Countries gain from conservation tourism summit

Elephants at Marabou Pan PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES
Elephants at Marabou Pan PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES

VICTORIA FALLS, Zimbabwe - Space for Giants this week announced two new Conservation Investment Initiatives for west and southern Africa based on its Uganda pilot that is on course to unlock $60m of business investment in less than two years.

The new initiatives were announced at the close of the African Union (AU) and United Nations (UN) Environment Africa Wildlife Economy Summit in Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, attended by the Presidents of Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, and Namibia, and ministerial delegations from at least 12 African countries.

Space for Giants will support the African Wildlife Foundation and the World Bank on the process in Zimbabwe, guided by the Conservation Investment Toolkit Space for Giants launched at the same Summit a day earlier.

That Toolkit guides African governments to attract responsible tourism businesses to invest in protected areas under transparent contracts designed to increase socio-economic development while also bringing new money to fund conservation.  It is based on Space for Giants’ ongoing conservation investment process in Uganda, that is in course to bring in more than $60m of new capital investment by leading responsible tourism operators in five national parks.

“We’re very proud that between Space for Giants, the World Bank and African Wildlife Foundation, we’ve been requested by the Government of Zimbabwe through the Ministry of Environment, to carry out a similar process in Zimbabwe,” said Alistair Pole, AWF’s Senior Director for East and Southern Africa. 

“We’ll be starting as soon as possible, aiming to bring the right kind of investment into Zimbabwe, into the tourism space but also into public-private partnerships and public-private-community partnerships as well.” Both processes are expected to launch officially with Conservation Investment Forums during 2020, the Summit’s 450 delegates heard. That will be after significant work to scope investment sites and streamline business processes.

Unlike Zimbabwe, where there is a long-established tourism industry, in Gabon international visitor numbers are low despite extraordinary natural assets including populations of forest elephants estimated at more than 50,000.

“The potential for nature-based tourism is huge in Gabon, but there’s a time window which is not infinite and I think we’ve absolutely picked the right time to embark on this journey,” said Noureddin Bongo, Space for Giants’ representative in Gabon.

“Space for Giants can bring its experience from Uganda to start the same discussions between the private sector and government, so that investors feel secure enough to invest their money.  “In the end, with increased benefits from conservation, Gabon’s people find their interests aligned with the government’s and conservationists, while our rainforest is protected, our economy diversifies from oil and manganese, and we protect our elephants.”

The Conservation Investment Initiative is designed to bring new private capital to conservation areas so they can earn African governments significantly increased revenue, while also providing jobs, buying from local suppliers, and protecting ecosystems. “We strongly believe that the right type of nature-based tourism done in the right areas in a sustainable fashion is a powerful conservation tool,” said Oliver Poole, Executive Director of Space for Giants’ Giants Club.

“That’s because it creates jobs for the local community, and it brings visitors to the national parks, creating money for wildlife services, that often have limited budgets. But it also starts building a nature-based tourism sector that pays taxes and builds economies, making them of national importance and therefore more likely to be protected.”

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