The Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente has rallied African countries to come together and work towards protecting and conserving the continent’s rich biodiversity if people are to fully benefit from it.
The Premier made the call on Monday while officially opening the IUCN Africa Protected Areas Congress (APAC)- the first-ever Pan-African gathering of leaders, citizens, and interest groups focused on protected areas.
The meeting opened in Kigali at Kigali Convention Centre (KCC), bringing together more than 2,000 participants from 52 African countries and beyond, to discuss challenges and drive action for Africa’s Protected and Conserved Areas.
Dr. Ngirente said that while Africa is rich in biodiversity – perhaps the richest in the world, the continent is yet to fully benefit from it and it is high time deliberate action is taken for Africa to fully tap into it for sustainable social economic development.
“We have the most beautiful rivers, forests, mountains and a variety of wildlife that can only be found on this continent. We must therefore spare no effort in protecting and conserving this diversity,”
“As human beings, we all depend on a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment to survive. It is, therefore, of mutual benefit that the ecosystem is well taken care of as consequences for not doing so are severe to human life,”
He pointed out that Africa boasts of significant natural resources that can be used to promote industrialization and structural economic transformation.
“This can be done through value-addition strategies in all sectors. Given the huge social and economic benefits of protected and conserved areas, it is my conviction that this Africa Protected Areas Congress will chart pathways towards resilient and sustainable conservation of our biodiversity for economies’ transformation,”
Urgent need for investment
Dr. Ngirente said African countries need to investmore in conservation, calling on policy and decision makers to come up with strategies that would make Africa the primary beneficiary of her rich resources.
“There is also an urgent need for African countries to increase the level of investments in biodiversity and ecosystem services. This calls for strong public and private partnership in sustainably protecting, restoring and managing Africa’s rich biodiversity,” he pointed out.
“It is high time that African policy makers put in place strong measures and strategies to ensure that the devastation of our rich biodiversity is stopped,” the PM said.
“These policy measures are of a big importance in assisting Africa to realize full benefits from its conservation efforts for its people,” he added.
Rwanda on course
PM Ngirente told the gathering that Rwanda has made biodiversity conservation one of the national priorities because it plays a key role in supporting economic development through different sectors.
“Many people are directly or indirectly employed by this sector and its associated activities. In fact, tourism is one of the key pillars of our economy that we must pay special attention to,”
He added that like other African economies and across the world, in Rwanda tourism is one of the sectors most negatively affected by COVID-19 pandemic, though the sector is now recovering in terms of the number of tourists.
“The lag effect will be felt for some time. About 2 hours ago, we launched the Nyandungu Eco-Tourism Park. This urban wetland has been transformed from a degraded wetland to an educational and recreational facility,”
“But as much as the tourism income is vital for Rwanda, this is not what primarily drives us in our conservation efforts. We are driven by the fact that conservation of biodiversity and sustaining our ecosystem are key enablers in promoting green and sustainable development,”
“From our different green initiatives, Rwanda has now achieved its target of more than 30% of national forest cover,” he pointed out.
The meeting in Kigali will discuss the key role of protected areas in safeguarding the continent’s iconic wildlife, delivering vital ecosystem services, driving sustainable development and conserving Africa’s cultural heritage and traditions.
The APAC is expected to culminate in the adoption of the Kigali Call to Action by all participants.
Dr Bruno Oberle, IUCN Director General, pointed out that the APAC 2022 will be an opportunity to discuss how the continent can position itself to fully utilise its biodiversity to the benefit of the people, including those marginalized.
“Protected and conserved areas in Africa have a complicated legacy, with conservation success too often coming at the expense of local communities,”
“One key focus of the first-ever IUCN Africa Protected Areas Congress is to give a voice to these marginalised communities, stressing their stewardship of nature and the need for inclusive and just conservation models under African leadership, and with global support”, said Dr Oberle.
Despite all the challenges, the CEO of AWF, Kaddu Sebunya, said that it is not all gloom and doom actually because Africa still holds 30 percent of the world’s biodiversity and this means the continent is more advantaged than many think.
“The Africa Protected Area Congress offers Africa the golden chance to reset and recalibrate our mindsets towards sustainable avenues that will ensure that the wellbeing of wildlife and their habitats is safeguarded,”
“Africa faces the challenge of economic transformation in a world that is aware that the current model of prosperity is reaching its ecological limits. To be successful in beating extinction and postponing its inevitability, we will need strong alliances that bring different sectors together if we are to overcome the challenges of wildlife protection and conservation and save the future of our planet,” Sebunya said.
The opening day of APAC saw the launch of the Pan African Conservation Trust Fund, which was presided over by former Ethiopian Desalegn. The fund will go towards conservation initiatives targeting protected areas.