Wildlife conservation, a key to diversification

By British High Commission Lusaka

“International World Wildlife Day falls on Thursday 3 March this year. This is an increasingly important date in the calendar of the world's wildlife, as populations grow and environmental pressures increase. Why should 3 March matter to Zambia?

“About 33% of Zambia's landmass is designated as either a National Park or a Game Management Area. That is a third of the country dedicated to the conservation and protection of valuable and iconic species and the protection of the ecosystem.

“However, Zambia has not harnessed this resource to the same extent as other countries such as Kenya or Tanzania. The tourism sector's contribution to Zambia's GDP in 2014 was only 2% and growth was 3.5%. The tourism sector can help Zambia's economic diversification. Zambia has 20 National Parks 34 Game Management Areas, over 10 spectacular waterfalls and about 40% of the water resources in the Southern African region. These resources need to be harnessed to contribute to the sustainable economic development of the country.

“Apart from the Victoria Falls, the bulk of Zambia's tourism is dependent on wildlife. Without wildlife, the tourism sector's contribution to GDP would significantly decline. Wildlife conservation can attract tourists that bring in much needed foreign exchange and generate employment and government revenue, ultimately reducing poverty.

“Tourism is one of the strongest drivers of world trade and prosperity and Zambia could have a bigger piece of the pie. National Development Plans have identified tourism as a major sector with potential for diversification and development. Turning these plans into reality would benefit Zambia's citizens as well as its wildlife. Investment promotion in the tourism sector should take centre stage in Zambia's investment promotion efforts.

“It is commendable that the Government of Zambia has recently set up a Public Private Partnership (PPP) Unit under Cabinet office to promote Public Private Partnerships. We believe PPPs are one of the avenues that governments could be exploring to ensure sustainable wildlife conservation and tourism. Through PPPs, communities and governments can work together to contribute financing, management expertise, technology and other resources. This will retain the economic and social benefits of tourism while mitigating any undesirable impacts on the natural, historic, cultural or social environments.

“Wildlife conservation is also important for the energy sector. Protection of the catchment areas is necessary to ensure adequate water resources for a country that is more than 90% dependant on hydro power. A reduction in energy due to low water levels affects all sectors of the economy, including mining, which accounts for over 70% of Zambia's foreign exchange earnings.

“I commend the Zambian government for the strides it has made in protecting its wildlife. The Government has revised the policy for National Parks and Wildlife and passed the Wildlife Act. The Act provides for the establishment of a Directorate of National Parks and Wildlife under the Ministry of Tourism and Arts to ensure increased resources, action and commitment to the fight against wildlife crimes, as the fight to protect wildlife against poaching and trafficking continues.

“It is in Zambia's interest to enforce all the provisions of the new Wildlife Act that will among other things reduce demand for illegal wildlife products, promote tourism and support the development of sustainable livelihoods for communities affected by the illegal trade.

“Conservation of wildlife calls for dedicated and easily accessible resources. No government can protect endangered and iconic species without resources. The provision for the establishment of Conservation Fund in the new Wildlife Act is an important step in this regard. We hope that the Zambian government will implement an autonomous conservation fund shortly. An easily accessible resource for the National Parks and Wildlife Authority is necessary to support conservation efforts.

“It is also important to support and work with local communities. Wildlife conservation without involvement of the communities is unsustainable. While some of this work is already being done by NGOs such as Game Rangers International, the World Wide Fund for Nature, and Kasanka Trust and several cooperating partners, Government help to ensure local communities have alternative and sustainable livelihoods is needed to underpin this work.

“I hope Zambia will continue its efforts to protect its native wildlife from extinction. Political will is fundamental to this cause, as is local ownership and engagement. I urge everyone to take an active role to conserve wildlife, and to recognize its importance to tourism, and to the economy, in Zambia.”