Event Coverage

How to balance the needs of both humans and wildlife?

UN biodiversity summit event showcased work of Sustainable Wildlife Management Programme across 15 countries
Selling wild meat in the Congo Basin. Photo by Brent Stirton / Getty Images Getty Images for FAO, CIFOR, CIRAD and WCS

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Wild mammals, reptiles, birds and insects are eaten by people worldwide. But overhunting – driven mainly by the demand for wild meat in urban centres – is threatening hundreds of wildlife species with extinction. It also risks cutting off millions of families from a critical source of nutrition, especially Indigenous Peoples and local communities in tropical and subtropical regions. Widespread commercial trade further complicates the issue.

“Tackling the immense problem of unsustainable wildlife hunting is like trying to take down an elephant with a pea shooter,” said Julia Fa, a Senior Research Associate at CIFOR-ICRAF and an expert in the use of wildlife in tropical and subtropical regions. She led a side event at the 15th summit of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Montreal, or COP 15, last December.

Large, complex problems require strategic solutions, explained Fa, and the Sustainable Wildlife Management (SWM) Programme is a powerful tool against rampant overextraction.

The SWM Programme is a consortium made up of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the French Agricultural and Development Research Organisation (CIRAD), the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Launched in 2017 with funding from the European Union and the French Facility for Global Environment and French Development Agency, the SWM Programme is a seven-year initiative of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS).

The event featured the programme’s work to date in 15 countries and progress made towards putting into practice CBD Decision 14/7 on sustainable wildlife management and a guidance for a sustainable wild meat sector adopted by the previous Conference of the Parties (COP 14).

“Specifically, the guidance aims to support countries, organizations and initiatives to promote better management of the wild meat supply at the source, to lower the demand for unsustainably managed and/or illegal wild meat in cities and towns, and to create the enabling conditions for a legal, regulated and sustainable wild meat sector,” said Fa.

Carla Montesi, Director of the Department for International Partnerships at the European Union, added that SWM “is in line with the values of the European Green Deal and the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030, promoting a sustainable and legal exploitation of wild animal populations and directly benefitting rural rights-holding populations in key landscapes for conservation”. The programme also aims to reduce demand to sustainable levels by both adjusting the supply and encouraging the uptake of alternative sustainable and safe sources of protein, in both rural and urban populations.

Achieving this requires working with populations at the village level, in towns and in capital cities, as well as in a wide range of ecosystems, from wetlands to forests to savannas – sometimes across international borders.

For example, one project under the SWM Programme focuses on Sahelian wetlands in Senegal, Mali, Chad, Sudan and Egypt. “The RESSOURCE Project combined research and action to improve knowledge on Sahelian wetlands and waterbirds – and to use that information to improve public policies,” said Stéphanie Bouziges-Eschmann, Secretary General of the French Global Environment Facility (FFEM), which supported the project. “By linking global biodiversity conservation with local development issues, RESSOURCE demonstrated that waterbirds are a sought-after source of food or income for local communities in the Sahel, depending on the region.” The project identified new alternatives to wild meat, such as water lily seeds, and developed innovative ways to monitor waterbird populations and their habitats

The source of the matter

Kristina Rodina de Carvalho, Forestry Officer with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) outlined the programme’s strategy to ensure a more sustainable and better managed supply of wild meat through participatory wildlife management. “The programme considers three main models: sites where Indigenous Peoples (IPs) and local communities (LCs) rely on wild meat for food security but where overhunting could threaten wildlife, sites where human-wildlife conflict can occur but where community conservancies can help restore wildlife populations (e.g., Kavango-Zambezi in southern Africa), and sites, such as Gabon, where a certified legal and sustainable wild meat supply chain can be established,” she explained.

These models follow the four main steps considered in the CBD voluntary guidance, namely to improve existing policies and legal frameworks on sustainable wildlife management; strengthen law enforcement capacities; work with IPs and LCs, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and others towards more participatory processes in the sustainable management and harvesting of wildlife; and, where appropriate, introduce wild meat substitutes and incentive structures for more sustainable practices.

Urban solutions

One of the most important and challenging issues within the SWM Programme is to reduce the demand for wild meat in cities and towns, including settlements linked to (legal) industrial logging or (mostly illegal) artisanal mining. “Why urban areas? All the evidence we have has shown that the flow of meat from rural to densely populated urban areas is the main driver of overexploitation of species,” said Fa. “It must be emphasized that millions of people worldwide need and sustainably use the meat that they have hunted for thousands of years,” she added. “What the SWM Programme aims to do is support these rural communities to continue hunting – sustainably – as well as to try to reduce the demand in urban areas, where people have other dietary options.”

Awareness-raising campaigns can help stem this demand, and Fa detailed several other approaches in the programme, including market analysis and feasibility studies to identify culturally acceptable and sustainable alternatives to wild meat, such as poultry or fish, and to some extent wildlife farming.

   Gaspard Abitsi of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Gabon describes the SWM Programme's legal analyses, with moderator Julia Fa ©Erin O'Connell / CIFOR-ICRAF
   SWM Programme side event at the Convention on Biological Diversity COP15. ©Erin O'Connell / CIFOR-ICRAF

Legal frameworks

Community rights are central to the programme’s approach to creating enabling conditions for a legal, regulated and sustainable wild meat sector. Gaspard Abitsi, Country Director for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Gabon outlined the two main principles underlying this approach, namely the importance of recognizing local communities’ rights to land and food, and ensuring their access to legal information and their participation in decision-making.

The programme has completed legal analyses in 11 countries (Republic of the Congo, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Gabon, Guyana, Madagascar, Mali, Senegal, Sudan and Zimbabwe), all validated by their respective governments and documented in the programme’s online LegalHub tool. In many countries, this analysis has led to the drafting or revision of wildlife-related legislation.

At the national level

Benjamin Toirambe, Secretary General of the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development for the Democratic Republic of the Congo shared his perspective on how the SWM Programme is supporting countries in their implementation of CBD decision 14/7. He emphasized the need to integrate sustainable wildlife management into National Strategies and Action Plans, focusing on species that need emergency conservation measures.

“We need new tools to manage wildlife at both the national and community level,” he said, adding that while there is strong enthusiasm for sustainable wildlife management, high levels of poverty among IPs and LCs represent a major hurdle.

Health and disease

A relatively new pillar of the programme focuses on One Health community-based approaches. Sélim Louafi, Deputy Director for Research and Strategy at the International Cooperation Center in Agronomic Research for Development (CIRAD) summed up the programme’s activities in public health prevention and management, underpinned by the One Health concept – an approach that recognizes the interconnected ways people, animals and plants share their environment.

Louafi highlighted a 2020 white paper jointly produced by FAO, CIFOR, CIRAD and WCS that outlines why spillover of disease from wildlife to humans occurs and what governments can do to prevent future pandemics such as Covid-19. He went on to describe various SWM Programme activities, including developing modelling tools to predict the risk of zoonotic diseases (in particular Ebola and West Nile fever), participatory surveillance, assessment of spillover risks at hotspots along wild meat value chains – including for high-risk animals like primates, duikers, pangolins and bats.

Concluding the session, Cristelle Pratt, Assistant Secretary General, Environment and Climate Action at OACPS, highlighted the major threat of unregulated hunting of wild meat to species loss and habitat degradation in many OACPS countries. “This side event has once again underlined the inextricable links between the global biodiversity and climate crises, and human development,” she said. “The message is that if we sustainably manage wildlife populations, their habitats and ecosystems, our countries will reap the long-term benefits of food security and nutrition, as well as sustaining the incomes of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, therefore contributing considerably to local livelihoods as well as safeguarding human and environmental health and well-being.”


For more information, please contact Julia E. Fa at jfa949@gmail.com.

The Sustainable Wildlife Management (SWM) Programme is a seven-year initiative from the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), funded by the European Union with co-funding from the French Facility for Global Environment (FFEM) and the French Development Agency (AFD). It is being implemented by a dynamic consortium of partners that includes the CIFOR, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD).

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