Connection Between Poverty and Wildlife in Africa

Dec 30, 2021 | News

By Makena Roberts – BORG Magazine

For rural communities in Africa, an increase in the human and wildlife populations is one contributing factor to poverty rates in many countries across the continent. Across Africa, “82% of people living in extreme poverty in Africa live in rural areas and earn what little money they have primarily from farming.” Communities living in extreme poverty have fallen in recent years. Between 1990 and 2015, poverty fell from 54% to 41%. However, during that same time, the number of people living in poverty has increased from 278 million to 413 million. This was partly due to an increase in the population. If the population rate continues at this volume, the poverty rate would only decline to 23% by 2030. However, 90% of the global poverty average will affect African countries.

Programs to Limit Human-Wildlife Conflict

Since 1928, the population in Kenya has boomed by almost 40 million. Projections show that it could reach 65 million by 2030. Poverty as a result of the increase in population has created a dependency on natural resources in many rural communities. “Farming often pushes into critical wildlife habitat, converting habitat and putting humans and wildlife at odds.” The result is a loss of farmers’ crops, which they rely on to survive and make a living. According to the African Wildlife Foundation, elephants are one of the biggest animals contributing to crop loss.

Local communities “living in key elephant ranges are among the world’s most poor and vulnerable people.” Space for Giants (SFG) is an organization based in Kenya that works in 10 countries across Africa. It works to expand economic and social networks for local communities and national governments via methods to mitigate human-animal conflict. Conservation projects include training local rangers in Kenya’s national parks and building fences around farming communities that threaten wildlife, specifically elephants.

Human-Elephant Coexistence

Sirimon Thomas is a training biologist who worked for a year in Libreville, Gabon with Space for Giants. Thomas spoke with The Borgen Project in an Interview. He said SFG focused on building fences around farming communities that where elephants left the biggest impact. SFG operated in Gabon as technical support to the Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux and Gabonese National Park Authority and Ministry of Environment, according to Thomas.

Elephants searching for food often enter farming communities to graze. Some farmers resort to “poaching strategies to halt elephant conflict in local communities.” Conservation programs that aim to connect conservation improvements with poverty alleviation show improvements in reducing crop damage. “Specifically, we were engaged with addressing human-elephant conflict (HEC), which was causing a big problem in rural communities,” Thomas shared. “This involved supporting fence building projects and capacity building around HEC data collection and reporting.”

Thomas noted Gabon’s relatively poor rural road access presented challenges in getting to remote areas. This fact also affected people’s livelihood because of “poor market access making projects like implementing improved agriculture systems difficult,” he added.

In Gabon, “forestry and farming are relatively under-developed, contributing just 5% of the GDP.” However, “agriculture employs about 40% of the rural population in the country.” Around “70,000 small family subsistence” farmers dominated the farming industry. Still, “farm output is insufficient to meet domestic demand.” This is why Gabon imports about 60% of food, like cereals and meat.

During Thomas’s time working with SFG, he said the fences put up around farmlands were “highly effective” in stopping elephants from affecting farmers’ crops. However, he noted the fences did not stop other animals like chimps or gorillas from eating the crops. However, these animals “did not do nearly as much damage as elephants.”

Techniques to Improve Farming Output

Thomas commented on the need to improve road networks and market access to mitigate surplus produce that farmers sometimes do not sell. “These improvements would also allow for more people to make a profit off agricultural produce,” he said. “Education around improved polyculture agriculture practices would also be beneficial,” he noted.

In agriculture, polyculture is the practice of growing more than one complimentary species of crop in the same area at the same time. Polyculture farming can help “eliminate pests and diseases, improve soil” and increase the number of produce grown in the same space.

An increase in African populations and increased wildlife conflict means even more threats of food insecurity or poverty for rural communities, especially farmers. To mitigate these challenges, countries must prioritize safe, effective ways for rural communities to coexist with wildlife and maintain spaces for farmers to safely grow their crops.

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