A call to action for people and nature

Ensuring local rights and ownership, and promoting the sustainable use of wildlife, were top of our agenda at the inaugural Africa Protected Areas Congress in Kigali, Rwanda, last month

Olivia Wilson-Holt's picture
Consultant researcher in IIED's Natural Resources research group
25 August 2022
Four people holding microphones sit in front of a seated audience.

The Africa Protected Areas Congress took place in Kigali, Rwanda, last month (Photo: copyright Maliasili)

IIED’s partner, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist group (SULi), attended the inaugural African Protected Areas Congress (APAC).

The event is the first of its kind to bring together African leaders, Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLCs), youth groups and conservation practitioners, to discuss the role of the continent’s protected areas in safeguarding biodiversity and delivering ecosystem services for the benefit and wellbeing of local people.   

Running in parallel to the main conference agenda were a large number of pavilions presenting an impressive selection of events and activities based on the three main streams of the congress: 

  • Protected areas 
  • Livelihoods, and 
  • Biodiversity. 

In collaboration with Maliasili and the African Nature-Based Tourism Platform, SULi hosted a pavilion based on the themes of ‘sustainability and resilience’

The pavilion supported a wide spectrum of sessions throughout the week, focusing on themes such as wildlife economies, transformative funding mechanisms and building capacity from the bottom-up. It also provided a platform for inspiring and passionate young conservation leaders from across the continent to voice their perspectives, concerns and opinions on the future of conservation in Africa. 

A spotlight on local rights, ownership and empowerment 

The sessions, run by SULi, emphasised that protected areas need to provide opportunities for local people to benefit from wildlife use, but only if that use is sustainable. 

This included presenting an overview on Africa’s wildlife economy (a very strong theme running throughout APAC) co-organised with the African Leadership University. This session emphasised the need for African governments to recognise that wildlife can be a key strategic asset for investment, but only if local people have a say in how that wildlife and the land that it resides on is managed.  

A surprising statistic revealed that Africa only received 5% of global visitor arrivals in 2018, highlighting the huge potential for growth in the tourism industry. It also acknowledges the critical need to look beyond tourism, to the value that can be harnessed from other areas of the wildlife economy such as non-timber forest products, hunting and fishing, carbon markets and wildlife-related film production. 

Central to the goal of the ‘sustainability and resilience’ pavilion was to ensure prominence was given to the vital role of community conservation across Africa. Narratives and case studies showcased the positive impacts of how, for example, community-led engagement has helped to reduce the illegal wildlife trade. 

In this session, three case studies from the People not Poaching platform were presented. Despite these having very different contexts and approaches (across Zambia, Mali and Tanzania), they share a number of factors that have led to successful outcomes – empowering local people, ensuring benefits from wildlife outweigh costs, and building effective relationships through long-term engagement.  

Wrapping up the week, and stimulating a typically lively conversation among the audience, was a session hosted by IIED’s Dilys Roe (who chairs SULi) and Amy Dickman, professor of wildlife conservation at the University of Oxford, on trophy hunting – specifically the work which has recently started on a new situation analysis to examine the contribution of hunting to wildlife conservation and management (with a specific focus on Africa).

The polarised opinions and extreme emotions triggered by this topic were highlighted through Twitter conversations and responses, as were the many contested facts circulating widely on social media. These emphasise the urgent need for a rigorous evidence base to provide factual information and figures.

Seen but not heard?

The IUCN SULi events at APAC, along with the other sessions that took place in the ‘sustainability and resilience’ pavilion, pushed the need for inclusive, equitable and just conservation efforts that recognise the need for IPLCs and youth groups to be at the forefront of tackling the biodiversity crisis.

They also emphasised the role of sustainable use in strengthening the wildlife economy and ensuring that benefits from wildlife are just and fair at all levels. This is strongly reflected in the Kigali Call to Action for People and Nature (PDF), which among other things calls for:

“Ensuring equitable, effective, generational and gender-responsive participation of all rights-holders and stakeholders, including IPLCs and youth in decision-making related to biodiversity, at all levels… Promotion of truly sustainable use of natural resources and investment in building an appropriate wildlife economy, through rights-based approaches and with the involvement of rights-holders and stakeholders, while halting human rights abuses associated with law enforcement.” 

Despite this call, there was a general feeling of ‘what happens next?’.

As is frequently witnessed in these types of large-scale meetings, there were many conversations leading to bold statements and reassurances of positive change. However, many IPLC and youth delegates continued to express concern that their voices were still not being heard, and in their closing remarks on the congress declared: 

“We have met with you but are unsure how well you have heard and understood us. We leave knowing we must build our own solidarity across the continent. We must reach out to you and expect you to reciprocate.”