A People-Centered Approach to Conservation
Key Takeaways from the 2022 Africa Protected Areas Congress
From July 18 to 23, 2022, the first IUCN African Protected Areas Congress (APAC) in Kigali, Rwanda, was convened jointly by the government of Rwanda, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF). The inaugural Congress brought together more than 2,400 participants from 53 African and 27 other countries. Participants represented government, multilateral institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), indigenous and local communities, students, the private sector, and other interested parties, who convened to celebrate and discuss the future of Africa’s protected and conserved areas (PCAs).
Monica Medina, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, noted in a pre-recorded statement during the opening ceremony, “When it comes down to it, effective conservation involves governments working with businesses, NGOs, indigenous peoples, local communities, and other stakeholders to support livelihoods while maintaining and restoring ecosystems. Your efforts here at APAC are instrumental in the future of biodiversity in Africa. The United States looks forward to working with you to support conservation efforts.”
The Congress aimed to deepen commitment to sustainable growth, recognizing that the continent’s ecological and economic imperatives converge. A people-centered approach to conservation was at the forefront of the agenda, along with the empowerment of indigenous peoples, local communities, and youth as the custodians of Africa’s most treasured natural resources. Kaddu Sebunya, CEO and president of AWF, underscored the urgency of protecting these natural resources at the opening ceremony by observing, “It is the fate of these crucial landscapes and wildlife that will dictate the future of Africa and the Africa we will leave to the next generation.”
One key outcome of the conference was the Kigali Call to Action for People and Nature, which is a commitment to take critical and immediate actions toward effective governance and management of Africa’s PCAs; address biodiversity, climate change, and health crises; and ensure the long-term resilience of the continent’s nature, livelihoods, and cultures. Through a series of plenary discussions, workshops, and trainings, stakeholders drew on their expertise to lay the foundation for a comprehensive plan to promote the well-being of Africa’s people, wildlife, and land and the role of conservation in the global fight against climate change. FP Analytics, with support from AWF, produced this synthesis report to distill key takeaways, specifically focusing on three panels featured on the robust, wide-ranging agenda of the 2022 African Protected Areas Conference. The synthesis report highlights conservation’s greatest challenges and opportunities, and underscores the African continent’s capacity for innovation and collaboration.
This synthesis report was produced by FP Analytics with support from the African Wildlife Foundation.
Challenges and Opportunities for Protected and Conserved Areas (PCAs)
Hon. Lee White, Ministre des Eaux, des Forêts, de la Mer, de l’Environnement, Chargé du Plan Climat and du Plan d’Affectation des Terres (Minister of the Environment), Gabon
Juliette Biao Koudenoukpo, Executive Director, UN Forum on Forests
Amy Fraenkel, Executive Secretary, Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals
Alfred Oteng-Yeboah, Chair, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)/ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) steering committee
Marco Lambertini, Director General, WWF International
Moderator: Shamila Nair-Bedouelle, Shamila Nair-Bedouelle, Assistant Director, General UNESCO
This panel assembled environmental experts from African governments and international organizations to discuss the socioeconomic value of protected and conserved areas, the role of PCAs in sustainable development and fighting climate change, and new approaches to global governance and cooperation. The panel emphasized the value of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) as both custodians of knowledge and frontline defenders in African land and wildlife conservation. To build resilience, protect the harmony of Africa’s ecosystems, and promote the continent’s economic growth, the experts offered recommendations such as a clearer political vision and leadership, intergenerational and transboundary collaboration, information sharing, consensus on the economic value of natural resources, and people-centered approaches to conservation.
- There should be a mindset shift away from the perceived incompatibility between nature conservation and sustainable development. Accounting for natural resources demonstrates the competitiveness of conservation, even in the face of extractive economic forces.
- Bringing nature closer to people, and people closer to the center of conservation, will socialize and empower them to own the conservation agenda, including tangible relevance to their livelihoods, and make them more effective participants in the fight against climate change.
- PCAs are potential economic engines for rural and national economies. Reinvesting revenue from PCAs back into those areas and communities will increase resilience and help unlock the full economic potential of the continent’s natural resources. This requires both effective management of PCAs and sustainable use practices.
- Increasing the number of PCAs is not sufficient to halt biodiversity loss, reduce poverty, or curb climate change. A more holistic approach will require significantly upscaling investment to close the funding gap that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The continent provides the essential service of absorbing the world’s CO2 emissions through its forests, yet it is not responsible for most of the world’s emissions. Africa’s voice should be amplified in the global climate change conversation to help address this imbalance and devise solutions that work for all.
- Building on the successes of Africa’s trans-frontier conservation areas, increasing connectivity between PCAs within the continent and outside of its boundaries is necessary for effective restoration of biodiversity loss. Connected systems are better for resilience building and mitigating climate change.
“We have to amplify our voice, and we have to fight for the survival of our continent, because if we don’t, there will be 500 million climate refugees on this continent, and there will be no protected areas left.”
“The process of establishing protected and conserved areas is very complex, and the inclusiveness has yet to yield concrete results in terms of reducing poverty.”
“If we don’t care for and invest in nature, we will not achieve the other Sustainable Development Goals. It’s as simple as that.”
“We’re far from fulfilling the potential of the continent, in terms of direct economic generation from protected areas.”
Investing in Biodiversity: Diversifying Innovative Financing Models for PCAs
Claudine Uwera, Minister of State in Charge of Economic Planning in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning in Rwanda
Steffi Lemke, German Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety, and Consumer Protection
Paulo Gomes, Co-founder, New African Capital Partners, Former Executive Director at the World Bank
Mohamed Imam Bakarr, Lead Environmental Specialist GEF
Aurelia Micko, Director of Environment, Kenya and East Africa USAID
Chantal Marijnissen, Head of Unit for Environment, Sustainable and Natural Resources, European Commission
Teddy Mugabo, Chief Executive Officer, Rwanda Green Fund
Alain Liva Raharijaona, Executive Director of Madagascar Fund
Carsten Sandhop, Head of Division Governance and Resource Management, Southern African Department, KfW German Development Bank
Moderator: Charlotte Karibuhoye, Director and Head of Strategic Alliances, MAVA Foundation
This panel, composed of public- and private-sector experts from African and European countries, discussed the critical role of financing in combating biodiversity loss and climate change. The conservation of ecosystems requires persistent and coordinated effort and investment from public-private partnerships to keep pace with the evolving dangers of climate change. The panelists provided insights on strategies to incentivize the private sector and mobilize civil society to promote awareness and attract funding for conservation efforts. Panelists discussed immediate and short-term ways to close the financing gap, while also emphasizing the need for long-term strategies to combat protracted environmental crises.
- International financial architecture is crucial to combat and adapt to climate change and protect conservation areas. Leaders in Africa need to acknowledge the importance of promoting equitable benefit-sharing to encourage more systematic funding from private-sector partners, in addition to utilizing public funds. Private investors should be made aware of the environmental, development, and socio-economic benefits of biodiversity conservation.
- Civil society and community-based organizations play an important role in the protection of biodiversity. Local groups and organizations have first-hand knowledge of the environmental challenges facing their communities and how to manage and fund the conservation of their ecosystems sustainably. Often excluded from the decision-making process, community leaders and organizers must be acknowledged as key partners in the development of projects. Without their input, the scope and severity of environmental issues will not be understood, and areas that are most vulnerable will not be safeguarded.
- The conservation of ecosystems is a long-term issue that requires a long-term strategy. A pan-African trust fund is a critical mechanism to mobilize resources to mitigate increasing biodiversity loss. A trust fund will establish funding priorities at the government level and effectively coordinate the financial process to ensure that funds reach the most vulnerable areas.
“The crisis that is happening now is a window of opportunity where many people agree that we need to change and reform the financial system….We need to reform it in a very urgent manner, but we cannot reform it without bringing the environmental issue into that reform.”
“Having a fund in place, whether that is a trust fund or a different type of fund, that really plays a coordinating role to ensure that the priorities set at the government level are clear, and therefore the different partners that come on board are complementing one another. This is one advantage. The second advantage is ensuring that the funds are going to where the needs are…being on the ground to support projects which are targeting the most vulnerable.”
“Biodiversity provides us with clean air, water supplies, food, and building materials, and creates jobs and livelihoods and actively prevents pandemics. These are all compelling reasons why investments in nature conservation also make sound economic sense….State and non-state actors must work together. Governments need to direct government spending away from activities that harm nature…and establish regulatory frameworks to ensure that biodiversity concerns are adequately reflected in the finance sector.”
“There is a need to establish a legal environment where subsidies or incentives which harm biodiversity are prohibited across all sectors to promote green procurement.”
“There are conservation trust funds and national funds for community conservation. These are good and credible instruments which need financing…I see a pan-African trust fund as an additional, very important, and very much needed funding instrument to pool money and bring it to national institutions.”
“We have to think of civil society and community-based organizations as partners and not as an afterthought in the design of projects. We see projects coming in which highlight civil society organizations as partners, but many of them have not been consulted, and when the funds come, it is hard for them to access those funds…When we talk about civil society and community-based organizations, the potential for resource mobilization lies in the value of biodiversity and what nature can bring to the global environment.”
“There is a vibrant, growing ecosystem of carbon financing that does bring the credible expertise of the private sector onboard. There are funds which are specifically focused on, for example, COVID recovery and tourism…so there are these attempts to bring in the private sector.”
“Time is of the essence. If we look at Madagascar, we have ten years to save biodiversity, which means that we cannot just do business as usual….We have to find new ways to mobilize the private sector….When you have economic projects, you first try to avoid destroying biodiversity. If you cannot avoid destroying, you have to restore, and if you cannot restore, you have to offset by financing biodiversity elsewhere, and that is what we call the offset program….That is one of the good tools to use to mobilize the private sector, beyond, of course, carbon credit.”
“When we [the European Union] started, we were really focusing on the protected area with a limited focus on the wider landscape and the economic development within this wider landscape. We found that this is not sustainable and does not help to develop the right environment. Looking back over the experience we’ve been able to gain, we tend to go for a much wider landscape…It has allowed us to understand them [the people], it has allowed us to attract other forms of financing from private foundations, but also we are starting to see that we’re getting different instruments coming in from financial institutions with loans and guarantees.”
Upholding Rights, Promoting Good Governance and Equity
Lucy Mulenkei, Executive Director, Indigenous Information Network
Jimmiel Mandima, Vice President, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)
Jennifer Mohamed-Katerere, Independent Human Rights and Environmental Law Expert
Brian Child, Regional Councilor, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Solange Bandiaky-Badii, Global Coordinator of Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) and President of the Rights and Resources Group, Senegal
Hon. Collins Nzovu, Minister of Green Economy and Environment, Zambia
Lesle Jansen, Head of Resource Africa, South Africa
Moderator: Hon. Emmanuel Ugirashebuja, Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Republic of Rwanda
In the Leadership Dialogue on Upholding Rights, Promoting Good Governance and Equity, panelists placed IPLCs at the forefront of conservation to discuss the historical injustices committed against them, their relationships with governments, NGOs, donors and governance processes, and how to further elevate their voices in both policymaking and implementation. There was a strong call for the African Protected Areas Congress to move toward the legal recognition of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities’ rights as a first step in achieving effective participation by all stakeholders in the climate and biodiversity crises. The experts reiterated the need for community-based resource management and equitable benefit-sharing to promote good governance.
- Governments and NGOs must earn back the trust of IPLCs after decades of abuse and disenfranchisement. IPLCs are the conservators of Africa’s lands and wildlife, and for them to deliver effective management, they need to be part of the decision-making process.
- International NGOs should advocate for and recognize the legal rights of indigenous peoples to their lands to help build agency within local communities. This will be the first step in transforming policy from an imposition upon IPLCs to a consensual commitment with them.
- Respecting the rights of IPLCs means recognizing the knowledge capacity they hold, letting them contribute to policy-making processes, allowing them to manage PCAs, and helping to build bridges among IPLCs, governments, and NGOs.
- The private sector needs to be involved in meaningful dialogues to produce concrete solutions. There also need be institutional monitoring and evaluation of stakeholder activities to ensure progress and respect for the land, wildlife, and local communities.
- Co-designing projects to identify competencies among the local community creates strong alliances with IPLCs. Equitable benefits-sharing leads to greater empowerment of IPLCs and increased capacity for transformational, sustainable conservation.
“Why do you isolate us? Why don’t you respect our rights? Why don’t you work with us? Take yourself to the village, all of you here, and just see how we grew up, and see how everything was systematically respected and linked to each and everything—in the community, in the people, everywhere. That’s what indigenous peoples and local communities are saying.”
“The percentage of money that comes through grant funding should significantly be spent and invested through the local IPLCs, and that’s happening. Now, are we there yet? Not yet, but that is the trajectory.”
“I think it’s time for all international organizations to put monitoring and evaluation of institutional change at the center of how they work.”
“The problem doesn’t lie with the communities. I think the problem lies with the governance structures we’ve inherited from the past and our inability as governments and NGOs to redesign systems that suit communities. So, the problem and the answer lie with us.”
“The issue of legal recognition of rights, I think if we want systemic change, that’s where we need to start. It’s one thing to have projects and implement them, it’s another thing to have a comprehensive approach. So, without the recognition of those rights, it’s very hard to come up with what really needs to be done on the ground.”
“I encourage every government, in Africa, in particular, to look at the rights of the indigenous people, because they are the most affected by the climate crisis.”
“From Resource Africa and Community Leaders Network, we want to call on APAC to stand in solidarity with these communities as they are doing inclusive conservation, to call out the Global North….They must know, as our partners, they are conceptualizing biodiversity legislation that undermines the people of Africa and what we are trying to do.”
- While African countries consume just a fraction of the world’s fossil fuels, their vast ecological wealth and unique natural ecosystems are critical to climate change adaptation and mitigation. Africa is making considerable progress on sustainable development and climate change initiatives such as Agenda 2063, 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the 2021–2027 African Union Green Recovery Action Plan, and Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. The continent is also on track to achieve the worldwide initiative 30 by 30, which aims to designate 30 percent of the Earth’s surface area as PCAs by 2030. The Kigali Call to Action is a key guiding instrument for the Congress’s most pressing policy aims related to these initiatives, a collaborative platform for global partnerships, and a signal of Africa’s commitment to prioritizing conservation and climate agendas.
- One resounding message of the inaugural IUCN African Protected Areas Congress is that Africa has more work to do to deliver sustainable, equitable, and fair economic growth for all while protecting and preserving their ecosystems. An estimated 1.2 billion jobs around the world depend directly on healthy ecosystems, and many of them are in Africa. The process of restoring natural resources must include IPLCs, who are most vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change and biodiversity loss and most capable of reversing the harm because of their synergistic relationship to Africa’s lands.
- One persistent recommendation from experts throughout the week was a people-centered, community-based model of resource management. This model must come from Africans to be most effective, as many participants echoed concerns over continuing to allow foreign prescriptions and interference in domestic conservation efforts. As former Prime Minister of Ethiopia Hailemariam Desalegn Boshe stated in the opening plenary discussion, “We Africans, we should be at the driving seat. We shouldn’t wait for international NGOs to come and work for us.”
- A community-based model of conservation requires reinvesting income from PCAs back into the surrounding communities, accounting for natural capital services, and insisting on equitable participation by all stakeholders. Increased private and public long-term investments could help close the funding gap exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as fiscal contributions from civil service organizations and NGOs.
- Effective local governance will be essential to elevate IPLC voices in the decision-making process. Partnerships between stakeholders should promote knowledge cooperation, work toward large-scale data monitoring systems, and include mechanisms for evaluating progress periodically.
- A holistic approach to biodiversity loss, conservation, and sustainable development needs to involve intergenerational dialogue that both honors the traditions of Africa’s communities and innovates and adapts to the evolving reality of climate change. The Youth Declaration was a central element of the conference, underscoring the pivotal role of younger generations in conservation efforts: “We, the youth, are leaders of today, partners in the vision, not only commentators but capacity builders ready to stand in any gap and be the solution.” With good governance, political commitment and vision, and respect for one another, Africa will achieve its ambitious agenda for conservation and sustainable growth.