This week, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) joined like-minded partners in a webinar organized by ESGX Live, a global community for connecting and sharing ideas, and Newday Impact Investing. The webinar’s topic was ‘Survival Instincts - Rethinking Our Relationship with Nature. AWF CEO Kaddu Sebunya gave the keynote address and later engaged in a moderated session on the challenges and opportunities in conservation in Africa.
The virtual meeting was attended by more than 350 people from numerous professional fields such as philanthropy and financial services, as well as the sustainable, responsible, and impact investing (SRI) community.
Africa's urban population growth rate is the highest worldwide, and the middle class is expected to grow from 355 million in 2010 to nearly 1.1 billion by 2060. Food, energy, and infrastructure are required to support this explosion, driving competition for resources.
Thus, the decisions that governments make around population growth, investment, and urbanization will shape Africa — i.e., how we recycle our waste, use water, source energy, and consume food — will determine the future space left for wild lands and wildlife.
In his remarks, Kaddu spoke about how the significant increase in the human population has created pressure between man and nature, leading to destruction and unsustainable exploitation of the finite natural resources to cater for this growth.
The impact has not only been felt by man but all the other aspects of our planet's ecosystems. Therefore, these discussions and need to take action in rethinking our relationship with nature is long overdue.
As a result of our development choices and relationship with nature, food production lags behind population growth; hunger and famine strike with dreadful persistence; soils are degrading; wild lands, forests, and trees are disappearing at unprecedented rates, and poverty deepens in the countryside and cities.
“These realities challenge conservation, posing threats to wildlife and wild land conservation as competition increases exponentially between people and wildlife for food and space. The search for ways to safeguard Africa’s environmental future in sustainable ways is more urgent now than ever before,” said Sebunya.
The webinar coincided with the worldwide celebration of World Chimpanzee Day on July 14 — as is the tradition every year. As part of our continued effort to save and protect these endangered species, AWF engages communities living near chimps to create sustainable practices for agricultural and settlement growth by providing training on best practices and incentivizing conservation when appropriate.
Although the day is marked to raise awareness about the care, protection, and conservation of these species all over the world, it is sad to report that numbers of chimpanzees in Africa are dropping due to loss of habitat and poaching for bushmeat and trafficking for live animal trade.
In her special address to the audience at the start of the event, Dr. Jane Goodall said, "The disrespect to environment and animals has led us to the current global pandemic. Destroying animals and their habitats push the wildlife closer to human contact, giving opportunities for zoonoses. The frequency of this destruction increases the frequency of emergence of these new contagious diseases such as COVID-19."
Other panelists included; Andrea Athanas, AWF Program Design Director (Europe), Shivani Bhalla from Ewaso Lions, Ami Vitale from National Geographic, Shifra Goldenberg of the San Diego Zoo Global, and Shawn Sugarman from Elephant Cooperation.
Each of them talked about how conservation solutions are within the wildlife communities, and that successful conservation requires a multisectoral approach. They called for the scaling up of community ownership to decentralize conservation. The clarion call echoed by all speakers was that the responsibility of conservation could not be delegated.
In rethinking our relationship with nature, it is going to take small individual steps each of us can afford to create a mass or a level of economies of scale. For Africa, we need to redefine the picture of African prosperity that so far seems entirely focused on economic growth but excludes the opportunities of conserving the wildlife that is exclusive to Africa.