Our goal at American Wildlife Foundation is to make land use a deliberate, planned process benefitting people, wildlife, and the land itself. Land-use planning should enhance rural development, wealth creation, food security, sustainability of resources, and equity. When planning is done correctly, it can harmonize national and local goals for the long term.
Currently, however, people across Africa are using land in dramatically new ways—for agriculture, construction, herding livestock, and more—often with unsustainable results.
Ultimately, AWF works to unite villages, parks, and reserves in a vast, cohesive landscape—training local communities to work together to conserve wildlife and migration routes while protecting and advancing their own economic interests.
As populations expand, humans need an ever-increasing amount of living space, and settlements and agriculture expand into the most desirable areas—those with reliable water sources and moderate rainfall. But, these are the same spaces where wildlife tends to roam.
People are indiscriminately building settlements, constructing roads, and growing crops without much forethought. More often than not, these expansions are infringing on wildlife habitats and destroying ecosystems. And, these lands are typically being used in ways that counter to their long-term productivity. Humans are limiting the benefits they can receive from land by failing to plan for the long term.
AWF works at the local level to involve communities in land-use planning. In areas with abundant wildlife, governments allow communities to create conservation areas—sometimes called wildlife management areas (WMAs) or conservancies. These areas sustain and protect wildlife, provide employment to community members to patrol and protect the area, and allow communities to charge fees from tourists for the chance to visit the wildlife or stay on the land.
AWF works with communities to enhance livelihoods, food security, and conservation through sustainable, long-term land-use planning. We help communities understand their goals for the future and help them zone their lands in ways that will make their vision a reality and sustain it over the long term.
For example, in the Regional Parc W Heartland, we are working with six communities to help them establish a nexus between agriculture, pastoralism, and conservation. By helping the communities’ farmers and pastoralists to decide, as a group, how lands should be used—whether for agriculture, grazing, or something else—we minimize conflict over land and also ensure that it remains healthy long into the future.
Similarly, in the Congo Heartland, AWF worked with communities to develop a land-use map—one that wasn’t forced on the communities but instead was developed with leadership and input from local people. The communities told AWF what parts of the forest they were logging and farming and, using that information plus Geographic Information System (GIS) data, we encouraged communities to determine which parts of the forest would remain standing, which zones would be feasible to engage in sustainable agriculture, and so on. The map then provided everyone with a clear understanding of where conservation was taking place and where human activities were allowed.
As human populations grow and more land is converted into settlements and roads or used for agriculture, national parks are becoming isolated islands. One of AWF’s goals is to maintain—and restore when necessary—landscape connectivity. Wildlife corridors are large sections of open land that connect one national park to another, allowing for wildlife to travel along its historic migration routes without interference. Based on GIS data that shows wildlife movement patterns, AWF identifies target wildlife corridors and works with people at all levels—from governments to small villages—to designate land as such and, in some cases, paying landowners an annual fee to set it aside for conservation.
Easements are another way in which AWF is encouraging people to make conscious land-use decisions. We work with individuals who possess large tracts of land, especially land adjacent to national parks, to agree to restrict use of the land in order to keep it open for wildlife. In Kenya, landowner John Keen saw the decline of wildlife in and around Nairobi National Park due to infrastructure development and land fragmentation. To counter this trend, Keen—who owns land adjacent to the park—signed an environmental easement agreement with AWF and Kenya Wildlife Service to keep 107 hectares of his land unfettered for wildlife. The Keen Easement essentially adds acreage to Nairobi National Park and ensures that the land stays pristine for wildlife in the future.
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