the South-east Lowveld of the newly liberated Zimbabwe started their journey with a local land owner Clive Stockil to move from poachers (serious poachers!) to conservationists. In the process community-based natural resource management has blossomed across many parts of Africa.
Back at Mahenye, despite the trials and tribulations of life in Zimbabwe, the community still have both photographic and hunting tourism partners, with the former jointly running the spectacular Chilo Lodge. Across the river from the lodge lies Gonarezhou National Park, at about 5,000km2 Zimbabwe’s second largest and most biodiverse national park. It has a carrying capacity of around 4,000 elephants and today is home to a staggering 11-13000, with devastating consequences.
This made the perfect setting for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)'s CEESP/SSC Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi) to hold a regional meeting on the 23rd and 24th of May for participants from East and Southern Africa. This was made possible through the kind support of the Austrian Ministry of the Environment and the EU Wild Programme (which is active in the area itself) - and special thanks to Max Abensperg-Traun and Chap Masterson for making this possible.
The setting went a long way to helping the practitioners from Eastern and Southern Africa to discuss the potential for the two regions to work together on sustainable use and livelihoods issues under the auspices of SULi. We had 24 participants from six countries of the regions - Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya, Zambia, Ethiopia, and Namibia - from those who've led work on SU in IUCN for thirty years to those who joined SULi last week. In general, East and Southern Africa colleagues found that they had an enormous amount in common. We discussed many challenges and opportunities, generally agreeing that a main focus for our work should be ensuring that land-use is wherever possible orientated towards wildlife and conservation, mainly by understanding and unlocking the "biodiversity economy" upon which we rely for our material, physical and spiritual well-being. Sustainable use is a critical part of this, and includes both consumptive and non-consumptive options.
If we are to change and adapt in order to have a world where wild nature remains wild and people can thrive then we need to focus on making pro-people, pro-conservation land-use options competitive and desirable. We identified a set of key priorities for work to move towards this goal:
- establishing the analytical/evidence base;
- bringing the right voices into key debates - particularly the voices of communities and of youth. A current target is the CITES process on strengthening community representation, but other arenas are just as important (including at national level);
- through communications, policy engagement, advice and advocacy, creating a more supportive policy environment for SU and livelihoods.
We need good conversations to drive towards the right conservation. We workshopped, we brainstormed, we came up with some clear ideas and directions. We had a good conversation: now back to our conservation work – better informed, better connected and determined to widen the circle around the campfire.