The environmental, social and climatic benefits of conservation of natural resources are becoming apparent. Nowadays, an interest for studying the valuation of the ecosystem is also increasing. It is crudely believed that the conservation of the environment and the development of protected areas are entertained at the expense of the benefits that could be earned if the areas were rather exploited for certain types of productive activities like agriculture or industry.
In the contrary, there are research findings in some countries that indicate protected areas can generate more income than agricultural activities in the same acres of land, at the same time with protected ecology that contributes to lovely environmental and climatic situations.
Maintenance of ecological integrity, conservation of wildlife habitat and species, or spiritual and cultural values often being the dominant reasons for establishing protected areas, the economic impact and value of protected areas have been described in a broad range of research reports over the past few decades which basically is another reason to invest in protected areas.
Moreover, it is evident that protected areas fit well with better life styles, quality of life expectations, the desire to pursue subsistence harvest of wild species, and opportunities for community development, created through land claims agreements.
Ethiopia is endowed with a wide variety of fauna and flora, with 320 species of mammals of which 36 are endemic, 862 species of birds of which 18 are endemic, 201 species of reptiles of which 9 are endemic, 63 species of amphibians of which 24 are endemic, and 180 species of fish of which 40 are endemic.
Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA) was formed with the responsibility of the management of 14 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, administers the hunting industry and fulfills wildlife-related regulatory functions. The Ethiopian ecosystem with its rich resources can be useful in an array of ways yet significantly adding to the economy of the country as it is possible to attach monetary value to our the natural resources if they become subjects to proper conservation efforts and effective management.
Reports of studies conducted on the EWCA protected areas indicate that these areas in Ethiopia induce monetary values through providing grazing areas for livestock, harvesting of natural products like that of firewood, timber, fish, wild coffee, honey, gums and the like. Thus, a rough estimation of over one billion Birr can be obtained from harvesting these natural products in the 14 EWCA protected areas every year.
The protected areas also serve as a source of harvesting plants with up to 60 percent of the well known medicinal plant species in Ethiopia. This can be found in the Bale Mountains National Park encompassing a total of about 337 species. The medicinal plants in EWCA's protected areas are estimated to make a fortune of more than 270 million Birr every year.
Moreover, watershed protection and water provision, carbon sequestration, pollination and pest control are also earning the country a value estimated to be 90 billion Birr per annum.
Another important aspect is the value attached to tourism and recreation obtained from our protected areas. As it is widely recognized that tourism is key to the transformation and diversification of national economies, the protected areas come to play the greatest role in this. In the meantime, the Ethiopian tourism sector is on the rise and in keeping up with national tourism growth, visitor numbers to protected areas managed by EWCA have tremendously increased from roughly 12,800 to 83,700 in recent times. The protected areas draw income valued at more than half a billion Birr through entrance fees, guiding services, and other visitor expenses.
Existence and cultural values are other important features of EWCA's protected areas by which monetary value can be attributed to. Accordingly, the Ethiopian park system is home to iconic animals such as the Walia Ibex, Ethiopian Wolf and Mountain Nyala. These animals are part of the national identity and a source of national pride. Many of the parks also contain sites that are important to the cultural life of the country. Thus, however it is quite difficult to put monetary prices on the existence and cultural values of the protected areas, researches estimate the value to be more than 240 million Birr per annum.
These are not the only benefits the protected areas have in contributing to the nation's economy. Beside the benefits discussed above, the country earns an average of 60 million Birr every year from sport hunting, wild life sales, film shootings, and related activities.
Despite all these benefits that are being drawn out of the nations protected areas, there are number of potential threats to wildlife resources, Abiy Getahun, Senior Community-Wildlife Expert at EWCA, told The Ethiopian Herald. According to him, illegal activities like poaching, human wildlife conflict, over exploitation, farming expansions, habitat loss, deforestation and the development of environmentally unfriendly infrastructure pose the biggest threats to the welfare of the wildlife resources.
Hence, Abiy insists that improving the poor infrastructure development within all protected areas like road, tourist facilities, lodge, camping site, water point, resting room, electricity and the like alongside promotion about the country's wildlife within the country and abroad has its positive contribution to receive the maximum benefit out of the sector.
The economic advantage of the protected areas being evident, one would argue that Ethiopia is not benefiting enough as compared to the neighboring countries; which indicates the need for a stern concern for the matter, with a significant investment and a relentless effort of ecological conservation thereby ensuring maximum benefit to the country. Further, protected areas are compatible with a mixed economy dependent on a variety of renewable and non-renewable resource industries, and tourism. Bottom line, it is important to note that conservation is a key part of any sustainable economy.