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TOURISTS game-viewing in South Luangwa National Park yesterday. PICTURE: SALIM HENRY/STATE HOUSE.

Wildlife can help cut poverty

NO ONE can dispute the fact that Zambians will only begin to appreciate and help conserve the country’s abundant wildlife when they feel that they are benefiting from the natural resource.
This is the truism President Lungu was driving home when he issued a directive to the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) while on a working retreat in the Luangwa South National Park.
If well managed, wildlife can contribute to the growth of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and help reduce poverty.
We therefore welcome the President’s directive to ZAWA to propose policy and legislative reforms aimed at transforming wildlife into a pro-poor sector.
In short the President was saying he would like to see a situation where wildlife-based tourism provides employment to ordinary citizens.
“I want to see this sector benefit the poor people who are always invariably the owners of the resource. If the sector, which is the collective endowment for all of us, operates only for a few and by a few, then for me it can’t work,” President Lungu told ZAWA boss Kampamba Kombe.
This was after Mr Kombe briefed him on the operations, plans and challenges of the authority.
And we commend the President for the boldness he has exhibited on the domination of the hunting blocks by a powerful cartel, which has continued to reap huge profits from tourism while the local communities languish in abject poverty.
President Lungu was shocked to learn that in the whole of the vast Luangwa South National Park, there are only two indigenously owned safari lodges, which are faced with daunting challenges because of limited capacity and lack of access to low-cost financial capital.
Any well-meaning Zambian will understand the President’s frustration.
Why should we Zambians be mere spectators when we are the collective owners of our country’s natural resources?
Should foreigners continue to ‘harvest’ huge profits while we just watch in envy?
Clearly there is need for radical reforms in this sector.
Mr Kombe and his management team should take advantage of the political will the government has demonstrated and table proposals on how the wildlife sector can become a vehicle for poverty reduction.
Already, Minister of Finance Alexander Chikwanda has set aside some resources in the 2015 national budget for the transformation of ZAWA into a department in the Ministry of Tourism and Arts.
We are sure this will strengthen the authority’s capacity to implement its strategic objectives because it will enable it to directly access funding from the national treasury.
ZAWA will also benefit from bilateral and multi-lateral economic co-operation.
If the sector is properly managed, with the participation of local communities and indigenous operators, it will help provide sustainable livelihoods for the people and therefore reduce poverty.
This is possible because 30 percent of Zambia’s 752,614 square kilometres is reserved for wildlife conservation.
There are 20 national parks and 34 game management areas in the country, the most prominent of them being South Luangwa, Kafue and Lower Zambezi, touted to be among some of the world’s best.
What makes Zambia unique is that most of the wildlife lives in the pristine natural Savannah woodlands and flood plains which offer breath-taking panoramic views for sightseers.
Besides the internationally recognised Luangwa South there are also the Kafue, Kasanka, Lochinvar, Mosi-oa-Tunya and North Luangwa national parks.
Others are Nsumbu, Sioma Ngwezi, Blue Lagoon, Mweru Wantipa, Liuwa Plains and Lukusushi national parks, among others.
These parks are teeming with a rich diversity of wildlife species. Some, like the black lechwe are not found in any other part of the world.
In its diversification programme the government has elevated tourism from a social to an economic sector, and wildlife accounts for a large chunk of the sector.
We urge the management of ZAWA and the ministry to get down to serious work and transform this sector into the economic engine it is expected to be.