The changing of Africa’s conservation landscape

Africa’s conservation landscape is changing – and not only in the ways you might think.

You may think I’m going to tell you about the shrinking and fragmenting of wilderness habitats. Or maybe you think I will write about the relentless onslaught of poaching and the organized crime syndicates behind it. Or perhaps you think I will talk about the loss of biodiversity due to poor land management? Well, you’ll be wrong….

What I am going to tell you about is the clear and meaningful shift of the conservation estate from an inward-looking body of stakeholders, concerned only with matters of their own conservation and environmental issues; to an outward-looking body that embraces and engages with the communities of people in which it exists. This process is playing out with greater momentum and it will act to improve the livelihood of the communities of people in wilderness areas as well as the sustainability of the habitats and wildlife within the reserve complexes.

In the recent past, some commentators and lobbyists have questioned the relevance of wildlife reserves and their economic impact on rural people. This questioning of our relevance has played out in parliamentary meetings earlier this year, where both the state and private reserves were called upon to answer questions on their economic relevance by parties whose objectives remain unclear to me. But, whilst these enquiries took place, I found myself on the ground in rural South Africa, engaged with both rural communities and private and state game reserves, where the wealth growth of the region is visible year on year.

Then, in February this year, a comprehensive report was published as part of a Ph.D. study performed by post-graduate student Alex Chidakel. This was the first-ever study to look at the economic impact of all of the players within the Greater Kruger landscape together, including the Kruger National Park, the Private and Provincial Reserves, as well as the private game lodge businesses which operate within the various reserves.

The report covers the area shown in the figure above, with the local area of economic impact indicated by the yellow line, and the contributing reserves indicated in the key alongside.

This report unpacks, in very clear terms, the exact economic impact of the Greater Krugeron its surrounding areas during the study period of April 2016 to March 2017. Some of the key findings of the report are that the Greater Kruger(incorporating the Kruger Park, and the Private and Provincial Reserves on the park’s western boundary) had a total economic impact, for the year of study, including economic multipliers, as follows:

  1. A total of R6.6 billion in GDP to South Africa’s economy.
  2. R1.5 billion in tax revenue.
  3. 22,300 jobs, earning wages of R3.4 billion.

Interestingly, whilst the National Park enjoyed 82% of the visitation for the year of study, the Private Reserves, with only 17% of the visitation, brought in 52% of the revenue. This is attributable to the higher end lodges in reserves such as Timbavati,Klaserie, Thornybush, and Sabi Sands. The report indicated “..that the private reserves are responsible for the majority of the economic effects of the GKNP. On just 12% of the total land area, they generate 57% of total GDP contributions. Yet their relationship with the national park is a symbiotic one that demonstrates the economic complementarity that public-private Protected Area mosaics can achieve.”

In addition to the wildlife economy of the region paying out R3.4 billion in wages and salaries, the operational expenditure of the Greater Kruger area was estimated at around R1.3 billion. Most importantly, at least 60% of this was spent on local businesses within 50km of the Greater Kruger complex. For private tourism businesses within the reserves, the local spend was around 70%.

Our own reserve, the Timbavati(including all of the commercial lodges such as Tanda Tula), had a direct economic impact of around R325 million, with direct spend on salaries and wages of at least R70 million. This means that the Timbavati contributes between 5.5% to 6% of the total Greater Krugereconomy, largely as a result of the private commercial lodges within the reserve.

The report paints a very encouraging picture of the importance of the wildlife economy of the Greater Kruger National Park. The State and Private Reserves that form the Greater Kruger have been actively encouraging engagement with local businesses, and there is now a drive to incorporate more of the micro-enterprises of the local rural communities into the supply chain of the formal tourism businesses in the Greater Kruger. It is clear that the true solution to the sustainability of the reserves rests on our ability to grow the wealth of the people with whom we share our landscape, and this process is already well underway.

At a time when the rural communities of South Africa are neglected by the government and suffer the frustrations of poor service delivery at a municipal level, the forward momentum of a growing wildlife economy is certainly improving the livelihoods of rural families. The private reserves, which form a part of the Greater Kruger, are an important contributor to this growth and this contribution is well described in the report. Also, highlighted in the report is the high level of social investment on the part of tourism businesses within the private reserves – with anything from education programs (very close to our hearts at Tanda Tula), to building projects, to business incubators and the financial support of local NGO’s.

The imperative now is to expand on the successes of the last few years and to find and develop local talent in order to grow the economy of the communities to track the growth of the wildlife economy. To read a wonderful example of this type of engagement, have a look at the recent blog post by the TPNR on our recent AGM.

Tanda Tula is excited to be part of these initiatives and we are committed to “buy local” and “support local”, to contribute to the education and training of our local people, and to ensure that our own success creates a real economic impact and the growth in wealth of all the people of our region.

With special thanks to Alex Chidakel for providing the information and the figures for this blog piece, from his study entitled “The Economic Impact of the Greater Kruger National Park