DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania – As Tanzania gears up to hold the general elections in October, journalists and green activists are courting politicians to embrace conservation issues and the future of tourism in their campaigns.
“As a committed green activist, I need conservation and the future of tourism to be part of election issues,” said the Director of the Serengeti Preservation Foundation (SPF), Mr. Meyasi Mollel.
Speaking during a three-day forum for journalists with special interests on conservation issues, Mr. Mollel said that so far he had not heard any presidential candidate or lawmaker hopefuls talk about conservation threats in their manifestos, despite its importance in a national economy.
Senior Journalist with The East African newspaper, Mr. Adam Ihucha, warned that if Tanzanians do not conserve their wildlife and look after their natural assets, then nature-based tourism will fail, and with it they will lose employment prospects for thousands people.
Presenting a paper titled “Conservation Agenda on General Election Campaigns,” Mr. Ihucha said, save for the ruling Chama cha mapinduzi (CCM), other key opposition parties such as ACT-Wazalendo and Coalition of People’s Constitution (UKAWA) have skipped the conservation issue in their manifestos.
“Conservation is a key issue in Tanzania, because the country’s economy is entirely based on natural resources. So for political parties to ignore conservation is a grave mistake,” he noted.
Indeed, Tanzania has dedicated nearly 28 percent of its surface area of 945,203 square kilometers to wildlife conservation, but now the country faces many conservation challenges.
Poaching ranks high, among other issues, threatening wildlife and ultimately a thriving multi-billion-dollar tourism industry.
Other threats are loss of natural habitat through human activities incompatible with conservation interests such as cultivation, overstocking of livestock, deforestation, use of pesticides, and other pollution.
Mr. Ihucha said that of all, the poaching menace was a great threat to the multi-billion-dollar tourism industry, its related jobs, revenues, and the whole value chain, and soon than later, there will be nothing to attract the long-haul tourists.
Wildlife tourism in Tanzania continues to grow, with more than 1 million guests visiting the country annually, earning the country $2.05 billion, equivalent to nearly 17.6 percent of the GDP.
Additionally, tourism provides 500,000 direct jobs to Tanzanians; over one million people earn an income from tourism.
Tanzania hopes the number of tourist arrivals will hit 1.2 million this year, up from one million visitors in 2014, earning the economy close to $2.25 billion, up from the last year’s $1.88 billion.
In addition, the value chain of tourism supports parks, conservation areas, and now community-based wildlife management areas (WMAs), as well as farmers, transporters, fuel stations, spare parts suppliers, builders, tent manufacturers, and suppliers of food and drink.
As if that was not enough, the government itself milks tourism with multiple taxes and fees.
“My view is that our reputation as the number one in global conservation will soon be meaningless unless we stop elephant poaching and illegal ivory trade which is now at industrial levels,” Mr. Ihucha explained.
Over the past five years, more than 80,000 of the country’s elephants have been slaughtered for their ivory, representing 60 percent of the population – yet another sign that humanity could soon drive the great pachyderms to extinction.
Startling new estimates were made public in June 2015 by Tanzania’s Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Lazaro Nyalandu, who said populations fell catastrophically from 109,051 in 2009 to 43,330 in 2014.
Experts note that with a 5 percent annual birth rate, the actual number of dead animals is 85,181.
“The government and any politician with any moral authority should confront these issues openly in the elections campaigns and admit failure over the past decade or so,” he noted.
The illegal ivory trade has to be confronted both diplomatically and globally, but also by devoting more resources to anti-poaching as well as accountability from the top to the bottom.
For his part, a coordinator of journalists on the conservation network, Mr. Charles Ngereza, said that leaders of tomorrow should take conservation to the people, help them understand its key role, gain their support, and help out with inevitable human wildlife conflict in areas where wildlife and people have to try and co-exist.