Reconciling local development and nature conservation in Southern Africa

How to sustainably manage protected areas in South Africa? The question is often approached through the prism of biodiversity conservation alone. However, it is also worth taking care of the livelihoods and well-being of those who live in and near these protected areas, to ensure a decent standard of living for them and to reduce conflicts with wildlife. Within this framework, the project (Promoting Sustainable Livelihoods in Transboundary Conservation Areas) has been implemented since 2018, in four communities in Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Communities in Transboundary Conservation Areas (TFCAs) need to bring back the authority to decide on their own development rather than imposing external solutions on them.Alexandre Caron, CIRAD researcher and project coordinator explains. of any act. It is the communities themselves that have identified and prioritized their potential “future” – and the activities that will be undertaken to achieve them – through proactive approaches.

Irrigated gardens and prevention of tick-related diseases

A participatory approach, CIRAD’s historic experience, that is already reaping its benefits. In Mozambique and Zimbabwe, solar-powered water points and irrigated gardens have been established. In addition to significant time savings for women, who are primarily responsible for fetching water, they have noted that their needs are better met and family conflicts are sometimes reduced.

Elsewhere, veterinary training has been conducted in the prevention of tick-related diseases. Cattle aggregation in the Botswana community has reduced lion predation. At two of the project sites in Zimbabwe, the villagers also wanted to lead workshops to rediscover a culture of respect between generations and with nature.

Tomato and corn plants in Majuli Gardens, Zimbabwe © A. Caron, Cirad

There are a lot of actions chosen by local actors and whose implementation is monitored by the project partners, who have benefited from several thousand people near or far. “The Covid pandemic has shown that conservation tourism can only offer a variety of activities, without being a panaceaAlexandre Caron analyzes.Small farming, which respects resources, has suffered the least from the crisis“.

Collective judgment for lasting effect

The issue of livelihood sustainability was therefore at the heart of the process, to ensure long-term impacts. “The researcher explains, that we witnessed the birth of many original, comprehensive and unified initiatives. Part of the money collected for the maintenance of water points, for example, was reinvested in the purchase of a herd of goats, the “current account” of the management committee. This may be a drop in the sea, but the dynamics with which societies exist today will allow them, hopefully, to be proactive, collectively formulating and responding to their needs.“.

Fostering innovation through teamwork processes – not technology – requires changing all actors, from local to international. This is why the project team engages in working groups and discussions to influence all actors, from donors to practitioners.

The Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation is the largest protected area on the planet.  © B. Stirton-Getty Images for FAO, Cifor, Cirad, WCS

The Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation is the largest protected area on the planet. © B. Stirton-Getty Images for FAO, Cifor, Cirad, WCS

The issue of social and environmental justice

CIRAD and its partners are trying to move the lines to achieve a better balance between biodiversity and development, which depend on each other. “The participation of local actors should not be a front, but should again be placed at the center of collective decision-making and management of conservation area operationsAlexander Caron confirms. For the scientist, this is a necessary change in order to once and for all “decolonize” the current conservation paradigm. A method that enforces anti-poaching activities and cuts off communities from their traditional cultures and agricultural practices, which are essential to their well-being.

But it is above all a question of social and environmental justice. “People on the fringes of protected areas must be able to assert their rights as others. In an already difficult context of poverty, being constantly attacked by lions or elephants without being able to defend yourself would be unacceptable to you and me. Who would be willing to sacrifice so much for preservation without controlling their own destiny?Concludes.

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