African countries share best practices on conservation

L-R: Moderator Fred Swaniker, the founder of Africa Leadership Group; former Prime Minister of Ethiopia Hailemariam Desalegn; Rwanda’s Environment minister Dr Vincent Biruta; Paulo Gomes, the founder of Constelor Investment Holdings; and Helen Gichohi, former President of African Wildlife Foundation, on a panel discussing the politics of the environment and nature being one of Africa’s greatest assets, in Kigali on September 9, 2019. Emmanuel Kwizera.

Private and public sector leaders have examined the current political situation in African states when it comes to conservation of environment.

The leaders had gathered in Kigali for the Business of Conservation Conference, which ended on Monday where they indicated that that African states were increasingly recognising the significance of protecting the environment.

Hailemariam Desalegn, the former Prime Minister of Ethiopia, said the African political leaders have taken the agenda of climate change seriously.

Tourists take pictures of a silverback gorilla and his family in the Volcanoes National Park in Musanze District last week. Courtesy.

“For the first time in the history of the African Union, we were able to speak with one voice to present the African cause to the global community in regard to climate change. While Africa contributes less (to global warming), it is the most affected continent,” he said.

Delegates during the 2019 Business of Conservation Conference in Kigali on September 9, 2019. The meet is part of a weeklong Kwita Izina 2019 activities. Emmanuel Kwizera.

He added; “We have tried our best, working together with the African Development Bank and the Economic Commission for Africa on convincing the global community. There is a growing understanding of Africa’s position by the international community.”

Desalegn highlighted that countries like Rwanda and Ethiopia have clearly spelled out their responsibilities as responsible global citizens.

“We have to show the global community that if we, the developing countries can do something, then those developed countries have to do more because they are the ones emitting more greenhouse gases,” he noted.

In 2012, Ethiopia designed a climate resilient green growth policy and strategy, which among others, seeks to promote climate smart agriculture, clean energy, as well as reduce the loss of nature through natural resource management.

Desalegn said Ethiopia has a huge afforestation programme going on at the moment which he believes other countries can emulate. 

This year, the country broke a world record when it planted 350 million trees in one day.

It’s part of the nation’s massive reforestation campaign that aims to plant 4 billion trees in 2019.

Rwanda has also been working to restore forests through relocation of citizens from park areas, conservation of natural species, and through introduction of innovative schemes that benefit locals.

Vincent Biruta, Rwanda’s Minister of Environment, told participants that while Rwanda has for long understood the need to rehabilitate the environment, putting it in practice did not come easily.

“We actually made mistakes through the process and one of those mistakes is that part of our Gishwati was used to settle people, returnees. It was destroyed and as consequences, we had floods and landslides,” he narrated.

The Government went back to relocate the people and the forest was restored.

Today, Gishwati-Mukura is classified as the forth recent national park in the country.

Biruta cited several poaching activities, and with the civil war of 1990’s, as some of the challenges to conserve the Volcanoes National Park.

“As peace was being restored, we recognized that tourism was also a critical aspect, we took those decisions to set up mechanisms and involved local communities to be part of these efforts,” he said.

As a result, he added, mountain gorilla population increased and the number of tourists visiting the park increased.

Rwanda has invested more than $5.8 million since 2005 into more than 647 projects in communities surrounding the national parks of Volcanoes, Akagera and Nyungwe, according to official data.

This is part of the revenue sharing programme in which 10 per cent of the proceeds from tourism is ploughed back in projects aimed at developing   communities adjacent to national parks.

In 2018 -19 alone, the programme supported investments worth $1.7 million in 37 projects, an increase of 51 per cent over 2017/18.

Rwanda also established a special guarantee fund where an additional 5 per cent of all tourism revenues have been used to support the management and compensation resulting from human wildlife conflicts in these same communities adjacent to national park.

Helen Gichohi, a Kenyan national and the former president of the African Wildlife Foundation, said that while tourism has been one of the biggest foreigner earner, the country still faces significant challenges.

“Tourism has been the third largest income earner in Kenya, but the biggest challenge Kenya is facing is to connect tourism and wildlife. Tourism is not sufficiently feeding wildlife,” she said.

For the last 30 years, she added, tourism in her country has changed much despite the country being blessed with some of the natural wonders, including the Maasai Mara, Amboseli Natural Park, and natural water bodies.

“We have not done well in a way we price our tourism products. Rwanda, for instance, made a decision to treat gorillas as a premium product. We have Maasai Mara which was declared a world wonder, but we still sell it the same way,” she said.

Paulo Gomes, Founder of Constelor Investment Holdings, said it was important for policymakers to strike a balance between cultural aspects and mindset, which determine how communities embrace initiatives designed by governments.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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