KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — Africa, the world’s most impoverished continent, is also at risk of losing its natural ecosystems. Due to factors such as poaching, war, mining and unsustainable agriculture, countless species have become endangered in recent decades, including mammals such as elephants, rhinos and chimpanzees. Fortunately, The Nature Conservancy and other organizations are working on nature conservation in Africa.
African Ecosystems in Danger
According to the African Development Bank Group, around “50% of Africa’s bird and mammal species” are at serious risk of extinction by the end of the 21st century. Nature conservation in Africa is especially pertinent because ecosystems can be far more fragile than many people consider. While few people would doubt that humans can cause damage to ecosystems, many are unaware of just how severely seemingly innocuous human practices can impact wildlife.
For example, fish provide a major source of protein for the 165,000 people living around Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania and the lake’s fish population is on the decline. Overfishing is a major cause of damage to the lake’s fisheries while runoff from agriculture destabilizes the water. Protecting African wildlife will require a holistic effort.
The Connection Between Nature and Human Wellbeing
Kimberly Holbrook, The Nature Conservancy external affairs manager, states in an interview with The Borgen Project that “there is a very strong linkage between environmental degradation and poverty.” Clean and sustainable water sources allow for the wellbeing of humans, crops, livestock and wildlife alike. Thriving vegetation can release vital oxygen and help reduce carbon emissions. Tourism can provide a steady flow of money into countries with beautiful natural environments that are subject to quality conservation and management procedures. African countries with a commitment to conservation realize that conservation in Africa is vital to the region’s sustenance and development.
How The Nature Conservancy Promotes Conservation Efforts
The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is working with many African organizations to promote nature conservation in a manner that benefits people on the continent. Across the eight African nations in which TNC operates, conservation staff work to protect biodiversity while improving and safeguarding the lives and livelihoods that rely on clean water, healthy soils and wildlife-based incomes.
In many cases, TNC has helped give a voice to groups that international institutions otherwise might not hear. For instance, TNC supports the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), a Kenyan membership organization focused on grassroots conservation and seeking to enhance people’s lives, build peace and conserve the natural environment. TNC has especially helped with capacity building, allowing for public grants to NRT from agencies such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). According to Holbrook, the NRT had previously struggled to receive large funding awards due to limited communication and business development resources.
Holbrook also states that TNC has worked with the Kenya Wildlife Service to create an enabling policy and legislative environment for sustainable conservation and management of wildlife through the Wildlife Act of 2013 and the Community Land Act 2016, among others. The Wildlife Act aims to curb the recent depletion of the country’s natural resources and ensure that the resources are equitably distributed.
Water Conservation Efforts
Nature conservation in Africa should extend to the waters surrounding the continent and TNC has worked to ensure this by providing scientific and financial assistance to the Seychelles Marine Spatial Plan, an initiative in the island nation of Seychelles. This program aims to monitor and stabilize the human footprint in the country’s waters. Beginning in 2012, the Seychelles government expanded the volume of water designated as a “no-take zone,” allowing biodiversity to flourish and the country’s fishery and tourism industries to remain sustainable.
TNC has helped establish another institution that promotes a positive relationship between nature conservation and human prosperity in the form of Kenya’s Upper Tana-Nairobi Water Fund. This initiative aims to protect the Tana River watershed, which provides the water supply for an estimated 9 million people. Due to a lack of infrastructure, TNC estimates that “60% of Nairobi’s residents do not have access to a reliable water supply.” In order to combat this problem, TNC aims to train farmers in practices that are more conducive to water conservation, including digging trenches to support upstream water flows. Such practices will improve both water access and crop yield in the long term.
In South Africa, TNC has partnered with the local government of Cape Town in the creation of the Greater Cape Town Water Fund. This initiative seeks to provide clean and sufficient water for the metropolis of around 4 million people. Notably, the Water Fund seeks to root out invasive pine trees, which soak up as much as 14 billion gallons of water each year. In order to combat thirst and protect biodiversity around Cape Town, several teams are working to stabilize the ecosystem, including rope technicians tasked with taking down the invasive pines.
Public Funding Vital to the Conservation
Many of the TNC’s nature conservation efforts in Africa, including the Nairobi Water Fund, require a significant amount of funding. Efforts will reward both the local and global economy in the long term and public donors are essential to lifting these projects off the ground. Holbrook states that there is a need for increased funding for nature conservation projects in Africa. More investment by the United States and other developed countries will result in substantial benefits for both humans and the environment.
– Sawyer Lachance