Land-Use Planning for Integrating Rural Development and Wildlife Conservation

David Peddie
July 2017

There is a large “Elephant in the Room” of every developing country’s efforts to conserve it’s land and natural resources, and to give its rural people a desirable quality of life. Human population growth and the resulting numbers of people, all with expanding consumptive desires and expectations, is placing unsustainable demands on that land and those natural resources. 

Throughout Africa, the concept of the socio-economic development of these rural communities, catalysed by the sustainable use of wildlife and other renewable natural resources, is becoming recognised as the most appropriate, and acceptable, long-term solution to ensuring both the well-being of the people and the conservation of wildlife and productively functioning ecosystems. That recognition is particularly slow among politicians, some of the larger development funding organisations and a number of the less pragmatic conservation NGOs.

There is, however, now a real urgency to apply innovative land-use planning to these concepts for the future of rural areas and communities. This is especially true for communities living on the periphery of wildlife protected areas, or in areas more ecologically suited to wildlife than to conventional agriculture or pastoralism.

When it comes to sustainable development, it is essential to adopt an holistic, inclusive and coordinate approach to ensure that we create a balanced environment and rural society. Land-use planning is one of the essential tools we need to apply. Obviously, not all of our natural resources are renewable and those that are not, need to be carefully exploited to ensure that they provide a country with the greatest, and most widely distributed, benefits for the longest possible period. At the same time, though, we need to acknowledge that the extraction and use of many of these resources, through mining and processing, come with ecological and human health hazards.

The above diagram illustrates how an Integrated Conservation and Rural Community Development approach can be broken down into ecological, social and economic segments that are logically linked, and which can be coordinated into achieving the goal of a functioning and productive natural environment supporting human society. There is a positive relationship and feedback between environmental conservation and rural development - whether it is through education and training; creating food security, stimulating entrepreneurial enterprises or through nature and wildlife based tourism. Wildlife conservation and economic development need to be mutually supporting and mutually beneficial.

However, if we are to get all these elements acting together to achieve the goal of functioning, productive ecosystems, that are the basis of viable rural economic development, then a wide variety of participants have to play their part. These include the State; private enterprise; the tourism industry; non-profit organisations and rural communities.   

Creating a balance of environmental and wildlife conservation with economic development requires a complex blend of land and resource use, and social and infrastructure development. Thus when attempting land-use planning in many African rural areas, there is a need to think strategically, act tactically and to work within a collaborative, cooperative and coordinated framework.

Many rural communal areas in Southern Africa and East Africa are relatively rich in natural resources, including wildlife, wildlife habitat or scenic wilderness - even the arid escarpment and northwest of Namibia; the semi-arid low-lying areas of Zimbabwe; the Kalahari of Botswana and the dry northwest of Kenya. Water, of course, is often scarce in these areas, but with careful management, need not be a significant constraint. Non-renewable mineral resources and, potentially in some locations, methane gas, may also be present and can be exploited. All of which presents an opportunity for some innovative land use and economic development planning based on natural resource management, and led by sustainable wildlife utilisation.

Wildlife can be a primary economic driver and Community Conservancies, notably in Namibia, have proven to be a successful vehicle for its conservation and utilisation, and for economic development. That is if the communities have the authority, and the ability, to own and manage their land and the utilisation of their wildlife. If they are supported with land-use planning expertise and with access to suitable financing mechanisms and skills training, their natural resource base is their strength and their future.

For example, soil, rainfall and wildlife conspire, in many locations, to make subsistence agriculture and pastoralism a precarious existence. By consolidating and protecting agriculture around sites of better soils, focusing on water management and using modern conservation agriculture and aquaculture methods, far greater food productivity is possible from relatively small areas. Ideally, at the same time, people, civil infrastructure and entrepreneurial enterprises can be concentrated with suitable infrastructure around these development nodes. The result being the creation of an opportunity for the Conservancy to return much of the land under subsistence farming to wildlife and to use it for both tourism (game viewing, hunting) and game harvesting - with the added benefit of a reduction of human-wildlife conflict.

As mentioned, it is likely that within some community areas, mineral resources will mean that mining and industrial development are realities and necessities. The exploitation of these assets to the benefit of the community can be incorporated into a well-structured investment and development plan, However, mining and related industries do have negative environmental, social and economic impacts that need to be contained and to be minimised. Their location - should there be options; their scale; their use of existing infrastructure and the negative impact mitigation measures are critical issues in their exploitation.

This is, obviously, a stylised and idealised illustration, at a local level, of some of the concepts of land-use planning for socio-economic development of rural communities and the concurrent conservation of wildlife, biodiversity in general and the protection of ecosystem services. Most of the elements of a theoretical rural development model are represented. The State Protected Areas can function as primary wildlife “sources” and the community conservancies as “sustainable utilisation sinks”.

In summary, the following are some factors to bear in mind when planning land-use and economic development in rural community areas :

*     Wildlife is a primary economic development resource.
*     Tourism is a key economic sector

*     Multiple land-use options are available for all communal areas
*     Communal conservancies need autonomy and access to expertise and financing
*     Consolidation of agriculture into core protected areas along with civil services is key
*     State Protected Wildlife Areas are potential sources and communal conservancies are sinks
*     Optimise existing infrastructure
*     Minimise negative aspects of mining and industry
*     Reduce human population growth through education and affluence

Curriculum Vitae                                                   Conservation    Community    Commerce    Culture                                      © David Peddie 2017