WASHINGTON, DC, Nov 19 - Andrew Natsios speaks with conviction and passion when he says conservation of natural resources is good business, an idea that was the focus of a symposium he addressed in Washington November 13.
As administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Natsios travels around the world observing humanitarian assistance provided by the United States and other countries and institutions. In Africa, he said, such projects frequently involve restoring damaged environments to better the lives of both the people and the animals that inhabit the often "spectacular" natural landscapes.
"Conservation is good business, and nowhere is it more important to demonstrate that truth than in Africa," said Natsios. "Africa is home to the largest concentration of large animals and the planet's second largest tropical rain forest, with more than 50,000 plant species, 1,000 mammal species, and 1500 bird species. Unfortunately, much of it is at risk."
He told the audience at the symposium, which was co-sponsored by the African Wildlife Foundation and the Corporate Council on Africa, that during the 1990s Africa lost nine million acres (more than 3.6 million hectares) of forest every year. Civil war, legal and illegal logging, overgrazing, wild fires, and the search for firewood all took their toll, and the environmental degradation, he declared, came at great human cost.
"As the largest supplier of emergency humanitarian assistance in the world, my agency can attest to that," Natsios said, adding that "70 percent of Africa's population is rural" and highly dependent on natural resources.
"Our experience with organizations like the African Wildlife Foundation shows that when you combine sound planning, careful natural resource management, and meaningful local participation, tourism and wise wild land management can raise local revenues, lift individual income, and support growth and development of the community, all the while providing incentives for the conservation of the natural environment."
To achieve this, however, competing interests must be brought together, he said. He cited a recent USAID report entitled "Nature, Wealth and Power: the emerging best practices for revitalizing rural Africa," which was produced by a consortium of non-governmental organizations, universities, and research institutions engaged with business cooperatives and private companies to look back over 20 years of natural resource programming in Africa. "One theme emerged, he said. "We are now finding direct evidence that supports what we always thought: that successful programs can be built in certain geographical parts of Africa that do not pit man against his environment but encourage [him] to work for [and with] it.
"You still will have conflicts, but you can do it in the context of a municipal government, a regulatory institution. You can't prevent the clash of interests, you can only prevent a breakout of warfare between interests," he said. "Success seems to depend on integrating three factors: sound natural resource management; an economic growth strategy; and the full participation of people who live in it [an environment], who have a direct stake in the land itself."
Besides the normal requirements of good management and training, the report's recommendations include building local capacities, securing the rights of local citizens to use natural resources for their own communities and their own benefit, and transferring power from central authorities to local government and conservancies.
He mentioned a few examples of "what really is working." In Namibia, he said, there has been "an impressive growth in rural income through the establishment of conservancies, of which the resource management is being handled by Namibian community organizations, 29 of which have been established since 1996." He added that "four have already reached financial independence where eco-tourism and hunting concessions are managed.
"Namibia helped these conservancies by transferring certain rights over the wildlife to the conservancies, giving them much more responsibility for local land use. Our figures show an impressive growth in wildlife such as springbok and oryx that ... seems to have resulted from these conservancies. Meanwhile, new jobs and new revenues have multiplied the conservancies' income by a factor of 12 in five years, from 1996 to 2001."
In Angola, he said, "community-based approaches have begun to pay off in the Caprivi Strip [a 600-kilometer corridor at the junction of Angola, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia], thanks in large part to the combined efforts of the World Wildlife Fund, the African Wildlife Fund, and USAID. We have evidence again that in this area, conservation is good business."
He cited a visit to a village in Northern Tanzania, Mawanza, on the southern shore of Lake Victoria, "the kind of place we can take advantage of from the perspective of the natural beauty of the countryside, its animals and open spaces -- quite a spectacular area."
"Its animals and open spaces can make people less dependent on rain and maize and less prey to hunger and sickness and malnutrition," Natsios said, adding that the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), with USAID support, has been working on a program in the Manyara Ranch, "a wildlife migration area that the government of Tanzania has recently privatized." The AWF, with USAID support, is working to secure the 17,800-hectare area and to improve its key functions as a wildlife corridor, an operating ranch, and a center for education and social services for neighboring Maasai communities.
In southeastern Kenya near the Tsavo National Park, Natsios said, USAID's core conservation resource enterprise program has helped established Lion Rock Tsavo Camp, which Natsios calls "an excellent example of a public-private partnership. Fifty-five percent of the Tsavo Park Hotel is owned by the local conservation trust and its 2500 members.
Natsios also cited the Congo Basin Forest partnership, announced by Secretary of State Colin Powell at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 in Johannesburg, as an example of conservation proving to be "good business" for local people.
In a program called CARPE, Central Africa Regional Partnership for the Environment, AWF and USAID and others have joined "to combat illegal logging, enforce anti-poaching laws, and improve local governance and conservation of natural resources," he said.
"It was a $50 million program which we experimented with on a small scale, and then we expanded it because it was so successful to ... more than a 200 percent increase in funding," Natsios said. "It now covers several countries, being run out of Kinshasa. It's an important example, Colin Powell said, of a new approach to sustainable development that has emerged recently. He said, 'Sustainable development is too big for any governmental loan or any combination of governments. Sustainable development requires results oriented toward partnerships among governments, the private sector, the scientific community, conservation groups, and civil society -- all coming together to mobilize the resources needed to meet our ambitious goals.'"
Natsios sees that view as the reason that Powell announced the Global Development Alliance, "which is our effort to systematize in the work of AID [USAID] our public-private partnerships. We now have 140 new alliances within AID; there were 12 when I arrived, and we've mobilized $1.2 billion in private sector funding from foundations, corporations, NGOs, religious groups -- private money to be matched with our public money."
As an example, he cited the West Africa Water Initiative, of which the Hilton Foundation "is a major partner, pooling $40 million to work on water well and sanitation projects in Ghana, Mali, and Niger."
"The Sustainable Forest Products Global Alliance established in May brought together the World Wildlife Fund, Home Depot, Andersen Windows, and Metafor, an organization which certifies that the products companies like Home Depot and Andersen use do not come from illegal logging operations. This is a way of using the marketplace to enforce some discipline over illegal logging. It's good business practice, it's good environmental policy, and it's good for the people who live in the forests,."
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)