The increase in the number of visitors to the country’s national parks is an indication that the tourism sector is recovering from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, says Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy.
“I am happy to report that in the 2021/22 financial year, the number of visitors to the country’s national parks increased by 74% from 1 996 667 during the COVID-19 lockdowns of the 2020/21 financial year to 3 482 514,” Creecy said on Sunday.
Addressing the launch of the National Parks Week at Augrabies National Park, in the Northern Cape,the Minister said the recovery, primarily at this stage in the domestic tourism market, reflects that the South African Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan in the tourism sector is well on track.
She said conservation and biodiversity management in developing countries is only sustainable if communities living adjacent to national parks benefit directly from tourism and its associated ecosystems.
“Currently, South African National Parks (SANParks) and its concessionaires, employ over 6 100 people, 80% of whom are recruited from neighbouring communities.
“Through the expanded public works programme, a further 13 650 work opportunities were created last year and 835 SMMEs participated in providing goods and services to SANParks during the 2021/22 financial year.”
In an effort to expand the economic opportunities in the national parks, earlier this year SANParks hosted a conference where over 100 projects were launched seeking investment partnerships in accommodation, retail activities and restaurants in the national parks.
High-Level Panel of Experts report
Last year the Minister’s office received the report of the High-Level Panel of Experts (HLP) that reviewed the existing policies, legislation and practices on matters of elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros management, breeding, hunting, trade and handling.
“The panel made two important findings. The first was that despite having a range of biodiversity and sustainable use legislation and policies, biodiversity loss continues to threaten the health of ecosystems and survival of species, and results in negative impacts for livelihoods and the economy.
“Global change, habitat loss and degradation, invasive alien species, overharvesting, and illegal harvesting all threaten South Africa’s biodiversity. The second was that South Africa’s biodiversity sector remains substantially untransformed and there is inequality in access to benefits arising from biodiversity and associated ecosystem services,” she said.
Furthermore, the sector has not reached its potential in terms of the contribution to the economy and growth domestic product (GDP).
Additionally, the panel noted that certain practices bring the biodiversity sector and its commitment to sustainable use into disrepute and harm the country’s international status as an ecotourism destination.
“The HLP recommendations provide a very clear way forward on how to address key sector challenges and highlight the importance of transformation of the sector, with empowerment and capacitation of communities living with wildlife, and recognition of their traditions and culture, as practiced through the traditional leaders and traditional healers.
“It also recommended the need for a more holistic approach to sustainable use, which ensures responsible and humane use of South Africa’s biodiversity, and the ending of poor and harmful practices, such as those associated with the captive lion industry,” she said.
Government has released the draft White Paper on sustainable use and the Game Meat Strategy for public comment.
The draft White Paper focuses on transformation, with access and beneficiation by communities adjacent to protected areas, as well as for previously disadvantaged individuals.
“Its vision is for a prosperous nation, living in harmony with nature. To accomplish this, the mission is to conserve South Africa’s biodiversity, and maintain and restore ecological integrity.
“In doing so, we must provide transformative socio-economic development benefits to the nation, through justifiable, responsible, and ecologically sustainable, and socially equitable, use of components of biodiversity encapsulated in the impact statement of ‘Thriving People and Nature’,” Creecy said.
The draft White Paper also sets out important principles, which will guide future policy, legislation, and decision-making across the sector.
“This includes reshaping ecologically sustainable use in a responsible manner. This means ensuring species persistence, and the ecological integrity of ecosystems. Social responsibilities are emphasised, as is the welfare of animals.
The Game Meat Strategy acknowledges the significant contribution made by current wildlife businesses and the various associations that drive critical elements of the value chain.
“Key to taking the new strategy forward will be to harness their experience and expertise. New private sector investments will be needed, and partnerships and collaborations will be essential, meaningful, and with buy-in from all stakeholders.
“In our view, properly implemented, the Game Meat Strategy will allow for compatible land use on the outskirts of our national parks, and ensure a sustainable off take for surrounding communities.
“Given the high level of interest in both policies, the department has extended the period of public consultation until 26 September,” the Minister said.