Wildlife provides a vital source of protein and generates income for millions of forest-dwelling communities in tropical and subtropical regions. However, as demand for wild meat grows, unsustainable harvesting puts ecosystems and livelihoods at risk.
By designing participatory national legal systems where Indigenous Peoples, local community rights and land tenure are taken into consideration, the assumption and expectation is that natural resource management will improve.
The Sustainable Wildlife Management (SWM) Programme – which aims to conserve wildlife and protect ecosystems while improving living conditions and food security of people dependent on wildlife – is piloting this approach and supporting legal reform processes in the 15 countries engaged in the initiative.
The first three legal hubs established under the SWM Programme are focused on Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Gabon.
Through the use of specially designed legal diagnostic tools and methodologies, efforts by the U.N Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and SWM Programme partners – including the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), the Wildlife Conservation Society and France’s Agricultural Research Centre for International Development – working closely with national authorities and other local institutions, are underway to support such transformational processes.
“We’re currently looking at statutory law reforms based on each national political agenda, while also strengthening recognition of well-functioning customary laws and practices that promote sustainable wildlife management at local level,” said Eugenio Sartoretto, a law development specialist at FAO, and coordinator of the SWM Programme Legal and Institutional team.
The SWM Programme legal hubs collate information into a web database organized by sector based on each country’s historical and political context.
They also provide analysis of the statutory laws covering hunting and fishing value chains, including land tenure and planning. Users can access this portal and download relevant policies, laws and regulations, and make the most of the existing legal analysis for awareness raising.
“The aim is to provide a single and easy access point to encourage informed participative law reform processes to strengthen sustainable wildlife management,” Sartoretto said, adding: “A key challenge for countries will be to rethink some of the existing game hunting and trading systems along with the related land and natural resources tenure governance in consultation with multiple stakeholders.”
In many countries, customary norms and practices are often based on oral traditions, and in about 80 percent of the countries participating in the SWM Programme, constitutional provisions exist, which recognize customary institutions and traditional chiefs.
“The legitimacy of customary and informal justice systems is specific to particular sites, and ethno-linguistic groups, and can’t be exported to other sites or to the national level,” said Andrew Wardell, a principal scientist at CIFOR-ICRAF and a member of the SWM Legal and Institutional team. “These are elements which require greater recognition by statutory law as they often represent the source of order and harmonious relationships in rural areas, including the management of natural resources.”
While challenges remain vis-à-vis the exclusionary, unfair or discriminatory character of certain provisions of customary and informal justice systems, which often exclude women and marginalized populations, their formal recognition by statutory law would help define a legal perimeter to reduce and progressively exclude these risks.
Madagascar, which gained independence in 1960, is a unitary state with a range of national laws governing sustainable management of wildlife, supported by a legislative and administrative framework.
Zimbabwe, which won independence in 1980, is also a unitary state with an infrastructure designed to sustainably manage wildlife.
“Zimbabwe’s wildlife management framework is premised on sustainable use of wildlife to secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting economic and social development,”said Nqobizitha Ndlovu, who represents the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association. “Through the Appropriate Authority concept, the Parks and Wildlife Management Act grants wildlife user rights on the landholder.”
However, since communities in communal areas have no secure land tenure, they are excluded from appointment as authorities. This exclusion has resulted in relegating communities from wildlife management, which now view wildlife as a liability due to human-wildlife conflicts and lack of benefits.
“Noting these major gaps in the sustainable wildlife management framework during the SWM legal gap analysis, it was recommended that the Wildlife Policy of Zimbabwe 1992 and the Parks and Wild Life Act of 1975 be reviewed to recognize the key role played by the community in sustainable wildlife management,” Nqobizitha said.
This recommendation has been taken up by the government, which is currently undertaking a process of reviewing both the Parks and Wild Life Act and the Wildlife policy with a view of giving the community more decision making powers in wildlife management, he added.
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