Protecting wildlife by turning elephant dung into paper: A business case?
It has long been acknowledged that the equilibrium between humans and wildlife is one that can hang in the delicate balance at the best of times, a devastating one-sided scaling at worst. Today, on World Wildlife Day, we are all called upon to step up the fight against wildlife crime, a crime which not only destroys the equilibrium between humans and wildlife but has wide-ranging economic, environmental and social impacts.
However, currently, wildlife protection is often seen as costly. Take the example of elephants, they are known for crop raiding, i.e. for damaging and eating the crops of communities living in or close to protected areas and therefore endangering their livelihoods. Due to averted income losses from crop raiding and income from the ivory trade a dead elephant is thus unfortunately sometimes worth more to local communities than a living one. An equation that needs to change for effective wildlife protection and for the elimination of illegal wildlife trade, that in the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon not only undermines the rule of law but also “degrades ecosystems and is a major obstacle to the efforts of rural communities and indigenous peoples striving to sustainably manage their natural resources.”
Sustainable use of natural resources – a business opportunity
Growing numbers of ecotourism and safari providers are putting a price tag on conserving wildlife as – so the other equation – without animals to watch, tourist and money inflows stop. Experience from SEED Winners, like the development of a Khomani San Cultural and Nature Guiding Enterprise and Association in South Africa, demonstrate how tourism can provide income for communities and incentivise wildlife conservation. Guides are trained to showcase the unique natural and cultural attractions of the Kalahari, both raising awareness on the local nature and turning it into a valuable resource that needs to be conserved to ensure future income.
Another example of a successful SEED Winner comes from Uganda or more precise from the borders of Queen Elizabeth National Park, where Kataara Women’s Poverty Alleviation Group has developed a business case for protecting wildlife while making use of it for income generation. Their hybrid entity is at the same time a community venture, a women empowerment organisation, and an innovative eco-enterprise. The group is piloting a new model of sustainable, small business development that is built on environmentally friendly practices. And they’re doing so with an unashamedly unique method:
Poverty alleviation on the basis of elephant dung
Aware of the dire situation of the elephant populations in their region, the need for women empowerment and improved livelihoods in rural Uganda, the group came up with an innovative business idea centring on one key resource: elephant dung. Collected from the edge of the park, mixed with other biowaste products like wood ash, pulverised and hung over ladders to dry, the dung is used create a paper.
The enterprise – 88% of the employees are women – then uses the paper to create handcrafts like diaries, visitor books and greeting cards. The final products are sold to tourists who come to the area seeking out its famed, and often endangered, wildlife. The whole process creates a value chain that is not only providing income and employment for many women in the area. It is also reliant on a sustainable environment for elephants: the community is encouraged to see the elephant’s value beyond poaching for ivory.
Energy-efficient cookstoves: alleviating the pressure on the elephants’ habitat
Over time the group has diversified their operations and is training its employees in the construction of energy-efficient cookstoves. The cookstoves are sold on the local market and help reduce the amount of firewood needed for cooking. Besides reducing indoor air pollution, deforestation encroaching on the Queen Elizabeth National Park is minimised and the habitat of elephants preserved.
Working together with the local community, the local government, the United Nations Development Programme and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Kataara Women’s Poverty Alleviation Group is set to expand its activities. The enterprise is searching for new markets for its paper products and planning to extend its activities throughout the region. Thinking outside the box, Kataara Women’s Poverty Alleviation Group combines sustainable livelihoods with the protection of the wildlife.
For its efforts, the group won a SEED Africa Award 2014. Does your enterprise also contribute to the conservation of natural resources? Apply now for the SEED Awards 2015!
Today, 3 March is World Wildlife Day*: See below what UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, has to say on the occasion:
*World Wildlife Day: On 20 December 2013, the Sixty-eighth session of the United Nations General Assembly decided to proclaim 3 March as World Wildlife Day to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild fauna and flora. The date is the day of the adoption of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1973, which plays an important role in ensuring that international trade does not threaten the species’ survival.