A question of ownership: sustainable land use in southern Africa

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A SYSTEMIQ team, visiting western Zambia on a recent field visit, slowly took in the picture of devastation that lay before them: inside the boundary of a protected reserve, a vast haul of illegally plundered hardwood lay piled high against the fading evening light. “How much will the communities living here get from these trees being cut?” – a question eventually broke the sober silence. “Nothing”, replied a park warden, shaking his head. “Nothing”, he said again.

This isolated example is an encapsulation of a tragically familiar story of natural resource use on the continent: where there is lack of clear ownership over resources, where communities are disempowered, and where market systems do not take the true value of natural capital into account, these systems fail – fail socially, fail economically and fail environmentally.

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SYSTEMIQ’s work in Kaza focuses on building systems, business models and markets that optimise the positive economic and social value of natural assets, in order to secure them against destructive alternatives. The region is blessed with natural capital that is entirely unique, and which can form a strong and sustainable economic foundation– but only if the true value of its assets can be protected, harnessed and sustained.

Against a rising tide of population growth and resource demand, continued consumptive land utilisation in Africa – uncontrolled mining, logging, and intensive agriculture – will be entirely unable to cope with the needs of the continent. Instead, a new trajectory of economic growth must be defined – one that does not relentlessly erode the very natural asset foundations on which it depends, but one that uses the protection and guardianship of these resources to deliver a new era of job creation, empowerment and green growth.

SYSTEMIQ is fortunate to be working in support of the Peace Parks Foundation (PPF), who is engaged in large-scale, transfrontier ecological protection and innovative models of community-based land-use. Together we are working to prove the benefits of a new green economic growth path for Africa – one based on ecological protection, sustainable land-use choices and the co-existence of people and wildlife. Our visit to Zambia was the start of the journey, and one we are incredibly excited to be undertaking.

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