The Hazyview Herald | October 1, 2019
Conservation practitioners from government, NGOs and the private sector recently gathered to share their experiences of working with communities which live on the boundaries of protected areas and are affected by the illegal wildlife trade.
The World Wide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) Khetha Programme, with support from the United States Agency for International Development, brought them together in Tzaneen.
The workshop focused on the western boundary of the Kruger National Park, known as the Greater Kruger, where communities experience the negative impacts of the illegal wildlife trade or conflict with wild animals.
Communities living in the Greater Kruger continue to bear the brunt of rhino poaching, driven by criminal syndicates. Organisations, the private sector and the government have stepped in, investing human and financial resources to disrupt illegal wildlife trade.
Community engagement and inclusion are increasingly recognised as essential in these efforts.
Conservationists today have inherited the results of social injustices committed in the past in the name of conservation. The forced removal of people from their land and their homes to create protected areas for the exclusive benefit of the wealthy has created poor relationships between communities and protected areas.
Many policies and programmes work to rectify this by creating opportunities for people living on the boundary of conservation areas to share in the benefits. These include environmental education, sports and food programmes, access to parks for recreational purposes or sustainable resource harvesting, training and skills development, jobs, and to some extent, land ownership and co-management.
The Khetha workshop allowed for tough reflection on whether these conservation activities are adequately inclusive of communities and of benefit to them. It was clear that concepts of community engagement, and inclusion and benefits, should be reconsidered from the community perspective.
WWF Khetha community development and learning lead, Nelisiwe Vundla, said, “Gone are the days of doing conservation for people instead of with people. We agreed that we need to stop placing bandages on the root causes of the current challenges, such as the historical displacement of people and their exclusion from conservation. We need to listen to people who live the closest to wildlife and establish a common ground for conservation and community engagement between all parties.”
Following the workshop, WWF South Africa is establishing a Khetha learning hub. It will provide knowledge and tools to community and conservation practitioners to better co-design and implement programmes and projects that provide adequate mutual benefits for communities and conservation.