Nature conservation need not be at odds with poverty alleviation, as sustainable tourism can benefit both. Europe, too, can learn from this.
Setting up ecotourism projects that are economically viable as well as socially responsible requires effective and fair cooperation between tourism entrepreneurs and local communities. The project in Kenya demonstrated that an impartial, reliable intermediary organisation can help to develop, shape and support such cooperation. This may also offer a solution to Europe’s saline agricultural lands.
Nature conservation organisations are increasingly turning to tourism as a financing mechanism. Poverty alleviation is pivotal in transforming this type of tourism into a sustainable, socially responsible innovation. In this way, the goals of nature conservation and of poverty alleviation will no longer be at odds.
The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) is one of the nature conservation organisations that uses this market approach in its work in Africa. The AWF mediates between local communities that own land and commercial parties wishing to cooperate with these communities to enable tourists to enjoy the beautiful nature and wildlife Africa has to offer. The SRI project revolved around this unique form of cooperation as an example of institutional innovation.
What are the opportunities and threats of this market-based approach to nature conservation? Are the related ecolodges truly “responsible” innovations? The research team found that the following aspects play a role in the effectiveness of cooperation:
- Democratic legitimacy; are the interests of all stakeholders adequately represented in the partnership?
- Degree of transparency; does the contract clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the parties involved?
- Degree of involvement; are the stakeholders committed to the agreements made?
- Degree of equitableness; are the costs and benefits of nature conservation distributed in an acceptable way?
The involvement of a neutral and trusted adviser, mediator and arbitrator (such as the AWF) is vital in ensuring that these values are put into practice. Large differences in knowledge, experience and financial position between the commercial partners and the local community must remain a focus in the coming years.
The researchers classify the AWF as an institutional entrepreneur. By establishing new forms of cooperation between market parties and local communities and developing new values and standards to regulate this cooperation, the AWF is breaking with the previously disconnected “perspectives” of the market, development organisations and nature conservation organisations.
A historical analysis showed that such institutional innovation processes are not so much a question of revolutionary breakthroughs but of incremental changes over a longer period of time. Developments in the international debate on nature conservation and poverty alleviation as well as experiences in the field, failing political and market institutions, experimenting with new ways of nature conservation within donor projects, and organisational changes such as hiring employees with a commercial background have been the driving forces behind AWF’s innovation process.
What can Europe learn from this?
So is this form of innovation relevant only in Africa? No, says MVI-researcher René van der Duim in an article in Trouw . European nature conservation depends on government grants, and these are under pressure. Moreover, a lot of farm land will disappear in Europe in the coming decades which implies that it will no longer be profitable to farmers using modern and intensive agricultural methods. Rewilding Europe is a cooperation initiative that focuses on creating new wilderness areas in these sparsely populated areas. The aim is to learn from the experiences in Africa with nature tourism as a financing mechanism.
Not only will the results of this project be relevant for nature and development organisations in Africa, they will also provide important leads for institutional innovation by various parties in the Netherlands and Europe. The World Wildlife Fund has expressed interest in this project, as have a number of Dutch tour operators and social investors.
Africa, sustainable tourism, poverty reduction, local communities, local communities, ecotourism, entrepreneurship, wildlife, Europe, nature conservation, business modelOfficial project title: