By Matt Styslinger
This post is part of a series where Nourishing the Planet asks its readers: What works? Every week we’ll ask the question and every week you can join the conversation!
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the rate of wildlife extinction is currently 100 to 1,000 times higher than the natural rate because of human activities, including urban development and farming.
Unfortunately, rural farmers and pastoralists often work in direct conflict with wildlife. But as major land and resource users, farmers are also key partners in conserving wildlife. Through education and activities that support the livelihoods of farmers and pastoralists, agriculture can function in harmony with wildlife.
Mokolodi Wildlife Reserve in Botswana used to be known more for raising livestock than protecting wildlife. After years of ranching degraded the land, the owner decided to devote the area to protecting elephants, giraffes, impala, kudu, crocodiles, hippos, ostrich, warthogs, and various other animals and birds. But the reserve hasn’t stopped raising food. Park staff teach local farmers about conserving and protecting wildlife and the environment, but also about permaculture farming techniques that work in balance with the environment. By growing indigenous vegetables, recycling water for irrigation, and using organic fertilizers—including elephant and other wildlife dung—the reserve’s education center is demonstrating how to grow nutritious food with very little water or chemical inputs.
In much of rural southern and East Africa, tensions between farmers and wildlife run high. Elephants or buffalo, for example, eat and trample crops. Animals like elephants, buffalo, crocodiles, and hippos can also be dangerous to people and livestock. The Wildlife Conservation Society is educating people about the economic benefits that can be derived from wildlife tourism and related industries. They are also improving access to veterinary services to deal with common livestock diseases. With this approach they have been able to raise the threshold of tolerance for wildlife among pastoralists and farmers. Community Markets for Conservation works to improve economic opportunities for farmers by diversifying their skills. By raising livestock and bees, growing organic rice, using improved irrigation and fisheries management, and other practices, farmers do not have to resort to poaching for extra income and food.