EN­COUR­AG­ING CON­SER­VA­TION THROUGH EN­TER­PRISE

Nomad Africa Magazine - - Nature & Wildlife | Encouraging Conservation - Words: MAYU MISHINA | Pho­tographs: GONZALO GUA­JARDO-F. CABALLOS

Like many of its coun­ter­parts in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, Ethiopia has ex­pe­ri­enced sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic growth over the past sev­eral years. The coun­try has charted a 10.8-per­cent growth rate since 2005, ac­cord­ing to the African De­vel­op­ment Bank. Ethiopia was pre­dicted to sup­plass Kenya as East Africa’s largest econ­omy in the com­ing year, and its gross do­mes­tic prod­uct (GDP) is es­ti­mated to hit al­most $80 bil­lion this year.

delve be­neath these num­bers, how­ever, and you get a slightly dif­fer­ent pic­ture. Poverty still per­sists in much of the coun­try. Ethiopia’s per capita in­come av­er­ages $590 per per­son—“sub­stan­tially lower than the re­gional av­er­age,” re­ports the World Bank. (In com­par­i­son, the per capita in­come for Kenya was $1,340 last year.) Fur­ther, de­spite be­ing the sec­ond most-pop­u­lous coun­try in Africa, Ethiopia re­mains the least ur­banised.

That’s cer­tainly the case around Simien Moun­tains Na­tional Park in north­ern Ethiopia. “There’s min­i­mal in­fra­struc­ture in this area,” ob­serves Dave O’Con­nell, a Penn­syl­va­nia busi­ness owner who vis­ited the Simiens last year with his wife. “It’s re­ally dif­fer­ent from the other nat­u­ral ar­eas we’ve been to in Africa. You don’t stop and get a soda. There is no gas sta­tion, no land­ing strip for small planes.” Lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties live in ba­sic con­di­tions in this re­mote, moun­tain­ous land­scape. Hav­ing lim­ited in­come op­por­tu­ni­ties, res­i­dents en­gage in live­stock keep­ing and sub­sis­tence agri­cul­ture to sur­vive. These ac­tiv­i­ties fre­quently en­croach upon—and even oc­cur in­side—the park, de­grad­ing the ecosys­tem and putting pres­sure on wildlife pop­u­la­tions.

Way to grow lo­cal in­comes

The Simiens are im­por­tant to global bio­di­ver­sity. The park is the only na­ture­based World Her­itage Site in Ethiopia and is an Im­por­tant bird­ing area. Some of the park’s wildlife is found in few other places on Earth. The en­dan­gered walia ibex, a wild moun­tain goat, lives only in the Simien Moun­tains and its sur­round­ing area. The gelada mon­key is en­demic to north­ern Ethiopia. The Simiens pop­u­la­tion of the Ethiopian wolf, the most en­dan­gered canid in the world, is the sec­ond-largest pop­u­la­tions in Ethiopia. Given these fac­tors, con­serv­ing this area—and pro­tect­ing it from con­tin­ued degra­da­tion—is crit­i­cal. And with peo­ple play­ing such a sig­nif­i­cant role in the land­scape’s degra­da­tion, their in­volve­ment is nec­es­sary to bet­ter pro­tect the park. But how do you en­cour­age con­ser­va­tion in a place where peo­ple are strug­gling just to sur­vive?

In African Wildlife Foun­da­tion’s ex­pe­ri­ence, con­ser­va­tion-based en­ter­prises have served as an ef­fec­tive way of both grow­ing lo­cal in­comes and fos­ter­ing com­mu­nity ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. AWF’s ear­li­est en­ter­prise work lever­aged go­rilla tourism in Rwanda, where we helped es­tab­lish a lodge out­side of Vol­ca­noes Na­tional Park that shared a per­cent­age of its rev­enue with the lo­cal com­mu­nity. The com­mu­nity, which had at one point viewed moun­tain go­ril­las as pests, has since

come to value the species for bring­ing steady in­come to the area.

Home­grown en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit

Fea­tur­ing stun­ning vis­tas and unique wildlife, Simien Moun­tains Na­tional Park was ripe for a sim­i­lar ef­fort, lever­ag­ing in­come gen­er­a­tion from na­ture-based tourism to en­hance con­ser­va­tion lo­cally. AWF’s con­ser­va­tion en­ter­prise work had un­der­gone an evo­lu­tion in the years since the go­rilla tourism lodge, so we ap­proached this en­ter­prise de­vel­op­ment from a slightly dif­fer­ent an­gle this time. Pre­vi­ously, AWF had pri­mar­ily es­tab­lished con­ser­va­tion lodges by act­ing as a bro­ker in be­tween a pri­vate sec­tor op­er­a­tor and a com­mu­nity. We helped cre­ate a long-term agree­ment be­tween those two par­ties whereby the com­mu­nity owned the land and lodge, the pri­vate com­pany op­er­ated the lodge and both shared in rev­enues.

In some land­scapes, this ar­range­ment is still a vi­able option for fos­ter­ing con­ser­va­tion suc­cess. But it doesn’t al­ways take ad­van­tage of some of the home­grown en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit that is over­tak­ing Africa.

In the Simiens, for ex­am­ple, a long­time Ethiopian trekker guide by the name of Shiferaw As­rat had been think­ing about build­ing a lodge. Tourists stay­ing in the park had only rudi­men­tary camp­ing op­tions or a sin­gle lodge to choose from. “Fa­cil­i­ties in the park are very ba­sic,” Shiferaw says. “When there are large num­bers of tourists, camp­sites be­come over­crowded. As a trekker guide, any com­plaints that I got were nearly al­ways about the con­di­tion of the camp­sites.” Shiferaw dreamed of a lodge that would cater to a slightly higher-end crowd that would en­joy the nat­u­ral won­ders of the Simiens, but would wel­come a bit of pam­per­ing after a long day of trekking. Shiferaw and his busi­ness part­ner Me­les Ye­mata also felt strongly about the need to em­ploy lo­cal com­mu­nity mem­bers in both the lodge con­struc­tion and lodge op­er­a­tions. This way, they could pro­vide em­ploy­ment to neigh­bours and po­ten­tially cre­ate more in­come-gen­er­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Shiferaw adds, “One of my aims was also to make the peo­ple liv­ing in this area more en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious, and for

Lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties live in ba­sic con­di­tions in this re­mote, moun­tain­ous land­scape. Hav­ing lim­ited in­come op­por­tu­ni­ties, res­i­dents en­gage in live­stock keep­ing and sub­sis­tence agri­cul­ture to sur­vive. These ac­tiv­i­ties fre­quently en­croach upon—and even oc­cur in­side—the park, de­grad­ing the ecosys­tem and putting pres­sure on wildlife pop­u­la­tions.

them to see value in a beau­ti­ful en­vi­ron­ment.”

Shiferaw and Me­les had picked out the per­fect lo­ca­tion, sit­u­ated near a com­mu­nity that typ­i­cally did not re­ceive ben­e­fits from the park. They just needed fi­nanc­ing to build the lodge.

Beau­ti­ful Ecolodge

They re­ceived that fi­nanc­ing from an in­vest­ment fund es­tab­lished by AWF, which com­pany eval­u­ated the lodge’s busi­ness, con­ser­va­tion and so­cioe­co­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties and de­ter­mined it to be a good in­vest­ment.

To­day, Li­mal­imo Lodge is no longer just a dream, but a sim­ply de­signed, beau­ti­ful ecolodge owned by Shiferaw and Me­les and op­er­ated by Shiferaw and his wife, Ju­lia Jeans, who is also the lodge op­er­a­tions man­ager. As orig­i­nally imag­ined, the lodge em­ployed a num­ber of lo­cal res­i­dents—about 200 in to­tal—in the con­struc­tion. Many of them are now em­ployed as ho­tel staff (the lodge pro­vides em­ploy­ment to 33 staff from the neigh­bour­ing com­mu­ni­ties).

But Li­mal­imo’s im­pacts go far be­yond em­ploy­ment. The lodge is pur­chas­ing much of its pro­duce from the farm­ers who op­er­ate just out­side of the park. It is work­ing with them to grow new types of veg­eta­bles to sup­ply to the lodge. “There are also two tuk-tuks that we use a lot of the time, es­pe­cially for staff trans­port,” notes Jeans. “They will have seen a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in in­come due to Li­mal­imo.”

Fi­nally, un­der an ar­range­ment with AWF’s im­pact in­vest­ing sub­sidiary, the lodge also pro­vides a rev­enue stream that ben­e­fits an area pri­mary school sup­ported by AWF.

From a con­ser­va­tion stand­point, Shiferaw and Jeans note that lodge staff mem­bers un­der­stand the im­por­tance of con­ser­va­tion. “One of the largest con­flicts is the graz­ing in the park, which has now been zoned in sev­eral ar­eas,” ex­plains Jeans. “Our staff po­lice this them­selves when they see an­i­mals be­ing grazed in ar­eas that are not al­lo­cated for graz­ing.”

Worth pro­tect­ing

Time will tell how con­ser­va­tion con­tin­ues at Simien Moun­tains Na­tional Park, particularly around Li­mal­imo Lodge. “Li­mal­imo Lodge is open­ing up an al­ter­na­tive area of the park that so far has seen lit­tle tourism,” says Shiferaw. “For vis­i­tors to get the most out of the park in this area, the lo­cal com­mu­nity—be­yond the lodge staff—needs to un­der­stand the im­por­tance of look­ing after their sur­round­ings and the ben­e­fit this can bring them. By in­volv­ing the com­mu­nity and be­ing in con­tin­ued di­a­logue with them, we hope that we can bring this mes­sage across.” And if the ex­pe­ri­ence of Dave O’Con­nell and his wife, Karen Aydt, is any in­di­ca­tion, the park is cer­tainly worth pro­tect­ing. O’Con­nell and his wife had sched­uled a lot of cul­tural site vis­its in Ethiopia, and “I was ac­tu­ally con­cerned about be­ing dis­ap­pointed in the na­ture as­pects,” O’Con­nell says. But, he says, “it’s re­ally beau­ti­ful, that park. It is like go­ing to the Grand Canyon, but with­out the hordes of tourists. At the same time, you do have indige­nous crea­tures, like gelada mon­keys and birds.”

The com­mu­nity, which had at one point viewed moun­tain go­ril­las as pests, has since come to value the species for bring­ing steady in­come to the area.

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