Spurred by a growing number of travelers traversing the globe, tourism is one of the biggest driving forces behind conservation efforts worldwide. Conservation initiatives are formulated to ensure nature endures frequent human interferences. It makes economic sense to preserve natural resources and biodiversity as opposed to depleting them.
Around the world, it is common to see communities struggle with conservation because resources are limited. An unwitting local population may sometimes exploit protected areas and wildlife population in order to make ends meet. It is an understandable scenario with negative consequences nevertheless. Damaging our reserves is detrimental to the long-term viability of the ecosystem.
Local communities have historically felt the need to hunt and kill animals for food. In other cases, animals are killed because they prey on livestock and destroy crops belonging to residents of neighboring villages. Illegal export of animals and their body parts is also common.
Conflicting interests in land ownership and utilization usually lead to friction between members of local communities and the authorities responsible for protecting the national parks. In most cases, expropriation of land to create protected areas doesn’t sit well with the local population.
To manage the inevitable animosity, a new paradigm giving stakes to communities has emerged. Through tourism, sustainable non-consumptive means of income are created. In this case, parties sharing a common goal are unified to safeguard mutual long-term benefits.
In Rwanda, the government devised a plan to inject a fraction of tourism earnings into development projects designed to benefit communities surrounding national parks. This initiative was introduced in a bid to extend sustainable economic benefits of tourism to the people. Their role in the industry is enhanced and so is their sense of ownership.
Investing part of tourism revenue in development projects has helped to build schools, hospitals and community centers. In addition, tourism has created jobs and business opportunities for members of the said communities and upgraded their standards of living. Revenue sharing is also credited for provision of clean water and improvement of agricultural production.
Tourism has the power to reverse the view that wildlife is a threat to local communities and a source of a quick buck in the black market. While visiting the Gorilla Guardians’ Village near Volcanoes National Park , I met former poachers who are now protecting gorillas. They have been converted into staunch believers of conservation. The realization that nature can improve their livelihoods through tourism is behind their transformation.
Théoneste Hategekimana, a farmer from Kinigi Sector in Musanze District recalls his lack of appreciation for tourist attractions available in his area while growing up. "The park didn’t mean anything to me. Economic gains of tourism, if any at the time, used to bypass my village." He told me.
Like Théoneste, many other villagers are beginning to understand the importance of preserving their natural resources. Their newly-found faith in conservation is a result of awareness created and benefits extended to them by policy makers and their partners.
Taking care of God’s creation is a divine cause and sensitizing communities to embrace this doctrine is our evangelical responsibility. Environmental stewardship is embraced when the congregation believes in rewards of good deeds and repercussions of transgressions . Happy are the conservationists, for they will see nature’s act of generosity.