Convening stakeholders: an inspiring solution for protected areas governance in Southern Africa

27 May 2014 | Article

Protected areas can and do contribute to both improved livelihoods and improved conservation, but biodiversity continues to decline across most the Southern African region. A new strategy for protected areas for this region is therefore urgently needed. This is one of the most important messages highlighted by the participants at the High Level Dialogue on Improving Protected Area Governance for Livelihood Security and Biodiversity in Southern Africa (21-22 May 2014, Windhoek, Namibia).

The Dialogue, financially supported by the Arcus Foundation and the BIOPAMA programme (an initiative of the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific - ACP Secretariat and funded by European Union) was a culmination of work undertaken by the IUCN ESARO Conservation Areas and Species Diversity programme in close liaison with the SADC Secretariat, IUCN Global Programme on Protected Areas and various IUCN Commissions and Member organizations in the region. The event was co-convened by IUCN and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism of the Republic of Namibia, with the participation of Honorable Uahekua Herunga, the Namibian Minister of Environment and Tourism.

The objectives of the Dialogue were to take stock of protected area governance in the SADC region in order to critically assess how protected areas are delivering benefits for local communities and for biodiversity. Delegates also discussed priorities for enhancing the resilience of protected areas to future pressures and challenges. The expected outcome is a statement from the region, taken to the global forum at the IUCN World Parks Congress 2014 that outlines the strategic priorities and recommendations for improved protected area governance over the coming decade.

Attended by delegates from across the SADC region, including representatives from governments, NGOs, development partners, the private sector and inter-governmental organizations, the two-day event provided examples from across the region, both successes and failures, of how protected areas are performing with regard to delivering benefits to local communities and for biodiversity, and offered the opportunity for a dialogue on the challenges protected areas are facing in the region.

A special session on “protected area- land/resource use conflicts” drew attention to a number of specific challenges, including:  human-wildlife conflict; competition for water; wildlife-livestock disease transmission; and contested rights to land and wildlife. Potential strategies to mitigate the impacts of these conflicts on protected areas, communities, and biodiversity were explored, while recognizing that pressures such as climate change and the accelerating conversion of land into uses that are biodiversity-incompatible are likely to further exacerbate these conflicts in the future.

There was a clear consensus that while there are many success stories demonstrating how protected areas can and do contribute to both improved livelihoods and improved conservation, biodiversity continues to decline across most the region, and current protected area governance systems are unlikely to be resilient enough to be able withstand the growing pressures placed on them over the coming decade. A new strategy for protected areas for southern Africa is therefore urgently needed. This needs to emerge from a broader dialogue with more diverse sectors in society and needs to incorporate and enable the full range of protected area categories and governance types and be fully integrated into development planning, taking into account the realities of rapidly transforming land and seascapes.