Contents - Previous - Next

Chapter 5. - Can wildlife contribute to food security in Africa? Issues and conclusions

5.1. Why bother about wildlife production
5.2. Production from wild populations
5.3. Production from game ranches and game farms
5.4. Wild animal domestication

5.1. Why bother about wildlife production

In the preceding chapters, it has been shown that wildlife is a significant source of food in Africa. All species of wild animals, ranging from insect larvae through rodents, antelopes and monkeys, are exploited for food and in a considerable number of cases in rural communities, wildlife constitutes the major or only source of animal protein available to the people. Bushmeat exploitation and consumption, however, is not dictated solely by lack of alternative meat sources, but arises from a complex combination of factors including also financial limitations, preference and cultural values. These factors underscore the value of wildlife to the people of Africa and the urgent need for investment in the development of the resource.

Data have also been presented on the contribution of wildlife to both household and national economies. Hunting and bushmeat trade provide the main source of income for a large net-work of people ranging from hunters and farmers to market women and helpers in both urban and rural communities. In many areas the gathering and marketing of wildlife, even species such as snails which may be considered to be of little value, provides a significant proportion of the household cash income and determines whether or not a child gets education. Wildlife based industries such as tourism, sport hunting and trade in wild animal products have been shown to be a major foreign currency earner in eastern and southern African countries, contributing significantly to the national economy and providing jobs for a large number of people.

Wildlife populations in many parts of the African continent are declining as a result of overexploitation and destruction of wildlife habitat caused by increasing human populations and the associated demands for agricultural lands and land for development of human settlements. Current levels of wild animal exploitation are not sustainable anywhere on the continent and areas where large populations of wildlife still occur coincide with the enforcement of protection measures. The low populations of wild animal species, particularly those of larger mammals, has led to a situation where in parts of West Africa where dependence on bushmeat is highest, people now resort to eating species which in the past were not acceptable as comestible. In these areas, although bushmeat is still very popular, it is inaccessible to those who in the past depended on this form of meat. For example in the surveys of contribution of bushmeat to the protein intake in Ghana (Ntiamoa-Baidu, unpbl. data), the majority of the people interviewed answered in the affirmative when asked the question "do you eat bushmeat?'' (Doryum, 95.5% of responses; Accra, 92.5%; Mankesim, 86%;). In most cases, however, the answer will be followed by a statement like, "but I haven't eaten any for a long time because I cannot get it". It is clear that the diminishing wildlife resources on the continent has caused a general decrease both in the quantity of bushmeat available and in :its importance as a source of food for the rural population.

There is ample evidence that wildlife production is a feasible and viable form of land use in Africa, whether managed as wild populations in protected areas, farmed as wild populations on game ranches or intensive farms, or as domesticated species. In southern Africa where game ranching is most developed, the number of game ranches and total land area given to wildlife production has increased dramatically over the last decade. This is attributed to two factors: i) the change in ownership policies which granted land owners the responsibility to manage wildlife resources on their lands and permitted them to derive benefits from the wildlife and ii) the profitability of wildlife production. According to Martin (1994) wildlife on commercial farms in Zimbabwe began to increase only after farmers were granted user rights over the wildlife on their farms, and some farmers are reported to be reducing cattle numbers on their lands to allow introduction of high value species such as Zebra (Muir 1989). Ostrich and crocodile farms are becoming more and more popular and are generating substantial income in a few countries. In western Africa, the feasibility of producing small wildlife species such as grasscutters, giant rats, guinea pigs and snails as possible alternative sources of animal protein to feed the household has been amply demonstrated.

The nutritional value of bushmeat is comparable to meat of domestic species in many respects and in some aspects such as low levels of fat, bushmeat is actually superior to many domestic species. Wild animals also possess several added advantages over domesticated species in terms of range usage, physiological and ecological adaptations to the African environment, disease tolerance and productivity. The rational underlying the advocacy for game production in Africa is that indigenous wild species have evolved within the African environment and should therefore be better suited to the conditions on the continent. The suggestion, however, is not to replace cattle, sheep or goats with wild animals; but to employ wild species which are indigenous to Africa in areas where they would be most productive and complementary. Many parts of Africa are unsuitable for domestic animal production and large tracts of savannah grasslands on the continent remain under-utilised. These marginal lands hold considerable promise for wildlife production as a form of land use.

In terms of economic returns, there is a large body of data which indicate that net financial returns from wildlife production can far exceed what is possible from cattle ranching. The potential for increasing returns is also far greater for wildlife production than it is for cattle. The reason for the higher returns from wildlife is due to the fact that wildlife has added value and can be marketed for more than just meat and products such as skins. The highest potential return per unit land area is offered where the land is used for wildlife production for touristic use. It has been shown that the greater proportion of revenue from game ranching ventures comes from live animal sales, sport hunting and tourism, and not meat sales.

Many rural areas of Africa are plagued with chronic food shortages and malnutrition. The real problem is not so much scarcity of carbohydrate foods but inadequacy of high quality protein food supply. Kwashiorkor (a condition resulting from protein/calorie imbalance) is rife in Africa and in many areas the total animal protein intake is far below the recommended levels. Despite the heavy investment in conventional agriculture by governments, aid agencies and multilateral organisations, domestic livestock production has not succeeded in meeting the protein demands in Africa. The situation is compounded by the increasing human population pressure. Under these circumstances, all types of food and all food sources become significant and people in rural Africa today are actually exploiting most of the wild resources traditionally known to be edible. The situation in Africa clearly indicates that conventional forms of agriculture alone will not be sufficient to solve the growing food insecurity and there is an urgent need to evolve more holistic and innovative strategies to address the lack of food security on the continent. This is where, the continent's wildlife resources hold much promise. Wildlife is contributing to food security in Africa and can contribute most effectively if adequate investments are made into production, marketing and research and technical support.

The value of wildlife as a resource has always been recognised by African people. The need to give recognition to wildlife production as a form of land use in its own right and the integration of wildlife into food production strategies on the African continent has been advocated by African governments and international organisations such as the FAO for decades (see for example Riney, 1964; 1967; 1979). Unfortunately, data to demonstrate exactly how much people depend on bushmeat as a food resource in Africa or the contribution of wildlife to African economies are woefully inadequate.

The question then is why is this so? Why have all the very convincing arguments on the feasibility of developing wildlife as a resource to compliment conventional forms of food production not been pursued more vigorously? Is it lack of political will, lack of required resources or simply lack of conviction about the potential of wildlife to effectively contribute to food security? In the concluding sections of this document, we discuss the potential of the three main wildlife production systems (protected area management, game ranches and wild animal domestication) in different parts of the continent. Issues which are considered crucial in the development of the potential of wildlife to contribute to the attainment of food security on the African continent are also highlighted.

5.2. Production from wild populations

McNeely e' al. (1994) estimate that 240 million ha of land in Africa south of the Sahara is under protection. Although this figure includes forest reserves with nature protection functions, it does not include the numerous reserves and other state lands whose primary aim for protection may not be wildlife conservation but which have obvious biodiversity conservation functions and which often hold large numbers of wildlife. This means that a substantial portion of sub-Saharan Africa is under some sort of protection and has potential for management for wildlife production. The system advocated requires the enhancement of the management of protected areas in Africa for the realisation of their full potential both in terms of biodiversity conservation and meeting the needs the people in Africa.

The objectives of establishment of various categories of protected areas in Africa during the colonial era included the protection of wildlife resources either for the sake of conservation, or to preserve spectacular wild animal species which had perceived aesthetic values. Some forest reserves, on the other hand, were established for timber production, while others had the objective of protecting ecological processes such as hydrology and local climatic conditions. The needs of the local people who lived with the wildlife and whose livelihood were inter-linked with the resources available in their natural environment were certainly not part of the equation and the protective strategies pursued often actively sought to keep the people away from the wildlife and timber resources in some cases. Hunter-gatherers became poachers overnight and were denied access to lands which were theirs by right and on which they and their ancestors had lived. This situation naturally led to antagonism and in some cases very serious conflicts between local communities and government wildlife officials. In some areas local people were made to feel people who ate bushmeat were of low-status. The strategy succeeded in closing off an important food sources in many parts of Africa particularly in the eastern southern African countries. Unfortunately, for many of the rural communities in these areas, the system did not provide adequate alternatives with the end result that such rural communities lost essential dietary items which in the past ensured a balanced diet. In other areas, notably western Africa, the system failed completely to stop people from using protected resources, in actual fact in some areas hunting was intensified as soon as an area was declared as protected. People in these areas still depend heavily on wild resources which continue to be exploited at a rate that is clearly unsustainable. The present level of exploitation and use of wildlife resources, if allowed to continue, will not only lead to loss species, habitats and biodiversity but to loss of productive systems and resources vital to rural communities in Africa.

A high proportion of protected areas in Africa exist on paper with little or no protective or management activities on the ground. In-country resources are woefully inadequate and with such limited resources and the many other more pressing national socio-economic problems. it becomes virtually impossible for African governments to pay adequate attention to wildlife conservation and protected area management. The degree of priority given to protected area management in national budgetary allocatiuons might, however, change if wildlife production was recognised as a form of land use in its own right and as an activity which can contribute to national development and the improvement of the quality of life for people.

The value of wildlife resources in a well managed protect area has been amply demonstrated by projects in countries such as Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe. These projects have proven that wildlife is can pay its way, contribute significantly to national economies and also provide benefits to enhance the living standards of rural communities. The focus of these projects. however has been on high income generating activities: recreational use and tourism. This is all well and good, but the question is how many rural communities actually benefit directly from the income generated from these activities? Populations of a number of wild animal species in protected areas in these countries could sustain some exploitation. A typical example is the case of the elephants in South Africa's Kruger National Park, the proposed culling of which has created such a huge outcry from the some international conservation movements over the past year. What is interesting is that most of these conservation activists act on their emotional attachment to animals. Some of them have never been to Africa, do not know and will never know what it means to have your crops, property and even the life of a family member destroyed by raiding wild animals, when you hardly have enough to eat.

What is needed therefore, is the creation of the appropriate policy environment and the establishment of institutional and technical structures which allow people to manage and use wildlife resources in protected areas sustainably, i.e., a system that will enable protected areas to contribute to development of food security in Africa. The big challenge is to use wildlife protection and protected area management as means to meet the needs of rural African populations. while ensuring the survival of Africa's biodiversity resources. The crux of the issue is that people in rural Africa use wildlife resources, they will continue to do so for a long time to come and therefore due recognition must be given to this in the quest to marry biodiversity conservation with sustainable development . Some of the critical steps that will have to be taken to get to this goal include:

i) Recognition of wildlife and protected area management by African policy and decision makers as a form of land-use in its own right.

ii) Long term commitment by African governments and donor agencies to protected area management and provision of adequate resources for the effective management of these areas.

iii) Re-focusing of management objectives and goals to include addressing the needs of the local communities and evolving strategies for delivery of benefits.

iv) Revision of protected area management policies in appropriate categories of protected areas to permit sustainable exploitation of species whose populations can withstand exploitation, i.e., sustainable harvesting of wildlife resources from a totally non-domesticated system.

v) Creation of appropriate policies and enabling environments that encourage participation and involvement of local communities in the management of their wildlife resources. A number of projects around Africa are already experimenting with "people and government partnerships" in wildlife resource management, where the people are given responsibility for the resource and also derive direct benefits from the management of the resource.

vi) Developing of appropriate technology for sustainable harvesting, processing an marketing. There would be a need to re-visit the roots of African people and re-discover those indigenous harvesting techniques and regimes, including subsistence hunting systems, that ensured sustainability.

The system being advocated here is, obviously not going to be easy to implement or without problems. For example, there is no doubt that given the opportunity to hunt and gather resources from a hitherto protected area, people will tend to exploit at a level that meets their immediate needs without due consideration to future generations or issues of sustainability. There will therefore be a need for the development of strict controls for the harvesting including the establishment of quotas to be taken and effective systems for monitoring. In areas such as west Africa where animal populations are far from recovering from the heavy exploitation they have been subjected to in the past, sustainable harvest of wildlife from protected areas will remain a long term dream. Heavy investments in protection and management will be required before this dream becomes a reality, however, the Nazinga Game Ranch clearly shows that this is feasible.

5.3. Production from game ranches and game farms

Game ranches and farms have been amply proven to be feasible, viable and profitable and with a lot of potential for increasing returns in many areas in Africa. The cattle industry has been heavily supported in most countries in terms of production, marketing and even consumption (as in the case of some countries where the price of beef is subsidised by central government) and therefore has more attraction to farmers. It is clear, however, that wildlife can compete favourably with cattle production in Africa if the necessary investments are provided. In the longer term the inherent biological, ecological and physiological advantages of wild animals, and the fact that wildlife has added value in terms of products other than meat, may make wildlife production more profitable than beef in many areas in Africa.

What is required now for the full realisation of the potential of game ranches in Africa are:

• the political will;

• long term financial support from donor agencies;

• the wooing of private businessmen to invest in wildlife production ventures;

• research into and development of and transfer appropriate technologies in management, harvesting and processing techniques;

• development of appropriate infrastructure for storage and marketing that meets international meat marketing requirements.

Production of good quality products (meat, skins etc.) which can be marketed for high financial returns would obviously require heavy capital investment and special technical support. The potential financial returns from high quality goods marketable in western countries and the benefits of improved protein production locally, certainly justifies the capital investment required. It is suggested that organisations which are charged with the fostering of global food security focus more of their development and research efforts on sustainable wildlife production.

5.4. Wild animal domestication

Within the west African sub-region, the tradition of bushmeat consumption is firmly established and bushmeat is the favourite meat of a large number of people. Prices of bushmeat are known to be higher than domestic meat in most areas, and the indications are that there is an unlimited market bushmeat. Under these circumstances managing small, prolific wild animal species for meat production purposes offers high prospects and may be even more profitable than conventional livestock. The feasibility and economic viability of farming species such as grasscutters and the African giant snails has been well demonstrated. The rationale is to farm such species in captivity for the purposes of producing cheap, readily available meat to feed local communities and also possibly for sale. The advantages of these farming systems is that they can be undertaken in people's backyards, thus providing a readily available food source, and the fact that the unit size of the animal is small enough to be used for a single household meal without the problems of storage. Issues requiring attention in this area include:

• the development and transfer of technical knowledge (including care of animals, handling, diseases etc.,) to farmers:

• development of cheap production methods, including housing and feed;

• establishment of a system of extension services to support farmers.

The crucial issue here is to evolve production systems where the costs and efforts are much lower than what is required to obtain bushmeat through hunting and gathering and which will also yield returns that are comparable or even better than that which pertains in the traditionally accepted livestock industry. It may also be necessary that even at the low cost of production the initial capital investment required will have to be provided to rural communities as an incentive/encouragement for them to embrace such projects. Aspects of small wild animal production which still require research efforts include diseases, dry season feed, and in the case of species being intended for domestication, development of breeding stocks to remove reliance on re-stocking from wild captures.

In conclusion, what can we say to the question posed in the title of this Chapter: can wildlife contribute to food security in Africa? Wildlife has always contributed and continues to contribute significantly to the socio-cultural and economic life of rural African communities, as a food resource, as a source of employment and income and as a source of medicines. Wildlife does indeed contribute to the nutritional well-being of people in Africa, and can be made to contribute more significantly to the attainment of food security on the continent if adequate investment is made in the areas of research and technology development establishment of appropriate institutional structures and policy environment; and development of appropriate harvesting and marketing systems.

Different wildlife production systems may be more feasible and/or more appropriate in specific areas on the Africa continent and we should not expect that any one particular approach will provide the answer to Africa's food problem. However, there are a number of basic issues which require to be addressed in order to realise the full potential of wildlife as a factor in the search for food security in Africa. These issues include:

• land tenure systems and evolution of systems that allow people control over land and access to wildlife resources on the land;

• economic incentives to people for sustainably managing wildlife on their lands;

• development of enabling policies;

• equity in revenue sharing;

• Iong term commitment and significant investment into the development of sustainable wildlife production systems;

• the willingness of donor agencies to invest substantially in wildlife research.

In addition to research into appropriate techniques for sustainable production, harvesting and marketing other areas where research effort are urgently needed include assessment of the current usage and dependence of people on wildlife as a food resource, the contribution of wildlife to national economies; sustainable levels for subsistence hunting and potential levels of production from wild sources.

These are some of the areas where the Food and Agriculture Organisation has a role to play! in encouraging and supporting the establishment of wildlife production systems in the context of rural development; promoting research into problems related to wildlife production and mobilising African governments and donor agencies to provide the long term commitment and financial resources required.

Contents - Previous - Next