WATO: What next where livelihoods almost entirely depend on biodiversity?

WATO: What next where livelihoods almost entirely depend on biodiversity?

Over 190 countries adopted the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992 as a commitment to reverse the pervasive biodiversity loss globally.

Under this convention, these countries further committed to biodiversity targets spelt out in a 10-year strategy in 2011 that is coming to an end this year.

Sadly, the result is not promising with the planet’s biodiversity estimated to have declined further by 60% and over 25% threatened with near extinction.

Kenya, like many other African countries, is nature dependent. It is therefore not surprising that the socio-economic impact of biodiversity loss is hard hitting.

Thus, 2020 which has been dubbed as the super year for nature and biodiversity provides a singular opportunity for reflection and for the world to reconvene, chart the way towards a sustainable future through an ambitious deal and commitment popularly known as the New Deal for Nature and People, with clear goals to prioritise biodiversity protection, restoration and reverse the devastating trend of nature loss.

A deal that spurs individuals, businesses and governments to act and make a difference for the benefit of people and nature.

As the world marks the International Day for Biodiversity, the magnitude of devastation that COVID-19 has taken on people’s lives cannot be quantified as it is massive and widespread.

Due to the travel ban occasioned by the pandemic, the tourism sector has been hit hard. The impact of the loss of tourism revenue in protected and wildlife rich areas and subsequently wildlife conservation will be devastating for communities.

Closure of borders and parks in many countries for tourism activities is posing a serious threat to the livelihoods of local communities and their financial sustainability.

The situation is worse for the community managed conservancies which provide employment to over 4,000 community scouts, directly impacting the lives of more than 700,000 households and secure the 65% of the country’s wildlife that is found outside national parks and reserves.

Before the pandemic, conservancies generated approximately Ksh. 534,846,500 (USD 5million) annually from land leases and bed-night fees paid by the tourism operators directly to the local communities – this income will all be lost as a result of Covid-19 pandemic.

Furthermore, most conservancies are already laying-off or offering pay cuts for conservancy rangers thus exposing wildlife to poaching.

To put this into perspective, a focus on one conservancy paints a grim picture. Siana conservancy situated in the Mara landscape stands to lose Ksh.6,000,000 (USD 60,000) per year, in leases and bed-night fees, as a result of closure of the two lodges in the conservancy.

In addition, all the staff who were employed in the lodges are either on unpaid leave or on 50% pay until the lodges re-open again.

Based on current economic projections, many conservation models which are dependent on tourism to generate their income are at risk of losing 75-90% of their annual budget making it harder for organizations to pay the salaries for protected areas staff.

This has a knock-on effect for communities living in wildlife-rich ecosystems whose livelihoods are pegged on the income generated from nature based enterprises.

The biggest concern right now is that the loss of tourism revenues and added pressure on natural ecosystems as sources of food and livelihoods will walk back the phenomenal success that we have had with biodiversity conservation.

In the long term we believe that the nature based tourism sector is resilient and will recover maybe even sooner if the appropriate measures are taken.

Focus has to be on community livelihoods and survival of wildlife until such time tourism can bounce back. It is crucial to Kenya’s future, and has never been more apparent than now.

Looking ahead, it is important that decision makers acknowledge that realigning our relationship with nature is critical to securing a sustainable future for people and the planet.

The United Nations plans to host a special Nature Summit in September this year, inviting world leaders to step up their efforts to reverse nature loss.

There is no greater opportunity than this to start identifying alternate funding mechanisms for protected areas, and sources of alternative livelihoods and protection for people living around them.

These may provide opportunities for innovations within the wildlife economy and are seen as an important area to identifying possible solutions.

Governments, businesses and organizations are continuing their preparations ahead of a set of major environmental agreements to be made in early 2021.

These decisions provide a once-in-a-decade opportunity to secure a New Deal for Nature and People that reverses biodiversity loss, protects and ensures that nature is in recovery within a decade.

Dr Yussuf Wato has 17-years experience in designing and managing multi-sectoral programs in the Natural resources and environment sector. His experience in wildlife conservation and management covers aspects such as wildlife enterprise development, community engagement, wildlife ecology research, illegal wildlife crime prevention, corporate strategic plans and ecosystem management plans development and management of Trans-frontier Protected Areas. He has a PhD in Resource Ecology from Wageningen University. He is the Wildlife Programme Manager at WWF-Kenya.