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The Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority and GIZ International Services (IS) are working on a project, funded by the Global Environment Facility, through UNDP. The objective is to safeguard Ethiopia’s biodiversity and ecosystem from human induced pressure. It began in 2008 and is now in the second phase. Capital’s Eskedar Kifle sat down with Ludwig Siege, Chief Technical Advisor for Sustainable Development of the Protected Area System of Ethiopia (SDPASE) and discussed their challenges and achievements. Excerpts;
Capital: Can you explain about your project with the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA)?
Ludwig Siege: I am in charge from GIZ ISs side, for a project that is funded by the Global Environment Facility, through the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) which aims at supporting EWCA. We are helping the Authority build their skills and increase their capabilities and providing other general assistance. To some extent we are also giving support to the regional wildlife authorities as well, especially in the Southern region where there are a lot of wildlife resources.
We’ve been working on this endeavor since 2008 and the agreement is to work with the Authority for eight years so we have two years to go. Moreover GIZ IS has been selected by the Ethiopian government as the implementing agent. So we have a contract with the Wildlife Authority to execute this assignment.
Capital: Can you give me details on how exactly you are providing support to EWCA and other regional wildlife authorities?
Siege: We provide training, give technical advice, and carry out studies as well as fund some activities that are important for protected areas such as re-demarcating and the gazettement (land management) process for the protected areas. This area is really lagging behind, the only gazettement process when I came here was done for Semien and Awash Park and even that, the boundary descriptions were totally out of date, they still had the boundary demarcated in the 1970’s.
Capital: What are some of the challenges these protected areas are currently facing? For example, there are still some communities living within the protected areas and that puts pressure on the environment. How can that be solved?
Siege: This is true; people living in the protected areas are one of the major challenges, as well as using the area for livestock grazing and charcoal burning, or similar things. This according to the legislation is illegal, but nobody follows it. This also shows the relatively low value that is given to these protected areas, in the political sphere even though there is a lot of potential for tourism.
The figures are increasing and we feel a good deal of this increase is being seen in the protected areas too. When I came, I think there were only 7 to 8 thousand visitors to the Semien Park but now that number has increased to 20,000. The tourism sector is growing fast which means an increase in income for the areas and increased funding and increased incentives for communities because they are also participating.
In Semien Park for instance, communities provide porter services, they have an association there for tourism support which is basically helping tourists with trekking and other service together with the tour operators.
So, the potential is there. We know also from neighboring countries that wildlife based tourism is huge. These countries are earning hundreds of millions of dollars through this kind of tourism. EWCA has a vision to become among the five top tourism destinations in Africa by 2020. This is difficult to achieve but we are trying our best to make it happen.
The other problem is that there isn’t always the necessary support from the local administrations. Often they don’t know the legislation or they don’t want to know or they have other priorities. This is something that is unique to Ethiopia. I have previously worked in Tanzania, and there the local administration has always been supportive. Here that is not always the case, so a lot of energy goes into discussions with the local administrations that should have been spent on the real work.
Capital: Most of the time communities living within and around these protected areas are left out when we talk about benefits of tourism. How do you try to get these communities involved so they will not put pressure on the environment for their livelihoods?
Siege: We are having discussions with communities on benefit sharing for example benefit sharing from park entrance fees. The management of EWCA knows that unless the local communities benefit, these parks will not survive.
Capital: According to the studies you have carried out, what is the current condition of Ethiopian wildlife?
Siege: It is in a much better state than it used to be than most people think. In Gambela we have the second largest wildlife migration on earth. So there is a lot of potential to do something there and people would pay a lot of money for it but it has not been developed and it requires a great deal of funding to do that. It would help if we had partners to help us do things like this. The income of the parks right now is in the vicinity of USD one million. There have been some discussions on raising entrance fees for foreign tourists. Right now entrance fee for foreigners is something like USD five which is very low. In other African countries it is much higher.
In Tanzania to visit the Serengeti Park you pay USD 60 and to climb the Kilimanjaro you pay more than USD one hundred. So we have the potential to raise the entrance fee from USD 25 to 30 here, and people would be willing to pay. Especially if they don’t see cows more than wildlife, which requires us to work hard on that.
Capital: Another problem that has been raised is the lack of appropriate facilities for tourists such as washrooms or appropriate camping grounds. All this shortens the length of stay by the tourists in these parks. How do you solve that?
Siege: That is a big problem but it is improving a lot. In the six years I have been here there have been a lot of improvements. Now we have some lodges that were not there previously, one in Semien and another in Awash and then a new one in Bale. EWCA is working hard to promote the investment opportunities.
Capital: There is always this sense that local tourist are underestimated. How do you work to promote these areas not only for foreign tourists but also to local tourists?
Siege: Of course EWCA and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism aims at the local tourists as well. But at the moment, the purchasing power of the locals is not high. There are relatively increasing numbers of local tourists in the parks. They pay a very small entrance fee, other wise they wouldn’t be able to afford it. Our hope is also to tap into the Ethiopian middle class which is there. But the big money spenders are foreign tourists and expatriates living here.
Regarding achievements, there have been some, but we could have achieved better with the support of the political sphere, more budget, and better cooperation from local administrations.
Obviously government subsidy is also crucial. We do all sorts of studies to show the politicians and the decision makers what is important. When they see that without the Bale Park, agriculture downstream in the Wabi Shebele and Genale catchments would suffer, they are more inclined to put more money into the Bale Park