Economic development

Why Africa’s wildlife tourism must involve local communities

The co-ownership model is outlined by FairPlay founder Francois Baird in an article published by GIS Reports, in which international experts provide geopolitical forecasts to inform business leaders, senior managers and policymakers.

The article, entitled “Can wildlife tourism drive growth in Africa?” looked at how increased tourism could help address Africa’s problems of rapidly rising populations and widespread poverty and unemployment.

Baird says co-ownership projects are succeeding because they are partnerships that give local communities a stake. They hold far more promise than the outdated “fortress conservation” model, in which local people were pushed off land to create isolated areas that keep ecosystems away from human interference.

“The survival of wildlife tourism depends on rural conservation, currently under threat from development, farming and wildlife poaching. But so far, local communities have not benefited enough from conservation or tourism to provide adequate incentives to protect the land and its wildlife.”

Baird says Botswana has become a leader in co-ownership conservation. Other countries, including South Africa, are following suit, with benefits for tourism and conservation.

He highlights a number of projects, including one in which the Khumanga community along Botswana’s Boteti River are the co-owners of a lodge and tourism operation.

“The lodge was built by community members largely using local materials, on a site that provides access to one of Africa’s last great migrations, which brings thousands of zebras and wildebeest to the valley below the riverbanks.”

This joint effort between Botswanan and foreign investors, experienced lodge operators and the Khumaga community (which owns the rights to the land) has established a high-end safari and lodge operation. The community’s share in the entity is held in a trust, and locals have been employed in construction, as staff and to build a community arts centre in the village.

“Involved investors (among them Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex) hope the project and others like it can become a blueprint for wildlife tourism in the future – in Botswana, and perhaps across the continent,” Baird says.