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SSOUTH AFRICA, Durban – Friday, 3 May, 2019: Are rural communities benefitting from nearby wildlife reserves? This is a debate that remains ongoing, but experts believe programmes that punt such rural beneficiation are working, albeit in different ways.

In a panel discussion on ensuring Africa’s rural communities benefit more from Africa’s wildlife, experts from South Africa and Zimbabwe came together to discuss ways that rural populations can thrive from the wildlife economy.

Operations Director of Isibindi Africa Trails, Nunu Jobe, said that such programmes can work but more investment is needed in educating rural communities. “We can never conserve something we do not know. How can I protect a rhino when I do not know what a rhino is?”

Jobe, who was once a poacher and now works to conserve wildlife with the KwaJobe community in KwaZulu-Natal, said large and wealthy tourist establishments operating in and around rural areas should start helping communities by investing in the education of young children first.

He added that a proper shareholding agreement between companies and communities can help conservation efforts. “We need to see proper partnerships to create micro-economies. We need to make rural people shareholders. That is how it can work better. But we need to move fast, because people are busy destroying the environment. Our trees are about 300 years old and they are being destroyed.”

Beks Ndlovu, the CEO of Africa Bush Camps, said his company leases land from communities in Botswana and national parks authorities in Zimbabwe. “Our partnerships with these communities have strengthened our businesses.” 

Ndlovu echoed Jobe’s sentiments around education, especially when it comes to helping rural people understand tourism. “We are not really going in depth when it comes to benefitting communities. For instance, they do not understand why tourists are a game park vehicle. That means there is a problem. There is a disconnect.”

Mandisa Magwaxaza, Content Marketer at The Mantis Collection, said her company’s efforts to uplift local communities have proven to be successful. The Mantis Collection’s developments in uMfolozi, KwaZulu-Natal, have helped upskill and create jobs for the town’s rural community. “The two lodges, one of which is the uMfolozi Big Five Game Reserve, currently support 66 families when there was no employment before. When we started developing in uMfolozi, the intention was to benefit the communities around us.”

Individuals from the community were employed to build the lodge. And If some of them were not skilled, they were trained through The Mantis Collection. “We trained more people than we actually needed to employ at the lodges. The rest who were not employed received a certificate to show they have a skill.”

The lodges rely on local businesses for goods and services. “It is set up so the communities can be our suppliers. We have identified ladies we outsource our laundry to. And there is even a vegetable garden we support. That is where we will be getting our fresh produce.

 

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