BY Wisdom Mdzungairi
Africa has converged in the resort town of Victoria Falls to launch the inaugural African Union-United Nations Wildlife Economy Summit which seeks to radically change the conservation of the continent’s nature-based economy.
The summit was jointly convened by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the African Union.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa opened the summit yesterday. Other heads of State and Government who attended the event included Namibia’s Hage Geingob, Botswana President Mokweetsi Masisi and Zambia’s Edgar Lungu.
Angola was represented by Environment minister Paula Francesca.
The African Wildlife Economy Initiative is a new Africa-led vision of conservation that links the private sector with national authorities and local communities to design and finance conservation-compatible investments that deliver sustainable economic and ecological benefits to people and the environment.
Mnangagwa said while Zimbabwe subscribed to the founding principles of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), the country was gravely concerned by the one-size-fits all approach, where banning of trade is creeping into the Cites decision-making processes.
He urged Cites to resist the temptation of being a “policing institution” and instead become a developmental one which promotes the intricate balance between conservation and sustainable utilisation of all wildlife resources.
The President also said Africa must benefit from businesses built on Africa’s natural landscapes and wildlife – including tourism, the harvesting of plants and natural products for food and cosmetics or medicines.
He added that conserved habitats drive local, regional and global environmental benefits.
Mnangagwa said the summit came at a time Zimbabwe was making concerted efforts to rejuvenate the tourism and hospitality industry so that it meaningfully contributed towards the attainment of the national vision to become a middle income economy by 2030.
Geingob added: “We should strengthen the governance systems to ensure communities benefit from their resources. Thriving wildlife resources have a tremendous potential to be instrumental in sustainable socio-economic development through associated wildlife oriented businesses such as eco-tourism, hunting and photographic safaris among other benefits.”
Masisi also pointed out that the summit could not have come at any better time, given that tourism in Botswana was growing tremendously while Lungu said southern Africa needed to move collectively to force a change of policy.
A working paper released at the summit – showed that consumer spending on tourism, hospitality and recreation in Africa, estimated at $124 billion in 2015, is expected to reach $262 billion by 2030. But even as economies built on wildlife continue to grow, they must take into account economic, social and ecological sustainability.
Key to social sustainability is ensuring local communities are co-investors in the nature-based economy. The people living with nature must be at the centre of transactions, and communities must be treated as equal partners, with their own conservation and development aspirations similarly valued alongside important interventions to conserve species.
UNEP deputy executive director Joyce Msuya said: “To save wildlife and preserve livelihoods, we must ensure that wild spaces remain a legitimate and competitive land-use option. We must create a new and effective wildlife economy.”
AU commissioner for rural economy and agriculture Josefa Correia Sacko said Africa has made significant headway in protecting natural spaces and conserving wildlife and ecosystems. It is high time to boost economies through Africa-led public-private partnerships that place communities at the heart of investment, while taking into account the need to continue the conservation pathway.”
Environment minister Priscah Mupfumira said it was poignant that the diverse wildlife offers vast opportunities for economic and social development for the region, through sustainable use of wildlife assets, ecotourism and related ancillary services to protected areas.
“We are, therefore, united against illegal wildlife syndicates, which promote the poaching of our prized wildlife, posing a serious threat to the future of the wildlife sector,” Mupfumira said.