There’s a common component in conservation success stories in Africa: long-term partnerships between public and private sectors. It’s a no-brainer: governments in developing countries rarely have the budget or resources to protect vast areas of land; but private investors and donors are willing to fund these conservation efforts. When you also bring the local community to the table, you have the ingredients for a sustainable future.
“National parks in developing countries are home to the planet’s most undervalued natural assets”, wrote Nico Saporiti in ‘Managing national parks: How public-private partnerships can aid conservation’ for the World Bank’s Viewpoint forum. “[Public-private partnerships] offer a powerful policy tool for improving the economic sustainability of parks, enhancing the quality of services, efficiently leveraging investment in conservation, and, through all this, contributing to the core function of protecting biodiversity.”
These are some examples of public-private partnerships that are making sustainable progress across the continent:
Gorongosa National Park
Greg Carr arrived in Mozambique in 2004 and was on the lookout for a long-term philanthropic project, having recently sold his voicemail business for US$843 million. He found Gorongosa National Park, –a safari destination once popular with the stars of Hollywood before it was destroyed during the devastating 16-year Mozambican civil war.
Carr initiated conversations with the government, and, long story short, the end result was the signing of a 20-year joint-management agreement between Carr’s Gorongosa Restoration Project and the Government of Mozambique in 2008.
Today, Gorongosa is widely thought of as one of the most successful examples of conservation and restoration in Africa. Thanks to the project’s rewilding and anti-poaching efforts, there has been a tenfold increase of large animals in the park. There are teams who are dedicated to science and human development. New sustainable industries have been set up for the local communities, such as honey, cashew and coffee farming, and the Gorongosa team itself is 98 per cent Mozambican. Plus, tourism figures are set to increase further with the opening of a luxury tented camp next year.
The long-term nature of the partnership allows time for projects to grow their roots and shows commitment to the park and the surrounding communities. Carr himself is in Gorongosa for over half of the year and refuses to take on any other philanthropic ventures.
“The big vision”, Carr tells me over coffee one morning, “is that, one day, the protection of nature and helping humans can join together and become the same project.” According to team members like Angelo – a tall Mozambican with an ear-to-ear smile – it’s Carr’s relentless energy and “the fact that they have a long-term vision” that makes the park such a “special” place to work.
Gonarezhou National Park
In Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou National Park, conservationist Clive Stockil, who, having grown up with the Shangaan, spearheaded a community-management initiative in the early-1980s. At first, it was highly unpopular with the government – until they saw it was working.
The Shangaan locals, who had been displaced when Gonarezhou became a national park in 1980, used the money from Stockil’s tourism partnership project to build their first school. The following year, poaching arrests slipped from 90 to nine.
Stockil is currently involved in a public-private-community partnership (PPCP) between the Mahenye community – the luxury Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge, which he opened in the ‘90s.
“PPCP programmes are a relatively new in concept in Zimbabwe”, Stockil says. “The model we have chosen is a structure that is administered by a steering committee comprising of community, public and private sectors. The committee meets quarterly, or when needed. It is designed to improve transparency in both natural resource use and financial management.”
The NGO African Parks currently manages 15 national parks in Rwanda, Zambia, Malawi, Chad, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo, Benin and Mozambique. The organisation was founded in 2000 in response to the decline in protected areas, which was due to poor management and a lack of funding.
Though African Parks has been viewed with suspicion by some who are critical of an international, private organisation taking over national parks, the non-profit has seen notable successes: restoring the elephant population in Zakouma National Park in Chad; relocating 19 eastern black rhinos to Akagera National Park in Rwanda, where they were last spotted in 2007; and becoming the Central African Republic’s largest employer outside the capital. African Parks also has the biggest anti-poaching unit of any NGO in Africa.
Other destinations are seeing the appeal of public-private partnerships. Last year, South African National Parks (SANParks) announced that they were hoping to substantially increase the amount of private investment they receive, claiming that this money would be ‘crucial’ to funding their conservation initiatives.
Tourism is key to the long-term success of these partnerships. Of Gonarezhou, Stockil says: “Tourism has and will continue to be a major driver in this process of empowerment and ownership.” He notes that the money the safari industry brings to the local community can help to reduce human/wildlife conflict and to eliminate the illegal wildlife trade.
In these delicate areas of wilderness, it is clear that private initiatives and investment can provide the stability and the resources that tourism needs to flourish, all the while benefitting a national park’s local communities and its wildlife.