Urbanization left unchecked has left trails of devastation around the world. Entire swaths of forest have been sacrificed. While the march towards increasing development cannot be denied, its externalities can be addressed, especially in terms of the environment. Edwin Tambara from the African Wildlife Foundation set aside some of his time to share his thoughts on the Big Question facing the conservation community in Africa.

What is the biggest question facing your field?

How do we balance the current drive for social and economic transformation with the conservation of Africa’s unique wildlife and wild landscapes? Today, Africa faces a youthful and rapidly rising human population which might quadruple by the turn of the century. Development at any cost is the dominant narrative defined by considerable investments in infrastructure development and extractive industries. The need to create jobs for the bulging youth population is now a priority for action, now more than ever. Add to the growing mouths to feed means the levels of consumption are also rising by the day.

Why is it significant?

Africa’s natural ecosystems are the lifeline to the continent’s people and economies. The majority of livelihoods are dependent on goods and services from these systems. Our climate patterns, food and water production systems are intricately linked and dependent on the integrity of our natural environment. Natural systems and processes contribute to managing risks to economic and social activity, helping to regulate flood risks, regulating the local climate (both air quality and temperature), and maintaining the supply of clean water and other resources.

Any development pathway that does not value and integrate nature will cost us in the long run. A look at the so-called developed economies shows that when economic growth is accompanied by environmental degradation and erosion of natural systems, eventually human health and quality of life are diminished impeding growth for future generations. Economic growth and environmental performance must go hand in hand.

Where is the answer likely to come from?

The intersection of business, economic development and conservation is a crucial area for innovation that can bring mutual gains. Firstly, our governments have to take the lead. They have the opportunity to mainstream conservation of nature in the planning and execution of economic and development plans. Our long-term policy frameworks should send clear signals by incentivising businesses with the certainty they need to make investments in low carbon and resource efficient technologies. This is fundamental and sets the basis for ensuring our natural systems are part of a modernising Africa.

Secondly, we need to galvanise efforts to bring new entrepreneurial energy and vision to African conservation. We have an opportunity to build new constituencies, businesses and alliances that work for conservation. This is our window to tap into the energy and passion of African youth and vibrancy for technological advancement. Conservation of nature has to be positioned to African youth as another avenue for building businesses that will create resilient wealth and jobs.

IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

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