The Business of Conservation Conference (BCC), a two-day event dedicated to devising strategies for fostering robust and sustainable wildlife-centered economies in African nations, has made a compelling plea for policymakers to take a proactive role in safeguarding biodiversity.
During a session on Thursday, Ali Kaka, a former Wildlife Sector Advisor to Kenya's Minister of Tourism and Wildlife, humorously remarked, "As I survey the room, I can't spot anyone in a political role or anyone who even remotely resembles a politician."
His observation was quickly corrected with the presence of Clare Akamanzi, CEO of the Rwanda Development Board. Kaka emphasized the importance of engaging influential government bodies, such as the Ministry of Finance and parliamentary members responsible for budgetary deliberations, in discussions of this nature.
Kaka, currently the Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), stressed the significance of initiating conversations with decision-makers to elevate awareness of wildlife conservation across the continent. He emphasized that without integrating these efforts into a country's financial planning, the true importance of conservation won't be fully recognized in today's world.
Rwanda, which is ranked 6th out of 57 countries on the Wildlife Economy Investment Index (WEII) is already setting an example in this direction, earning accolades for its efforts to promote investments in the wildlife economy.
Substantial investments have been made to bolster the wildlife economy, but a robust legal framework is essential for their effectiveness. Rwanda has worked diligently to refine its legal mechanisms, aligning government-led conservation initiatives with business-focused strategies. Policies like revenue sharing have yielded positive outcomes, and collaboration has played a pivotal role, focusing on partnerships, working models, and a balanced approach to private sector conservation and inclusivity.
Eugene Mutangana, who leads the Conservation Department at RDB, emphasized the importance of measuring capabilities and resources. He said that although Rwanda is not a large country in terms of size, which means resources and protected areas are limited, the government has designed approaches which center on doing less but doing it well, ensuring effective management for now and the future.
Despite these efforts, biodiversity advocates argue that Rwanda's wildlife conservation ranking still needs improvement.
The oversight of natural resources involves political considerations, creating an environment conducive to attracting investors. Politics is intricately linked to this process. On a national level, the challenge often lies in the gap between government decisions and their alignment with effective resource management, impacting overall asset utilization.
Alice Rukweza, the Africa Regional Director of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), offered insights into the political hurdles of adopting the global framework within the African context. She highlighted three crucial aspects of their engagement with the political process.
First, she discussed the "30 by 30" initiative, aiming for 30% of the Earth's terrestrial and inland water areas, as well as coastal and marine regions, to be effectively protected and managed by 2030. Rukweza emphasized that the decision to designate 30% of land for protection is a political one, and the use of the remaining 70% requires careful consideration, ultimately resting in the hands of the government.
Secondly, Rukweza discussed financing, noting the challenges in reaching an agreement on a global biodiversity fund during a late-night session in Montreal. While the fund was announced during the Jeff Assembly in Vancouver, its capitalization remains a concern. Rukweza stressed the political importance of finance dialogues, often causing significant contention.
The panel resonated with Rukweza's perspective, emphasizing the pivotal role of politics in conservation. Dr. Sue Snyman, Director of Research at ALU School of Wildlife Conservation, introduced an index outlining strategies for African countries to achieve WEII objectives.
The primary goals of the WEII are fourfold: to elevate the profile of the wildlife economy, offer recommendations for policy and practice, stimulate discussions, and create competition among countries to improve their index position.
According to Rukweza, Dr. Snyman's comprehensive study on the wildlife economy is an invaluable tool for concepts like nature swaps and biodiversity credits. The panelists stressed the need to secure a place at the decision-making table and discussed how to reshape their approach to achieve this goal and initiate the implementation process effectively.