Tourism and Covid-19: Sustainable options for financing conservation in Africa

The risk of over reliance on tourism revenues to drive conservation in Africa has been exposed by COVID-19 crisis. Fundraising for conservation is an ethical necessity, yet COVID-19 lockdown has cut off crucial funding from tourism to support conservation. In developing countries that have limited financial resources for conservation, tourism helps secure conservation capital. For example, most private and community conserved areas in Eastern and Southern Africa, supplement their conservation funding needs through traveler’s philanthropy and revenue from tourism investments. Tourism, as a private sector funding should not totally replace traditional sources of conservation capital, like public and donor funding. However, over reliance on tourism for wildlife conservation in some areas has made it difficult to perceive alternative financing models.

Just like tourism, public funding for conservation can be affected by economic downturns, while donor capital can be shaken by uncertainties. Already, COVID-19 crisis presents a test for donors, on whether they would award cost extension, to facilitate successful project implementation to completion. Donor funded projects where justification of project indirect cost is often a fixed percentage of implementation costs, risk operating in deficit due to reduced activity occasioned by COVID-19 crisis. Despite less project activity, and therefore reduced output for conservation, projects still incur costs for example salary payments, and could have other growing needs requiring support from conservation capital. For future awards, grantees may want to consider negotiating support for their indirect project costs as a lump sum fixed amount, as opposed to a percentage of implementation costs, to mitigate funding constraints that can limit the scope of their activities.

Investor driven conservation finance, is an alternative to supplement conservation funds. Here, care should be taken to avoid the pitfall of corporate interests leading conservation programs to inflict misery on people. Conservation is business unusual, and must be measured in unusual ways. Sustainable funding through corporate social investors and any other fundraising strategy should be able to support synergies between conservation and social goals.

We cannot remodel wildlife conservation without thinking about alternative financing. Going forward, co management and innovative payment for ecosystem services should ease dependence on tourism revenue. Legitimate democratic practices in governance of conserved areas can build stakeholder trust and strengthen the link between environment, development and community. This can attract alternative sustainable financing for conserved areas.