There is an urgent need to ensure sustainable financing models to conserve protected areas and save biodiversity, environmental experts have voiced.
The need for conservation financing was stressed on Tuesday evening, during a preparatory meeting of the Africa Protected Areas Congress (APAC) to be hosted by Rwanda in March next year.
The conference, the first of its kind in Africa, will enhance the status of conservation in Africa by engaging governments, the private sector, civil society, indigenous peoples and local communities, and academia to shape Africa's agenda for protected and conserved areas.
The congress is convened by the government of Rwanda, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Africa Wildlife Foundation.
Jeanne d'Arc Mujawamariya, the Minister of Environment for Rwanda said that the congress will be "an opportunity to create a sustainable financing mechanism with particular focus on inclusiveness".
"It is an opportunity to chart a path for conserving natural capital. This must be done through strategic choices and investments driven by the best available knowledge and long-term thinking," she said.
She said that the areas generate economic returns through eco-tourism and livelihoods. There is a need to agree on combined actions during the conference in effort to achieve conservation and biodiversity goals and enhance the livelihoods of the people.
Currently, 48 of over 200 natural-cultural sites on the UNESCO world heritage list, she said, are in Africa including Virunga Mountains in Rwanda.
"The natural-cultural sites in Africa could increase through conservation efforts," she said.
Mujawamariya said that Rwanda has increased the number of world's biosphere reserves with the Gishwati-Mukura national park gazette in 2016.
"As the country's 4th national park, it is among the world's biosphere reserves by UNESCO. Rwanda is also working on expanding Volcano national park. Our youth and communities must be part of conservation," he said.
In addition to conserving parks, in 2011 Rwanda pledged to restore land under the Bonn Challenge and set an ambitious goal of bringing two million hectares of deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020, adding that forest landscape restoration reanimates natural power of ecosystem services such as improved water supplies and agriculture productivity.
Protected areas for tourism revenue
Ariella Kageruka, Head of Tourism and Conservation Department at Rwanda Development Board (RDB) said that Rwanda has leveraged tourism revenue, job creation and investment in and around protected areas to not only protect them but expand them as well.
"We are now actively exploring how community-led conserved areas can become important assets to enhance livelihoods and boost our resilience to climate change," she said.
She noted that conservation has registered significant progress in generating foreign exchange, creating jobs and attracting investment in tourist infrastructure and services.
"In 2019, the sector generated 10.3% of our GDP, and provided employment for 160,000 of our people," she said.
"When protected and conserved areas have sufficient sustainable financing, strong political support and good management, they can conserve biodiversity in a manner that is good for communities and nature," she said.
1,200 protected areas face financing gap
According to Kaddu Sebunya, the CEO of African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) said that there are over 1,200 national parks in Africa but they are not well managed due to financing gaps.
"It requires $2.5 billion for these national parks in Africa but less than $500 million is currently allocated to run these parks. There is a gap. We need to run parks efficiently," he said.
He urged the African Union and other pan-African agencies, together with individual countries to provide an entry opportunity for a continental agenda that encompasses development and conservation.