To reduce protected areas to a tool of spoliation is to forget the diversity of their status and their governance. Today, there are 200 protected areas in the world.
In a context ofpopulation growth unprecedented on the African continent, the means of preserving biodiversity are at the heart of lively debates, particularly within the Convention on Biological Diversity, whose flagship proposal aims to classify 30% of national territories as protected areas, including 10% under strict conservation.
In 2020, in his essay The Invention of Green Colonialism, Guillaume Blanc attacked theIUCN in WWF and Unesco involved in natural parks in Africa.
He accuses park managers of excluding and abusing local populations, of creating misery to satisfy a fantasy of pristine nature for the sole benefit of Western tourists. He affirms that :
“This ideal of a nature rid of its inhabitants guides the majority of protected areas on the continent. »
“National parks do not really protect nature since tourist consumption harms biodiversity. »
National parks are at the heart of the debate here and two major questions are agitating conservation circles in Africa:
- Is it legitimate to restrict usage rights for conservation reasons?
- What model of protected area, or alternative strategy for the preservation of biodiversity, can reconcile efficiency and consideration of human and land rights?
A nature under multiple pressures
The pressures on the environment are increasing due to the increase in populations in rural areas which increases the competition for land, opportunities offered by global agricultural demand (cocoa or oil palm), charcoal making, the urban demand for bushmeat, the rush of artisanal miners on gemstones ; or the discrepancy between meager peasant incomes and the commercial value of ivory or rosewood.
In addition, local communities are sometimes enrolled in poaching networks. In Africa, if like everywhere else the international demand pushes to the overexploitation of resources, the majority of the activities harming the biodiversity is made by small producers, who produce for local markets as well as for foreign markets.
The creation of new protected areas remains the domain of African governments, even if certain instruments described as“debt for nature swap”, by which a creditor country reduces the debt of a debtor country, sometimes influence the creation decision.
The general finding is not very encouraging, with a majority of protected areas in Africa underfunded: little tourism revenue and poor management. In addition, revenues related to access rights have fallen significantly in recent years with the health crisis. Researchers estimate the budgetary needs at $103 billion to $178 billion to reach the 30% target.
Management increasingly “delegated” to private operators
Given these financial difficulties, some States opt for “delegated management” of the parks to specialized NGOs. Faced with the rise of sometimes heavily armed poaching networks, there is a parallel trend towards the “militarization” of conservation in some parks. Acts of violence against populations by eco-guards have been reported in Africa.
Delegated management often falls to African Parks, a South African NGO accustomed to difficult contexts, but militarization is experienced differently by populations depending on the context. According to a investigation of 2020 on the management of Zakouma National Park (Chad), local populations are seeking protection from the armed groups who extort them, and they are collaborating with the NGO to report incursions by Sudanese Janjawid.
As for efficiency, several publications show that wildlife resources are best preserved in protected areas with high levels of protection. In addition, it is difficult not to mention the experiences of community-based conservation: Conservancies in Namibia, program Campfire in Zimbabwe, Village Land Forest Reserves in Tanzania, and some community forests without timber exploitation. These spaces with community or participatory management can be seen as alternatives or complements to protected areas with strict protection. Nevertheless, their conservation results are sometimes considered less solid and there is, at least in Southern Africa, a trend towards recentralisation of management under the influence of international NGOs.
The displacement of populations poses a problem to which we must be careful not to provide a clear-cut answer a priori. In all the countries of the world, expropriations are considered legitimate for the construction of infrastructures (roads, dams, etc.), as long as correct financial compensation is paid to the rightful claimants.
But this status of beneficiary is a source of dispute within protected areas where migrants are found fleeing insecurity or attracted by lands and resources perceived as available. Holders of customary land rights may have accepted or suffered the settlement of these families. The policies of protected area managers vis-à-vis migrants will vary, ranging from a tolerated “restriction” to outright eviction actions.
A diversity of tools and approaches for protected areas
To reduce protected areas to a tool of spoliation is to forget the diversity of their status and governance. The IUCN classifies the 200 protected areas listed in the world into 000 categories.
Only categories from 1 to 3 are dedicated to strict conservation, because it is sometimes the only option to protect species threatened with extinction. The other categories include economic activities. Category 4 is most common in Africa, and categories 5 and 6 depend on interactions with humans. The national parks themselves can be category 2, 4 or 6. In addition to these management categories, the mode of governance specifies who makes the decisions.
The last three categories are in the majority even if specificities exist: in South Africa, 56% of protected areas are private as is mostly land.
Protected areas therefore do not aim to “protect an Eden where man is excluded”. The majority of protected areas created over the past thirty years incorporate human activities. An evaluation support projects for protected areas financed between 2000 and 2017 by AFD shows that a dual purpose of conservation and development is always favoured.
In the world, only 15% of spaces are protected areas and many other conservation initiatives exist. If we retain the global objective of 30%, it would be unrealistic to aim for 30% of "exclusive" protected areas at the level of each State, but rather to consider 30% of areas where the conservation objective frames production activities compatible with a high level of biodiversity preservation.
Do not confine yourself to protected areas
On this particular objective of 30% – which will be examined and debated during the next negotiations (COP15) organized by the United Nations to coordinate the safeguarding of biodiversity at the global level – we should go back to the “other effective conservation measures by area” (AMCE) that previous negotiations (COP14) had defined as "a geographically delimited area, other than a protected area, which is regulated and managed in such a way as to achieve positive and sustainable long-term results for the in situ conservation of the biological […] ".
IUCN precise that “while protected areas should have a primary conservation objective, this is not necessary for OECMs. OECMs can be managed for many different purposes, but they must result in effective conservation.” For example, a watershed protection policy can lead to effective biodiversity protection.
A possible compromise would thus consist in integrating the ECMEAs into the 30% target, which would not only make this threshold more acceptable, but which would also allow it to be increased regularly.
Protected areas alone cannot respond to all the challenges posed by the biodiversity crisis. A reflection on the whole territory of a country considering the interface between the different activities is necessary to renew our point of view on nature and redefine more effective biodiversity conservation strategies.
Alain Karsenty, Environmental economist, researcher and international consultant, CIRAD; Christian Leclerc, Ethno-biologist, CIRAD, and Didier Bazile, Researcher specializing in the conservation of agrobiodiversity, biodiversity project manager, CIRAD
This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.