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Elephants in the Masai Mara

Smoked salmon or roasted goat?
April 5, 2002

Smoked salmon or roasted goat? An odd combination perhaps, but that's what happens when you combine East African tribal leaders with western ecotourism gurus.

The U.N. declared 2002 the International Year of Ecotourism (IYE) and Kenya played host to the largest regional IYE conference to date on March 20-22. The Nairobi conference brought together governments, businesses, tribal villagers, aid agencies and conservationists to create future strategies for East African ecotourism, including strategies on village land rights, national and international ecotourism policy, wildlife protection, wildlife planning and business ventures.

220 representatives from as far afield as Ghana, France and Botswana mingled with those from Zanzibar, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda and America. Over 100 East African local village participants attended, the most community members at any of the IYE regional conferences. While there, they all outlined how ecotourism has affected their lives and livelihoods.

The aim of the conference was to share knowledge, ensuring that local cultures and communities understood ecotourism principles and that the western 'gurus' understand local problems, concerns and backgrounds. Strategic plans to move forward with regional ecotourism and recommendations for action will be presented at the Quebec World Ecotourism Summit in May 2002 by one representative each from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

The following key points were made:

  • Ecotourism as a business activity must be commercially viable, environmentally sound and market driven, while supporting the local communities directly and indirectly. Benefit sharing between the tourism partners needs to be equitable, with established legal agreements that define transparency and accountability from all sides. These agreements need to address issues of respect toward the local culture and indigenous knowledge of the community.
  • All tourism partners should be involved in the development of the ecotourism business plan from the outset, especially local villagers. This is especially important for those villages neighbouring protected wildlife areas.
  • Traditionally, local villagers have been the custodians of the natural resources; they have specific strengths and can be allocated responsibilities within the development of ecotourism.
  • National policies must clearly identify tourism partners and their relationships, as well as establish the national guidelines, codes of conduct and best practices that pertain to the conservation aims of ecotourism. The policies should also clarify land tenure issues defining use, ownership rights and responsibilities over the natural resources. Finally, national policies should encourage community owned, sustainable ecotourism activities, as well as provide incentives toward the development of ecotourism initiatives.
  • Any regional and/or international policy should strive to coordinate national, regional and international standards. Policies should include proper land-use management and attempt to minimise human-wildlife conflicts.

The East Africa IYE conference was hosted by the African Conservation Centre, Conservation International, Eco-resorts, the Ecotourism Society of Kenya, The International Ecotourism Society, Rainforest Alliance and UNEP.

For further information, contact: Anne Loehr Eco-resorts Tel: 254-122-32161 Fax: 1-801-991-7410 Email: anne@eco-resorts.com

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