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Conservation Should Be Major U.S.-Africa Policy Issue, Report Says
July 20, 2004

July 20, 2004
Posted to the web July 20, 2004

Tali Trigg
Washington, DC

Nicholas P. Lapham, Vice President for Policy at Conservation International, joined other experts in making recommendations for U.S.-Africa policy in a Center for Strategic and International Studies report commissioned by Congress. Natural resource conservation, Lapham believes, should be promoted in its own right. However, it can also help the United States achieve other policy goals relating to health, security and economics.

Lapham argues that natural resources are integral to people's lives in Africa and sees a possibility for an increased role by the United States. The U.S. has great expertise in nature conservation, he said, and should therefore share this experience with other countries. Lapham spoke to AllAfrica's Tali Trigg about the recommendations made in the CSIS report.

Concerning U.S. nature conservancy action in Africa, can you mention any examples of U.S.-Africa projects that are currently being pursued?

The first recommendation encourages the U.S. government to build on the example of the Congo-Basin forest partnership, which is an effort that Secretary Powell has led and that started in 2002 to promote the conservation of shared eco-systems - in other words, natural habitats that stretch across national boundaries. These natural habitats do not respect political borders. So if you're really going to conserve them effectively, you must have effective cooperation between nations or your conservation work isn't going to succeed.

What role do you see for Africa in this U.S.-Africa partnership?

There are African governments [that] have developed conservation visions and blueprints for these eco-systems. It's not the case of the U.S. coming in and telling them what to do or what to conserve - on the contrary. In the Congo-Basin there was something called the Yaounde Declaration, which was adopted by all the heads of states in the region. It identified the priority areas to conserve and really the Congo-Basin forest partnership builds on that declaration. In other words, it's not an American vision. It's an African vision that the U.S. is coming in and saying, `How can we help you implement this and realize it.'

Where do you think this partnership will be applied in the future?

Let's take that approach to two other major shared eco-systems. One of them is what is called the Miombo woodland. Miombo is a species of tree and the Miombo woodlands are a vast, tropical, dry forest that extends through almost all - not completely all - but most of the SADC countries. And there is a protocol under SADC that calls for its conservation. Again, this is a case where the U.S., we believe, could not just come in and provide important technical, financial, diplomatic assistance, but also can leverage funding from other major donors, like the World Bank, the Global Environmental Facility, [and] the private sector.

The other eco-system that we talk about and focus in on is the Guinea Current Large Marine Ecosystem - what is more commonly known as the Gulf of Guinea. When people think of the Gulf of Guinea they think of it because of its importance for oil. However, it's got a lot more to it. It's one of the richest marine environments on Earth. It has tremendous significance and importance for food security in terms of the fisheries that it contains. I forget the exact numbers, but you have hundreds of millions of people living along the coast within that marine ecosystem, so they - A) stand to be affected by fishing or pollution of marine ecosystem and B) through their own activities have a tremendous impact on how that ecosystem functions. We felt that those two systems - because they're of obvious strategic relevance to the U.S. and because the needs of those ecosystems cry out for U.S. financial and technical assistance - would be logical candidates for future regional conservational efforts. And that again ties back into the background paper which talks about how regional trans-frontier conservation programs [to] help not just conserve nature but promote economic development through tourism, help build closer bilateral relations between countries through such things such as "peace-parks," and serve other functions as well.

What is the relationship between conflict and mismanagement of natural resources that you wrote about in the report?

The second recommendation relates to the linkages between governance and conservation. One of the ways that Charles Taylor financed his military campaigns is the ruthless activities that he undertook. And if you look at timber and forests are one of Liberia's major assets, as there a number of other forest-rich African countries. And this recommendation basically says that there needs to be greater transparency and a greater emphasis on how forest-resources are governed to achieve a number of different results: a more sustainable management of forests [and] to make sure that resources derived from use of the forests are accounted for and that they get to the local communities where these forests are located. In other words, that they're not siphoned off and misused for other purposes as they were in Liberia.

We make three sorts of sub-recommendations within this. One of them is that we'd like to see a significant portion of the U.S. contribution to Liberia's reconstruction allocated for conservation purposes. We think it is fundamental to Liberia's effective reconstruction. That is one sub-recommendation. Another is that, across Africa we're endorsing the trend towards community-based natural resources management, which is about giving local communities a greater share, a greater authority and responsibility over managing the resources within their area. We think that's going to lead to better management and better conservation. Not only does it give local communities a greater stake in conservation, but it also helps to develop the mechanisms for good governance. If local communities are in charge of managing their own lands and control access to those lands, receive the benefits - whether it's tourism or hunting from those lands - [and] develop small non-profit organizations and civil society, that is an advantage to good governance programs broadly.

How does trade in wildlife meat take on certain health dimensions?

The third recommendation really gets at this problem of the so-called "bush-meat trade," which is the tremendous increase in the hunting and consumption of wild animals in Africa for food. And what this recommendation does underscores that this is not sustainable and that if we keep hunting these animals at the rate that is occurring, there simply will not be any animals left alive in a lot of these places in a couple of years. That's bad for food security. It's bad for conservation and basically everybody loses.

What we need is a much more directed focus at trying to put much more sustainable practices into place. The greatest risk of this bush-meat trade is that it increases the transmission of diseases from wildlife to people, and frankly, from people back to wildlife. So there is a public health component, there's a food security component, [and] there's a conservation component that all tie together. The recommendation emphasizes that there are a whole array of things that the U.S. government can do to help Africa address this problem, from conducting research at the CDC on how these diseases are transmitted; to stepping up efforts with customs service to detect illegal shipments of bush-meat coming into the U.S.; to working with private sector companies to make sure that they are not inadvertently abetting the effort to exploit bush-meat in an illegal and unsustainable way. For example, logging companies come in and they open up new logging roads. Then the hunters use those logging roads to gain access to forests they wouldn't otherwise have access to.

Another part of the recommendation is to get the U.S. government to put pressure on its allies in Europe and Japan and elsewhere in Asia, whose companies are doing a lot of the logging violations and are sometimes responsible for some of the greatest problems. There's a diplomatic aspect to it, a research aspect to it, [and] an enforcement aspect to it. But the basic gist of the recommendation is the comprehensive proposal for how the U.S. can better engage on the bush-meat recommendation.

How can the U.S. more effectively use already existing resources?

If the U.S. is to more effectively engage in these issues across Africa they need to better train diplomats in conservation programs, so that the ambassadors that are going to Africa - the political officers, the environment officers - have a much greater understanding of what these issues are, why they're important, and how the U.S. can make a difference in addressing them. So that's important to everything I've just talked about and the recommendation calls for a series of steps to promote better training for foreign service officers and nature conservation programs.

What is the U.S.'s comparative advantage in natural resource conservation and how can this be translated into aid for Africa?

The fifth recommendation that we put forward is to note that the U.S. has a tremendous comparative advantage in conservation. In other words, we have a Park Service, a Fish and Wildlife Service, a Forest Service, a U.S. Agency for International Development that have tremendous expertise in conservation programs. Almost all of the programs that I just mentioned used to or to some extent still have very small training programs that help train people from around the world in good natural resource conservation. Some of these programs have been cut and others have been abolished all together. This recommendation says that these are very cost-effective ways of training and building the capacity of African leaders to manage their resources in a sustainable way and that we believe that those programs ought to be supported, and where appropriate, ought to be restored in cases where they've been eliminated.


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