Zimbabwe: Wildlife-Based Land Reform Way to Go

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    Zimbabwe: Wildlife-Based Land Reform Way to Go
    by Johnson Siamachira

    IN some areas of Zimbabwe, the number of wild animals is growing, not as a consequence of conservation but of utilisation.

    Zimbabwe's game and nature reserves cover 13 percent of the country's total surface area. Wildlife is also extensively managed on twice as much land on private farms, cattle ranches and the traditional communal lands belonging to the indigenous people.

    Underlying all this is a nature conservation policy, which can be called game or wildlife farming. The seeds for this were sown 37 years ago by an amendment to the wildlife legislation.

    "Prior to this, wildlife belonged to the state and had no value for the landowner. Therefore, it was not looked after and a lot of wildlife was wiped out in favour of domestic stock. All this changed in 1975.

    The decision was one of the most important moves in southern Africa," says Charles Jonga, the director of the Community Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources.

    Once the people in the countryside started to benefit from the wild animals, they no longer saw them as a nuisance but as a source of livelihood, and so began to take care of them," says the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority of Zimbabwe.

    Game farming has had a dramatic impact on the environment. The wild animals are returning to areas from which they were at one time expelled. Tough but easy to handle, farming wild animals is not a new idea. What is interesting is its scale.

    One of the earliest to experiment in the country was Norman Travers, who owns the Imire Game Ranch near Harare. He brought a few animals to his farm in 1972 on an experimental basis and fenced off an area to see what would happen. That is how it all began. Now there are a thousands of animals on his farm.

    In principle, keeping cattle, sheep or wild animals is all the same, but of course, you have to know how to handle them. Compared to cattle, wildlife has a lot of advantages, such as a built-in tolerance to drought, tsetse flies and ticks.

    Game farms and ranches are also very important to the conservation of endangered animals.

    "Cattle were brought to Africa from outside and wild animals were forced off farms because domestic animals were easily manageable. But now people have seen that wildlife can use the vegetation much better than the cattle. So why shouldn't we utilise our own wild animals?" said Jonga.

    "The game farmer has a vertical acre instead of a horizontal one a wide variety of animals from the giraffe eating leaves off the tops of trees to the warthog digging roots in the ground," he adds.

    There are a number of game farms and ranches in Zimbabwe. They range in size from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands of hectares.

    Apart from farms and ranches, a large area is also taken up by communal lands belonging to the indigenous people. The nature-oriented use of such lands is extremely important from the conservation perspective.

    The Campfire programme was launched on communal lands in 1989 which promotes the use of local natural resources, such as wild animals, as an economically sound and sustainable land use option.

    The villagers benefit from their conservation efforts either directly in the form of meat, or indirectly by eco-tourism incomes.

    The Parks and Wildlife Management Authority defines annual game hunting quotas and the villages and districts themselves decide how to make use of these. The hunters also provide employment.

    "One hunter may directly or indirectly provide work for 50 people: guides, trackers, camp builders, bearers and cooks," explains a consultant with a private constancy hunting firm.

    The money gathered is often channelled into the construction of schools, hospitals and grinding mills. But, despite all this, the rural communities say they have not yet benefited from the wildlife-based land reform programme.

    Now, there are concerted efforts for the communities to push for an effective stake to benefit from the programme. However, this has been meeting stiff resistance from conservancy owners

    A wildlife expert in Zimbabwe has said the government's push to implement the wildlife-based land reform will impact negatively on tourism.

    John Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, says wildlife is the hallmark of tourism in Zimbabwe and the programme would disturb tourism through poaching of wildlife.

    Parks and Wildlife Management Authority director-general Vitalis Chadenga maintains: "Implementation of Wildlife-Based Land Reform remained one of the unfinished business of the country's land reform programme. The policy has been on our shelves for more than five years and for a variety of reasons, its implementation had remained elusive.

    "Thirty-nine indigenous people have been allocated leases in Masvingo, 21 in the Midlands, and three in the Matabeleland region. The authority's role is confined to regulation and support for the private wildlife industry," he said.

    He added: "Government remains committed to having wildlife managed by land-owners themselves to promote commercial production and services. However, there is also the expectation that other players must be allowed on board."

    Save Valley Conservancy representative David Goosen welcomes this initiative.

    "The Save Valley Conservancy is pleased to be part of the process of furthering the interests of conservation and finding a way forward for genuine indigenous investor participation in the wildlife industry. The Save Valley Conservancy has always been proactive in including its surrounding communities in the benefits of conservation, which will set new standards of confidence for all and safeguard the wildlife heritage of Zimbabwe for future generations," he said.

    The wildlife-based land reform programme provides the following key linkages with the Campfire programme:

    Wildlife production will be maintained where it is the most appropriate land use option through transfer of leases or allocation of shares.

    Wildlife management responsibility and authority will be devolved at the most appropriate level.

    Recognition of the importance of authority, responsibility and incentives in fostering viable wildlife production systems.

    In a recent presentation to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Natural Resources, Environment and Tourism on the Wildlife-Based land Reform Policy Jonga said, "the policy provides for partnerships between the public, private and community sectors.

    In the context of the wildlife industry, a partnership is a business activity undertaken between the owner of land or resource, and other business partners.

    "Such partnerships are therefore not just a product of mutual agreement between two or more parties, but also an appropriate mechanism to facilitate the sharing of costs and benefits, sharing of risk, sharing of experience, and transfer of learning."

    He also said, "with appropriate support, conservancies, representing large and small operators, can offer viable options for partnerships and greater involvement of local people."

    The local-authorities membership-based organisation, Campfire Association, in partnership with Bio-Hub Trust, a local consortium of environmental agencies, is currently rolling out a feasibility study on communal game ranching.

    The assumption is that the future of wildlife and wildlife based activities is tied up with greater involvement of local communities who share their space and life with this resource.

    "Demonstrating the viability of alternative wildlife management systems becomes an urgent issue for rural development and wildlife conservation with spill-over effects to forests," says Jonga.

    "But for the potential to be realised, there is a need to address the institutional framework through which new settlers do operate, and more importantly how they (the settlers) must adapt to wildlife compatible income generation as viable options."

    The study will also lead to the selection of pilot sites and communities to promote game ranching and any related wildlife enterprise.

    However, there is an urgent need for a transparent understanding of the income chain in conservancies, and who benefits by how much. Without such transparency the new joint ventures may be one-sided, and there is also the possibility of 'elite capture' and corruption among communities themselves.

    Source: The Herald

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