On 25 November 2016, “visionary conservationist” Praveen Moman, Founder of Volcanoes Safaris, delivered the keynote speech at the Congo Basin Forest Partnership’s 16th Meeting of Parties in Kigali, Rwanda.
In his speech, Praveen discussed “The challenge of conservation travel in the Congo Basin” and most importantly, proposed a practical plan of action for protecting ‘the forgotten forests’ of the Congo Basin. A summary of his speech is below.
The challenge of conservation travel in the Congo Basin – An introduction
The Congo Basin is one of the world’s largest and most biodiverse and unexploited wildernesses. Its 251 million hectares of forest ecosystems span much of Central Africa, from the Atlantic Ocean’s Gulf of Guinea to the mountains of the Albertine Rift in the east. They constitute the world’s second largest area of contiguous moist tropical forest and represent approximately one fifth of the world’s remaining closed canopy tropical forest.
The Congo Basin forests play a critical role for global biodiversity conservation (they are home to three of the world’s four species of great apes). They also provide vital regional and global ecological services as carbon sink and catchment basin.
The Congo Basin’s potential is enormous, but the challenges are huge. It is a forgotten zone, a huge black hole in the middle of Africa, that few can get to and few want to visit because of the challenges.
“The forgotten forests of the Congo Basin need to be connected with the world or we risk them disappearing within a few decades. Without this, the only economic activity left will be subsistence agriculture, mining, logging and trade in bushmeat.”
What is the answer? Do precedents exist?
Volcanoes Safaris has created a great ape ecotourism model around our lodges in Rwanda and Uganda to share the fantastic great ape experiences and the culture of the local people with our guests, and to share the benefits of tourism with communities and support conservation. Other companies have set up their own ecotourism models and many countries have also created successful adventure or conservation travel models.
Let’s look at Rwanda, a small country, bordering the huge Congo Basin. Volcanoes Safaris was the first international tourism company to set up here 16 years ago. Since we opened Virunga Lodge, there has been a dramatic transformation. In 2000 the country had just started functioning. Today there is excellent security, good roads, airport infrastructure, better governance, tourism policies, development of adventure and conservation tourism products, marketing and PR. Pro-private sector policies are being actively pursued. There are many other examples globally of how tourism can lead the way in developing economies.
Action plan for saving the Congo Basin forests and Great Apes
The first step in connecting the Congo Basin with the rest of the world is setting up a Tourism Action Group, whose remit will be to address such issues as:
- Simplifying visa processes and minimising immigration bureaucracy.
- Welcoming the private sector to invest in the Congo Basin. The private sector is the engine of growth, of developing excellence, self-sustaining economic development, hospitality, tourism products, PR and marketing. It has the capacity to compete with other destinations.
- Creating long term public-private partnerships (PPPs). Excellent examples of PPPs in the Congo Basin include the Virunga Alliance in Parc National de Virunga, Congo Conservation Company in Ozala, Noubale-Ndoki.
- Involving the people of the Congo Basin forests, the Ba-aka – some of the oldest peoples on this planet – in looking after the forest environment, managing resources, sharing their hospitality and traditions of building successful community programmes. We can learn a lot from the Ba-aka. In Gahinga in Uganda, Volcanoes Safaris are doing a series of projects with the disfranchised Batwa pygmies, including building a permanent settlement for them.
Over the longer term, we should plan to:
- Develop five world class sites in the Congo Basin and engage an international company to carry out a sustained PR and marketing campaign for the next five years.
- Collaborate by pushing the governments and conservation agencies, who manage the Congo Basin wilderness spaces, to share the fabulous resources of the Congo Basin with the world.
“The Congo Basin needs to join the global market place – let’s be competitive.”
Romantic ideas about protecting the wilderness will not stop the oil installations, the trucks of miners, the loggers or the oil exploration in this modern day.
We will need to be less romantic and make conservation pay. It has to be part of the economic mainstream and become a business if are to have any hope of saving the Congo Basin forests and its Great Apes.
Conservation must be like a ‘mine’ that produces an economic return. Linked to sensitive tourism it is also the only way to create wealth, put bread on the table for communities and give the children of Africa a better future.
Praveen Moman, Founder, Volcanoes Safaris and member of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership.
What is the Congo Basin Forest Partnership?
The Congo Basin Forest Partnership was originally set up by US Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2002 to bring together a multi-stakeholder group to help create economic development in the huge area of the Congo Basin.
The Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP) brings together some 85 partners, including African countries, donor agencies and governments, international organizations, NGOs, scientific institutions and the private sector, working to coordinate efforts to sustain forest resources in the Congo Basin.
The US State Department handed over facilitation of the CBFP to the European Union earlier this year.
In 2013 the State Department recognized Praveen as a leading expert on ecotourism in the Albertine Rift and Congo Basin by inviting him to join the CBFP.