By Lahja Nashuuta
Windhoek – The Kavango-Zambezi Transfonteir Conservation Area or KAZA – TFCA is still relevant, and the institution has made notable progress towards achieving the institution mandate, even though some member states, such as Botswana, have expressed dissatisfaction with the developmental pace of KAZA.
Countries such as Zambia and Namibia has already tested the fruits of the initiatives, developing new infrastructure development in the parks and having training for park officials.
Among the success stories are the joint patrols, sharing of knowledge on human wildlife conflict mitigation measures, opening of wildlife corridors in countries particularly the demining process in Angola to allow for movement of elephants, joint raising of funds for infrastructure development, tourism visa in piloted between Zambia and Zimbabwe.
“We have been spearheading consultative meetings throughout the region, affording stakeholders an opportunity to actively participate in deliberating and planning the actions they deemed necessary to protect the natural and cultural assets of the area, unlock its ecotourism potential and deliver benefits emanating from conservation to the people of the region in an equitable and sustainable manner,” KAZA executive secretariat Dr Morris Mtsambiwa told The Southern Times in an exclusive interview.
KAZA was formed in 2012 as the largest transfrontier conservation area in the world measuring over 500,000 square kilometers and spread out over five SADC countries – Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The regional park converges on the international borders of Zambia, Botswana, Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe. The area encompasses 36 national parks, game reserves, protected areas and villages.
Most well-known of the component parks are the Bwabwata National Park, Chobe National Park, the Okavango Delta and the Victoria Falls.
Last month Botswana Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Tshekedi Khama expressed his frustration about the slow progress made through KAZA since its formation during the Botswana’s Travel and Tourism Expo in Kasane this year.
“I am not impressed were KAZA is at. We have challenges. In Zambia, it is poaching, in Zimbabwe it is funding. In Namibia they don’t have dedicated conservation areas; there is mixed land usage system. In Angola there are just coming out of the war. I wish I could be more positive. I wish KAZA would have gone a lot further than it has go,” the minister was quoted as saying during the side-line interview with Peolwane, an in-flight magazine of Air Botswana.
Nevertheless, the Namibian environment and tourism minister Pohamba Shifeta said transformation is a process and KAZA TFCA is making good progress in this regard. “However, some barriers (which are rather challenges) like not being at the same level at country level on tourism development and different policies are being experienced. These will be overcome by the KAZA TFCA Tourism and Marketing Strategy that is being developed. Stakeholders met in Maun, Botswana last week to discuss this strategy before it is brought to the Committee of Ministers for approval later this year,” Shifeta said.
On poaching Shifeta said a number of strategies have been put in place including increase of personnel on the ground, but added: “We cannot elaborate further on our strategies but we have seen a reduction on poaching incidents over the years.”
KAZA was declared as a trans-frontier park in 2006 through the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the five participating countries.
Among the achievements includes the formation of an Integrated Development Plan (IDPs) at country level as well as other various joint projects aimed at improving natural resource management, land-use planning, tourism, infrastructure and alternative livelihood development as well as human-wildlife conflict.
Mtsambiwa said the IDPs outline the summary of the needs and expectations of conservationists, wildlife managers, safari and business operators, foresters, as well as local communities of each country.
“KAZA has been doing consultation meetings in member countries especially with communities that fall under this conservation to assist them on how to avoid human-wildlife conflict because wherever humans and animals depend on a shared natural environment,” he said.
“Their different needs and interests often spell conflict and KAZA role here is to create peaceful and viable coexistence as well as to creating wildlife corridors, which animals can safely navigate without causing any harm,” Mtsambiwa said
While applauding the member states and international partners financial support to KAZA, Mtsambiwa nevertheless admitted that finance is a major challenge facing the institution for it to successfully carry out all its planned programmes.
The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) is the biggest foreign donor to KAZA, that contributed 35.5 million Euros via the KfW Development Bank so far.
The headquarters of the Sioma Ngwezi National Park, in south western Zambia was built with financial support to the KAZ-TFCA, from the German Government.
Mtsambiwa said the national park is the first of its kind to be developed under the KAZA-TFCA initiative, with many more to be development throughout the KAZA Landscape, in the next two years.
The infrastructure comprises of one high cost, 4 medium cost, and 20 low cost staff houses, and office accommodation constructed at a total cost of just above one million euros, he said.
Sioma Ngwezi National Park Headquarters, Mtsambiwa said is expected to provide the wildlife officials with a decent place to live and work, and untimely boost their morale in carrying out their duties.
“The sustainable management of wildlife resource in Sioma Ngwezi National Park, as a result of this infrastructure, will not only benefit the Republic of Zambia alone, but will ultimately benefit the other four countries that share wildlife species with Zambia,” he said.
Apart from Simon Ngwezi, the institution has also introduced other programmes to source funds such as the introduction of a Univisa for tourists visiting the KAZA areas.
“In order to finance our programme and make it sustainable, we decided to develop and expand eco-tourism in the area through a single visa. Tourists will eventually be allowed a month of unrestricted travel in the KAZA areas of all five countries. Zambia and Zimbabwe already offer this visa, and the remaining three KAZA partner (Namibia, Angola and Botswana) countries are set to follow,” he said
A KAZA Trust Fund, whereby member states make contributions on annual basis.