Nairobi — Global and African conservationists have for the first time provided an estimate of the funds required to sustainably manage the continent's protected areas, a move that is expected to attract more funding for conservation work in Africa. They said some $300 million is required every year to manage Africa's 1,200 protected areas (PAs), many of which are currently under threat because of inadequate government policing and lack of resources.
Dr Hazell Shokellu Thompson, the Africa head of global conservation agency BirdLife International, said in Kampala last Tuesday that the experts made the estimates at an international workshop on financing Africa's protected areas, held in Kenya last month.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds of the UK and the Swedish International Biodiversity Programme sponsored the meeting, which aimed at raising awareness, promoting dialogue and exploring ideas for possible mechanisms for sustainable financing of protected areas in Africa.
Dr Shokellu told The East- African that, "The workshop noted that significant financing gaps currently exist in Africa's PA systems, and that substantially more funding - about $800 million - would be required to develop a comprehensive Protected Area System in Africa."
This figure would not include costs of land purchase or compensation costs.
The conservationists identified the need for an ongoing system of tracking spending on PAs, and recommended that detailed country level studies on the costs and benefits be undertaken urgently.
It was further recommended that the Protected Area system in Africa be reviewed and rationalised to improve coverage of threatened species and their habitats; and that cost estimates for marine sector PAs be developed. Dr Shokellu said although on paper many of Africa's best wildlife areas appear to be adequately protected, the reality is that they are severely under-funded.
Among those at the meeting were Prof Eldad Tukahirwa, director of the IUCN Eastern Africa Regional Office, Aaron Brunner of Conservation International and Lawan Marguba, Head of the Nigerian National Parks Service and Jean-Paul Paddack, World Wide Fund for Nature Regional Representative for Madagascar and West Indian Ocean region, Paul Morling of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in UK, and James Mwangi of Eastern African Coastal Forest WWF project.
Others were Francis Sabuni, executive director of Eastern Arc Mountains Conservation Endowment Fund, Geo Dukti of Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable Fund, and Dr Alan Rodgers of the Global Environment Facility.
APAI's long-term goal is to develop a well-designed and well-managed system of protected areas.
It was noted that APAI could be the best vehicle to channel financial support to Africa's PAs," says a report from the meeting.
The African Protected Areas Initiative (APAI), which together with Birdlife International organised the meeting, is a pan-African process linked to the African Convention on Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (or the Algiers Convention of 1998). APAI comprises of concerned African Conservationists seeking solutions to the major challenges facing the management of biodiversity on the continent.
APAI's long-term goal is to develop for all sub-Saharan African countries a well-designed and well-managed system of protected areas that will meet the environmental and social needs of each country.
Conservationists say Africa is of significant importance to the world's biodiversity as it has more than 1,200 national parks, wildlife reserves and other protected areas that encompass over two million square kilometres and represent nine percent of the continent's total land area.
Millions of people particularly the rural poor depend for their livelihoods on these PAs, which are also a key contributor to the Gross Domestic Products of most governments.
But Shokellu said many African governments face a daunting challenge of reconciling their development goals with sustainable management of their natural resources.
"Biodiversity has a direct link to poverty and human health in Africa as the biological resources provide food, medicine and alternative sources of income for the rural communities," he said. "Thus properly established and managed protected areas can make substantial contributions to poverty reduction."
In recent times many forums including the African Ministerial Conference on Environment (AMEN) and the World Park Congress have been organised across Africa to discuss strategies for mobilising resources for protected areas in Africa. A major development from these forums has been the birth of the Africa Protected Areas Trust Fund.
But participants at the Nairobi meeting said in spite of these efforts, African governments have not made much progress in terms of committing sufficient resources to conserve and manage the PAs. They have also failed to mobilise sufficient private sector and donor resources to address conservation concerns identified by recent studies.