Unabated poverty amidst an abundant wildlife resources raises questions about our conservation policies and practices. Grand opportunities to make wildlife have a true value to land-owning communities that bear the costs of sustaining it have been consistently squandered. This is what has oiled the accelerated nosedive of Kenya’s wildlife.
Natural resource management interventions that fail to integrate local community needs and aspirations are doomed to fail as, given an option, communities would rather die on their feet fighting for their rights than live on their knees. This is what we are witnessing in the wildlife sector.
Pro-community natural resource management aims at turning control over these resources to communities. The rationale behind promoting pro-community management is based on the assumption that effective management is more likely when local resource users have shared or exclusive rights to make decisions and benefit from resource use.
The purpose of this approach is seen as increasing the skills, knowledge, confidence and self-reliance of resource users to engage in sustainable management. Some degree of power-sharing in making decisions and controlling outcomes is essential in this approach.
Popular opinion on natural resources and economic development takes it for granted that the former will spur the latter. Resource wealth is almost always assumed to influence economic development.
Thus, to most people, the Gulf states are rich because of their oil; while in Africa, South Africa is among Africa’s richest countries because of its endowment in minerals.
But is there a sense in which natural resources wealth can be responsible for a country's under-development?
Some authorities are now arguing that this is the case. Literature propounding the resource-curse thesis now suggest that natural resource wealth can be a liability rather than an asset in economic development. There are countries with abundant resources that perform worse in economic development, thanthise that are resource-poo.
To explain this apparent paradox, it is argued that the poor performance of resource-rich countries has its genesis in their possession of abundance. Might this explain the Kenyan situation where, despite the abundant wildlife resources, communities harbouring it wallow in poverty.
It is well-known that habitat loss is the single most important threat to wildlife conservation, a far more significant factor in declining wildlife population trends than either legal utilisation or illegal poaching.
Habitat loss is attributed to land-use and land-tenure changes. Group or communal land ownership has been transformed into private ownership. Economic forces are strongly guiding land-use options, with more profitable options being adopted.
It is estimated that 70 per cent of wildlife occur outside protected areas, on either trustland, communal or private land. The future of wildlife on such land depends on its ability to compete favourably as a viable land-use option.
Thus the landowner, as an independent entrepreneur, will have the final word on what to do with his land. The verdict of the landowner could range from strategies that are wildlife-friendly, to those that are hostile to the survival of wildlife.
There is need for legislative and policy reforms to diversify wildlife use options, to reflect realities on the ground. There is no single solution, for some will be more appropriate in certain areas than in others. Some will be better suited to communities with small land holdings and weak property rights, while others will be more suited to larger land holdings with secure property rights.
But what a lot of these strategies have in common is that they provide the potential for landowners, land-users and communities to benefit from the utilisation of these resources and thus create incentives to invest in their conservation and management.
Of Kenya’s agricultural land, perhaps five per cent has the necessary variety and abundance of game, the necessary scenery and the absence of people to make it suitable for game viewing.
Perhaps a further 10 per cent is also suited to wildlife meat production (game cropping). Of the remaining 85 per cent of agricultural land carrying game, recreational hunting is the only viable economic option.
However, while it is a generally held that consumptive and non-consumptive uses are incompatible, this is not so. All three can take place on the same land, providing they are properly managed. The greatest possible returns from wildlife will occur where all three can be applied as and if appropriate.
By banning wildlife use that involves killing, KWS has removed the option for managing and conserving wildlife on 95 per cent of agricultural land.
Recreational hunting was not banned in Kenya because it was a primary cause of wildlife decline. It was practised for 77 years, during most of which it was the principal source of wildlife revenue, without depleting animal populations.
The primary reason for banning hunting - all forms of hunting including essential game control – was corruption in the supervisory bodies: The Game Department and the Wildlife Conservation and Management Department.
Collusion between these two departments and the curio trade caused the ban. If cropping game animals is an acceptable use, then no biological reason can be made against the far less invasive recreational hunting.
Mr Makhanu is the executive officer, Kenya Wildlife Working Group.