The World Parks Congress will be held in Sydney from 12 to 19 November. It will be focusing on a specific subject: protected areas. There are now over 200,000 protected areas. They are very diverse: large, small, community- or State-based, forest or mountain areas, desert or marine areas… but they are all working towards the same goal: conserve nature.
What are the main challenges facing protected areas in Africa today? How to address them? How to explain the good results achieved for conservation by certain countries? What makes protected areas important in the fight against climate change? Geoffroy Mauvais, coordinator of the IUCN Program on African Protected Areas & Conservation gives you the answers!

© Samuel Globus
© Samuel Globus

What are the main challenges facing protected areas in Africa today?

Protected areas in Africa are facing tremendous challenges. They are ultimately the same as on the other continents, but 10 times greater. This is due to the population explosion experienced by the continent. This unprecedented population growth over such a short period is combined with a considerable increase in needs, in quantity of course, but especially in terms of quality: these populations will want more and better, as is the case everywhere. And mathematically, all this leads to an ever more intense exploitation of natural resources, a reduction in the space available for nature, and a rapid loss of connectivity between spaces, the parks.
If we add that much of these resources, particularly mining or oil resources, but also in certain agricultural or agro-industrial cases, will not even be destined to be used on site to meet local needs, but leave to supply other populations, other needs elsewhere, you have an idea of the challenge we are facing. This is, of course, without forgetting the global threats that have an impact on these territories: climate change, invasive species, insecurity… or again the vagaries of the global economy, particularly the current economic crisis, which further jeopardize the meager resources allocated to nature in Africa. Indeed, nowhere, or practically nowhere, is conservation set out as a priority for the investments to be made by governments or for the private sector…


How to address them?

There is no simple solution. And there is certainly no recipe. There are many different contexts, many different challenges, varying capacities… What is feasible in Namibia or Botswana is not in Mali or Rwanda…
For my part, the knowledge for effective management is already widely available. What we need to do is work on those who manage, meaning on the governance of protected areas. Who takes the decisions and how they are taken are the key factors that need to be improved in the future. Consequently, it is necessary to work on the overall planning of territories, in and around protected areas, while ensuring that all the key stakeholders are involved, that their opinion is taken into account, and that legitimate decisions are taken for the sustainable conservation of parks… In short, it is necessary for the development plans for the next 50 years to take effective account of protected areas and in an honest and sincere manner, not only pay lip service.
One thing for sure is that development will take place. What is needed is for it not to take place in chaos and for us to wake up one day in a catastrophic situation, and with no decent natural heritage at all ahead of us. Protected areas are not enemies of development, but the latter must not neglect them because they are the foundations of our future. This is especially the case because they now hold resources that have disappeared elsewhere. No one can predict whether we will miss them or not later. One day, we will be pleased to see that they are still there, very much alive. Today, it is therefore necessary to manage this growth crisis on the continent as effectively as possible. The right political, social and societal decisions need to be taken immediately in order to guarantee the long-term conservation of nature. Our successes will ultimately depend on overall good governance.


Can you give us some good examples of conservation in Africa? What factors have contributed to these successes?

Thankfully there are examples and a number of them! Many are in East Africa, such as in Kenya where the Government has focused on wildlife conservation to develop its tourism sector, which is one of its main resources today. There is also Southern Africa, Namibia for example, where the very low human density means it is possible to continue to extend protected areas. There are also examples in West and Central Africa, in certain places such as the Banc d’Arguin in Mauritania, Taï National Park in Côte d’Ivoire, or Pendjari National Park in Benin.
Generally speaking, the key factor for success, beyond the competencies of managers and the resources they benefit from, is when the management decision is shared between several stakeholders: it is more legitimate and stronger. All the parks mentioned above involve several partners for the decisions: the Government, which is always important, conservation NGOs, or civil society and development partners. Whatever the scheme, and even if it involves private or community spaces, if several stakeholders sit round the table to manage the park, it gives better results over the long term. For example, in Taï, in Côte d’Ivoire, WWF, KfW (German Federal Government development bank) and the Government have been working together for over fifteen years and this is finally bearing fruit. The same scheme exists in Pendjari, with the involvement of local communities, who are grouped together in a union, which manages the wildlife. This does, of course, considerably complicate the decision-making process, as it is always more difficult for three people to decide rather than alone!


The next major conference on the climate will be held in Paris at the end of 2015. In what way are protected areas important in the fight against climate change?

Protected areas have a relatively minor role to play in the fight against climate change as it is perceived today. As the latter is a matter of human activities, it is first and foremost by regulating these activities that we will manage to address or at least contain the problem.
However, parks and reserves are important territories in terms of building our capacities to adapt to the change. They continue to provide spaces where nature has time to breathe and change in order to integrate the new global parameters. In this respect, they are real laboratories of what nature can spontaneously offer us as solutions in a disrupted world. Consequently, we have a lot to learn from them and in this regard alone, protected areas deserve their place in our conception of land use planning. Many species now only survive in these protected areas and many will only survive because they provide a natural space that can naturally adapt.
All this is also obviously a question of connectivity between protected areas, and this connectivity is very often threatened… protected areas are a space for learning for us all, we need to conserve this capacity to learn.

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