Mozambique: Ministry of Tourism Elects not to Renew the Management Contract for the Niassa National

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  1. AFRICAN INDABA

    AFRICAN INDABA CONTRIBUTOR AH Enthusiast

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    Mozambique: Ministry of Tourism Elects not to Renew the Management Contract for the Niassa National Reserve
    by Vernon R. Booth

    The Niassa National Reserve situated in northern Mozambique, with an area of 42,000 km2, is one of the largest protected areas in Africa. In terms of the 2007 2012 management plan it is divided into seventeen management units: nine hunting blocks, six photo-tourism blocks and two zones of high biodiversity value (Medcula and Joa Mountains). Most of the reserve is miombo woodland interspersed with seasonally wet dambos and drier areas of bushed savannah. The landscape is scattered with granite monoliths or inselbergs. The presence of nine districts, three towns, and more than forty villages that support over 35,000 people within the reserve, introduces a management dimension particular to this area.

    The area is home to the highest concentration of wildlife in Mozambique and one of the largest protected miombo forest ecosystems in the world. Its pristine wilderness supports a remarkably rich and diverse collection of wildlife: 15,000 elephants, 9000 sable antelope, and several thousand each of Cape buffalo, Lichtenstein's hartebeest, eland, and zebra. An estimated 400 endangered African wild dogs live in the reserve which also supports a significant lion population. Numerous biodiversity studies undertaken since 2000 confirm that the unique geological features of Niassa host remnant elements of East Africa's eastern arc forests, which are hotspots for endemism.

    In 1998 a group of investors established a private company, Investimentos Niassa Ltd, which entered into a partnership with government to establish the Sociedade para a Gest縊 e Desenvolvimento da Reserva do Niassa Mo軋mbique (SGDRN) in 2002. SGDRN was given exclusive rights to the management and development of the Niassa Reserve in terms of a 10-year contract. A board of directors was appointed to oversee the management of the reserve and a senior warden was appointed who was responsible for the day-to-day activities of the Niassa Reserve Management Unit (NRMU). The Warden reported directly to the Executive Director of SGDRN, based in Maputo, who in turn answered to the Board.

    SGDRN was established with a defined vision, "to conserve the wilderness and biodiversity values of Niassa Reserve and to contribute to the economic development and welfare of the province and of the reserve's residents". Further, it proposed to do this through "the creation and demonstration of a model for conservation that brings together the government, private sector and civil society in a partnership to collectively share the responsibility for the development, financing and management of national protected areas in Mozambique".

    In 1999 Fauna & Flora International (FFI) was invited by SGDRN to assist with the development of a comprehensive strategy for the conservation and management of the Niassa Reserve. In 2000 SGDRN formed a strategic partnership with FFI - one of the world's largest and oldest conservation organizations - to provide essential technical and financial assistance. FFI's support continued over the next 10 years and was instrumental in implementing the management plan. During this time FFI provided approximately US$4 million in direct funding and facilitated a further US$1.5 million from US Fish and Wildlife Service, USAID, EU and other notable conservation-funding bodies This enabled SGDRN to carry out many of the initial baseline biodiversity and community studies in the reserve and to equip and support the reserve protection program.

    To address its vision, SGDRN set about attracting investment in the tourism potential of the reserve. From the outset, SGDRN realized that to effectively conserve and develop a reserve the size of Niassa and to address its vision, it would need the assistance of reputable private-sector partners to develop the tourism potential and to share the burden of financing and protecting the entirety of the reserve. Attracting investors proved to be a daunting task, given the remoteness of the reserve and lack of infrastructure. Nonetheless, beginning in 2000, SGDRN succeeded in awarding long-term contracts to 11 tourism operations. This was a gradual process, first with direct negotiations and later with the awarding of contracts following three tenders that were audited by an international accounting firm.

    Apart from the investment made by donors, this process attracted about US$11 million in capital investment and generated approximately 50% of the Reserve's operational budget. It also contributed significantly to Government coffers through the sale of hunting abate tickets and was responsible for directly and indirectly employing 600 people. Communities also benefited from hunting levies, and the reserve proactively engaged in various human-wildlife conflict mitigation activities.

    SGDRN developed several systems to manage and administer the development of the reserve. The small but dedicated team in the Niassa Reserve had for many years been developing an approach to managing the vast Niassa National Reserve by building capacity and consensus with all stakeholders at the community, district and provincial levels. On many occasions it learnt lessons through trial and error but there was always a firm belief that funding the conservation of Mozambique's largest reserve mainly through sustainable tourism was the best option available under very difficult circumstances.

    Managing community expectations in an environment where local government pursued a rural development agenda within a conservation area proved the most challenging aspect. SGDRN also developed best practice systems to manage all its hunting operations in a sustainable way that set the bar for the rest of the country to follow. It also invested heavily in conducting biannual aerial surveys, and supported the independent Niassa Carnivore Project.

    In recognition of its achievements in sustainable hunting management, SGDRN was honored in 2008 (together with the communities of the Selous-Niassa corridor in Tanzania) with the prestigious "Markhor Award for Outstanding Conservation Performance" by the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC) a tribute to the commitment of both SGDRN and the Mozambican government to the sustainable development of protected areas.

    However, with the passage of time perceptions of how the Niassa Reserve should be managed in the future have changed. Government has matured since the inception of the "Niassa Model" and has gained experience with other private sector partnership implementation models in the country, notably those developed by the Carr Foundation for Gorongosa and the development of the Transfrontier program in the Limpopo Province.

    These experiences set the tone for future contract negotiations with SGDRN. From the outset it was clear that Government were no longer willing to accommodate an arrangement where all decision-making responsibilities were vested in an management such as SGDRN. Conversely SGDRN and its supporting donors were not willing to negotiate a "co-management" agreement where the decision-making responsibilities were unclear. Several protracted negotiations took place without resolving the impasse. In the end the contract expired 12 September 2012, which effectively ended SGDRN's management responsibilities and an era that had witnessed a bold new approach to managing a complex conservation area.

    In the interim, the Ministry of Tourism has been negotiating separately with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which has agreed to enter into "co-management". No details of this arrangement were available at the time of writing, but it is understood that the agreement is similar to that operating in the Gorongosa National Park.

    The Niassa National Reserve is extremely challenging on several fronts: the dynamics are continually changing and it faces significant threats from illegal mining, illegal logging, and a marked increase in ivory poaching. Access to the reserve has improved considerably over the last 10 years, especially with the opening of the Freedom Bridge linking northern Mozambique to southern Tanzania. This, together with an expanding human population, introduces new dimensions to the way in which the reserve will be managed in the future.

    Further information can be found at Niassa National Reserve
     
  2. classicsafari

    classicsafari AH Enthusiast

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    A terrible move.
     
  3. James.Grage

    James.Grage GOLD SUPPORTER AH Legend

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    Not sure about the "Wildlife Conservation Society" .

    What will they add to the plate to help the area out...
     

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