Rural communities benefit from game parks

Increasing drive to integrate conservation and upliftment

South Africa has a diversity of landscapes and natural beauty to match its diversity in culture and tongues.

Increasingly, this natural beauty is being used to untangle the social injustices of the past and unlock economic benefits for local communities.

Recently, this is being reflected in the increasing number of partnerships being drawn up between rural communities, nature reserves and private operators and developers.

Of late, various local conservation agencies, like the North West Parks and Tourism Board, have taken steps to commercialise wildlife estates under their control, thus opening the door for private-sector investment.

Since tourism has been earmarked as an important vehicle for economic growth in the country, it is also widely perceived as an ideal tool for helping empower disadvantaged communities.

A report prepared by the World Travel and Tourism Council in 1999 forecast that the sector would be a vital contributor to wealth creation in the country.

A 2005 report by the World Travel and Tourism Council expects that tourism in sub-Saharan Africa will generate $73,6-billion in 2005.

Locally, this potential is reflected in the increase in foreign tourists visiting the country.

According to the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism 2004 annual report, the number of foreign visitors to South Africa climbed from 3,7-million in 1994 to 6,5-million in 2003.

Mafisa, a local research and policy development company specialising in conservation, tourism and land reform, has helped facilitate the intersection of conservation, tourism and rural upliftment in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

One of the predominant catalysts of this intersection has been the lodge industry.

Mafisa director Peter John Massyn notes that the company is the implementation agency for a project called the Africa Safari Lodge (ASL) programme.

With funding from the Ford Foundation and GTZ, the German government’s technical assistance arm, the programme has three main empowerment aims for participating communities: skills development, equity ownership and establishing business opportunities for a support industry.

Massyn notes that, in the past, the lodge industry has been characterised by substantial capital leakages.

Being a specialised industry, lodges require specialised skills.

Historically, these skills have been sourced from outside the surrounding communities.

This means that, even though rural communities have been located close to sources of wealth creation, lodges have outsourced skills rather than develop a skills pool within the surrounding communities.

In an effort to counter this capital drain, the ASL project has introduced a field-guide training programme in the Madikwe Game Reserve in the North West Province.

“Since field-guide positions`are usually used as a springboard into managerial posts, this training was seen as an ideal way to help retain skills and capital within local communities,” says Massyn.

Accredited through the Tourism, Hospitality and Sport Education and Training Authority (Theta), applicants are being offered apprenticeships at various lodges in Madikwe where they are exposed to the different responsibilities of operating a lodge.

Massyn notes that, since the first phase of the field-guide training initiative in 2000, about 80% of graduates from the programme have been absorbed into lodges in Madikwe.

Another important tier of the project is to empower communities with equity shares in wildlife realestate and lodge businesses.

Through the land restitution process, communities forcibly removed from their land to accommodate the formation of game reserves under the apartheid government, can now enjoy ownership rights to the confiscated land.

“Provided the communities agree to the land being retained within the conservation areas, they can take ownership, of the property and negotiate with private partners to develop the land into lodges and enjoy a share of the profits,” says Massyn.

He mentions the example of the Makuleke community, forcibly removed from their land in 1969 to make space for an expansion of the Kruger National Park.

The community has now been granted ownership rights over their old land, situated in the north of the Kruger Park, which has allowed them to enter into beneficial agreements with two private partners to develop lodges in the area.

Massyn notes that even communities who were not subject to forced removals can acquire land rights based on long-term lease agreements.

Once a development trust has been formed and a private partner is secured, capital for the development of lodge infrastructure is raised through a combination of parastatal funding, grants and the issue of equity.

“In this way, communities are not completely sheltered from exposure to debt and have responsibilities to help pay off any debt through their share of profits,” says Massyn.

He notes that forward-looking and enterprising private partners are increasingly looking to develop partnerships with rural communities as part of their social responsibility obligations.

An example of the successful application of the project is the Balete community in Lekgophung, just west of Madikwe in the North West province, that has partnered with a private developer and now boasts ownership rights to an exclusive 16-bed luxury lodge called Buffalo Ridge.

“A significant feature of the ASL project is that this development model can be replicated ,in conservation areas elsewhere in South Africa and, indeed, beyond our borders.

“These sorts of partnerships between the private sector and rural communities are important for the preservation of areas under conservation as well as the upliftment of these communities,” adds Massyn.

The third goal of the African Safari Lodge project is to help rural communities to develop small businesses that will support the lodge industry.

These small business linkages can include services that cater for maintenance, waste removal, wood collection, arts and crafts and other possibilities.

“These small business linkages will grow and become commercially viable as the lodge industry develops economies of scale and depends more on the services of rural businesses as opposed to services from urban centres,” says Massyn.

Key stats:

$73,6-Billion: The amount of money tourism is expected to generate in sub-Saharan Africa this year 6,5 million foreigners visited South Africa in 2003
Engineering News – 10 June 2005Peter Cromberge


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