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Trans-frontier conservation continues to grow in Southern Africa

Updated: Sep 3, 2023

Southern African Development Community member states are promoting their very successful model of conserving shared wildlife resources through trans-frontier conservation areas.

Trans-frontier conservation continues to grow in Southern Africa [Graphic: Hope Mukami]

Bonface Orucho, bird story agency

Zambia and Zimbabwe recently signed a memorandum of understanding to create a trans-frontier conservation area to utilise their shared natural resources. The agreement focuses on the lower Zambezi and Mana Pools National Park areas.

The two nations, who jointly share a vast area of more than 18,000 km2, pledged to improve ecological conservation in the area.

Governments, local communities, and stakeholders from the two countries will all have a chance to implement sustainable development programs thanks to the collaborative approach.

Trans-frontier conservation areas (TFCA) are ecologically-rich regions that border multiple countries and host diverse plant and animal species.

The conservation framework based on TFCAs, implemented across the SADC region, is now not only seen as successful but is also further promoting collaboration in wildlife and tourism management among member states, leading to sustainable improvements in the livelihoods of local communities and better protection of the region's biological diversity.

According to Zimbabwe's minister of tourism and environment, the new collaboration "constitutes the opening of new opportunities for our two governments, local communities, and stakeholders to build tempo on Sustainable Development Programmes."

"It will also ensure that all the participating players and stakeholders are strategically positioned for equitable sharing of tangible benefits," he said during the formalisation event.

With the region home to over 800 animal species, Zimbabwe will initially assume the primary conservation position for two years before handing it over to Zambia.

This joint agreement comes at a critical time when the Mana Pools region, encompassing a wildlife conservation area and a national park spanning over 219,600 hectares, faces the threat of oil exploration. Such activities pose a risk to the diverse species and biodiversity of the area.

The Conservation Protocol of 1999, initiated by the Southern African Development Community, or SADC, marked the beginning of this transformative process that has gained immense popularity over the years, with the Zambia-Zimbabwe agreement the ninth trans-frontier conservation agreement to be signed in the region.

From Angola to South Africa, Zimbabwe to Eswatini, 16 countries of the region have an area of more than a million square kilometres that require conservation efforts from more than one country.

According to the SADC TFCA Network, "the pioneers that first believed in the goals of TFCAs and subsequently the reason they invested in them was to eliminate country borders and protected area boundaries; an obstacle for wildlife to move."

Experts highlight that this conservation framework has significantly harmonised natural and cultural resources while promoting local communities' socio-economic development.

Maseko Chana, a TFCA coordinator at the MAZA TFCA, explained that the benefits of shared efforts, strategies, and plans in conservation can be immense.

"Wildlife moves freely… they do not understand the regional boundaries that humans create," he said.

Established in 2013, SADC's Trans-frontier Conservation Network outlined four primary goals: exchanging information, joint learning and knowledge management, resource mobilisation, and general collaboration.

To mobilise resources effectively, the bloc has brought together more than 500 members, including countries, the private sector, conservation groups, and global conservation partners.

An exemplary initiative within this framework is the SADC TFCA Financing Facility (TFCA FF), established in 2020 to provide sustainable funding for conservation and management actions in the region's transfrontier conservation areas.

Since its launch, the equivalent of some US$27 million has been actively committed to 23 conservation projects, with projections showing the fund will raise US$108 million by 2026 in the current initial phase.

Recently, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) allocated over US$3.2 million to the Gonarezhou Conservation Trust in Zimbabwe, a part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park & Conservation Area.

Such investments, according to Simon Capon, Business Director of Gonarezhou National Park, are made possible because of the structuring provided for by the TFCA Framework.

"It's a game changer that will help us sustain the park for future generations," he said.

Beyond financial resources, TFCAs have played a crucial role in advancing real conservation achievements, including leading to a resurgence in species populations that were once on the brink of extinction.

Botswana has, for instance, shown exceptional management of its elephant population by implementing the Monitoring Illegal Killing of Elephant (MIKE) program - a tool used to monitor the illegal killing of elephants and also assist in clarifying the source of ivory.

Such strides benefit more than one country, considering Botswana is already collaborating with other countries in the region under the Kavango-Zambezi TFCA and the Kgalagadi TFCA park.

There are more collaborative deals to come. With seven more TFCAs in the conceptual stage, five memoranda of understanding already signed and eight treaties penned, it is evident that the countries involved are in the advanced stages of signing more working agreements.

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