Protected areas need better and more diversified funding

The current COVID -19 crisis has brought into sharp focus the underlying financing and resourcing challenges facing protected and conserved areas around the world. Protected areas are a mainstay of biodiversity conservation, while also contributing to people’s livelihoods and well-being, especially at the local level. Yet, in Africa, available funding for protected and conserved area management satisfies only 10 to 20% of management needs. Limited resourcing often results in underperforming protected areas, at a time where they are key to providing solutions for both people and planet.

Funding for protected areas

Most protected and conserved areas in Eastern and Southern Africa face a significant funding gap. There is a clear need to diversify and increase self-generated revenues and develop innovative financing mechanisms. These are the main findings and recommendations of a new IUCN study authored by Conservation Capital, “Closing the gap: Financing and resourcing of protected and conserved areas in Eastern and Southern Africa”.

Traditional sources of funding for conservation of protected areas in Eastern and Southern Africa include government and donor support as well as self-generated revenue, such as fees collected from nature-based tourism or the sustainable utilization of wildlife through hunting and wildlife ranching. These sources alone are inadequate to bridge the funding gap.

To add to these challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the shutdown of the tourism industry and therefore, a significant decrease in conservation-related funding for the protected areas whose main revenue is tourism-based. The COVID-19 pandemic exposes the risks inherent in the current funding model for protected areas across the region.

The 2020 COVID-19 crisis is only exacerbating the gap in funding for protected areas and provides a harsh reminder of the need for revenue diversification,” says Kathleen Fitzgerald of Conservation Capital, one of the lead authors of the study. “This study highlights a number of creative mechanisms that are already in place in Africa that can be replicated and scaled up”.

According to studies, only USD 49 Billion is currently spent on biodiversity protection worldwide, with only 6% in Africa. Even if government and donor funding is doubled, this financing gap will not be met without involvement from the private sector and moving beyond dependence on traditional funding sources.

This is especially true in developing regions, where conservation funding competes with other development objectives, such as infrastructure, education and public health. In the context of the current COVID-19 crisis, the crucial functions that protected areas play in supporting human livelihoods and well-being by maintaining vital services for people, is often overlooked. The study is a reminder that protected area management needs sustained financial support to ensure the maintenance of these essential functions.

The proposed expansion of protected area coverage, as is envisaged in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, will also require an increase in funding. This will place additional pressure on the already stretched budgets of those that traditionally fund conservation work such as governments, donor agencies and civil society organisations.

Way forward: diversify and increase revenue from different sources

The study concludes that developing diversified and sustainable revenue streams is critical for the long-term maintenance of the protected area estate in Eastern and Southern Africa and for protection of essential ecosystem services. One of the key recommendations is to understand and replicate the successful financing models that already exist in Africa.   

Maximizing revenues also increases tax returns to governments and can provide meaningful opportunities to poor and marginalised communities living in or adjacent to protected areas, creating socio-economic prospects, employment and skillsets that can be used in other sectors. The study emphasizes the political and economic relevance of protected areas in Africa when they are governed and managed effectively.

This study is a useful resource for those working to address challenges in the financing of protected and conserved areas in Eastern and Southern Africa. It provides concrete solutions for creating greater resilience for protected and conserved areas in times of crisis and beyond,” concluded Leo Niskanen, Regional Technical Coordinator of IUCN’s Conservation Areas and Species Programme in Eastern and Southern Africa.

The report was produced by the BIOPAMA Programme, an initiative of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States financed by the European Union’s 11th European Development Fund (EDF) and jointly implemented by IUCN and the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (JRC).

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