Africa’s wildlife is under threat from persistent rural poverty and rising urban prosperity in the face of systemic shortcomings in governance and management. Wildlife habitats are threatened by desertification, degradation and conversion to other land uses such as crop farming and cattle ranching. If Africa’s wildlife is to be conserved, it must be recognised and governed as the unique and valuable asset that it is, and it must be managed for the benefit of Africa’s people.

Sustainable and inclusive wildlife economies are critical to align wildlife conservation with economic development in Africa. However, our knowledge of wildlife economies and what is needed to enhance their contribution to sustainable development is limited. In this regard, the African Wildlife Economy Institute (AWEI) aims to become the leading academic institute for research, outreach, and engagement on wildlife economies in Africa.

The study of wildlife economies is inherently multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary. It includes the application of business management, economics, law and science. Hence, the academic mandate of AWEI is to work across the faculties of Stellenbosch University including AgriSciences (where it is located), Economic and Management Science, Law and Science. Importantly, AWEI will also collaborate with institutions of higher education and research and with the public and private sectors across Africa. As an academic institution committed to inclusive, sustainable development, AWEI’s values include objectivity, critical thinking, independence, innovation, integrity, and transparency.

For AWEI, Africa includes the continent, the continental shelf and adjacent islands including Madagascar. African wildlife includes undomesticated terrestrial and marine animals, plants, and other life forms, as well as their abiotic and biotic interactions. Wildlife is linked to the habitats and ecosystems where it naturally lives.

The economy is the set of human interactions that produce, trade and consume goods and services. Living natural resources, including wildlife, are key factors of production for many goods and services such as food and tourism. A wildlife economy utilises undomesticated animals and plants and the ecosystems in which they live to produce goods and services.

Vision and mission

AWEI’s vision is a world in which wildlife management, production, utilisation, and trade supports inclusive, sustainable development in Africa.

This vision is aligned with the vision of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development:

“We envisage a world in which every country enjoys sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth and decent work for all.

A world in which consumption and production patterns and the use of all natural resources — from air to land, from rivers, lakes and aquifers to oceans and seas — is sustainable.

One in which democracy, good governance and the rule of law, as well as an enabling environment at the national and international levels, are essential for sustainable development, including sustained and inclusive economic growth, social development, environmental protection and the eradication of poverty and hunger.

One in which development and the application of technology are climate-sensitive, respect biodiversity and are resilient.

One in which humanity lives in harmony with nature and in which wildlife and other living species are protected.”

It is also aligned with the IUCN World Conservation Strategy and its key objective:

“to ensure the sustainable utilisation of species and ecosystems (notably fish and other wildlife, forests and grazing lands), which support millions of rural communities as well as major industries.”

AWEI’s mission is to strengthen the governance of wildlife economies in Africa in support of biodiversity conservation and inclusive, sustainable development.

In this respect, AWEI adheres to the IUCN definition of conservation as:

“the management of human use of the biosphere so that it may yield the greatest sustainable benefit to present generations while maintaining its potential to meet the needs and aspirations of future generations. Thus, conservation is positive, embracing preservation, maintenance, sustainable utilisation, restoration, and enhancement of the natural environment.”

The Institute also recognises the challenges of sustainable development as set out the 2030 Agenda:

“Each country faces specific challenges in its pursuit of sustainable development. The most vulnerable countries and, in particular, African countries, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing states deserve special attention, as do countries in situations of conflict and post-conflict.”

And, in line with the 2030 Agenda as noted above, we recognise that “democracy, good governance and the rule of law as well as an enabling environment at the national and international levels, are essential for sustainable development.” Hence, we aim to strengthen the governance of African wildlife economies for both conservation and development.

We refer to the concept of governance in terms of both its external and internal applications. By external governance, we refer to all the external forces that influence a wildlife economy, including social norms, economic incentives, forces and structures, and most importantly legal frameworks, stretching from local and national regulatory frameworks to international agreements. We recognise both that these forces have individual impacts on a wildlife economy and that there is a need to strengthen the complex interactions of social norms and values, economic incentives and processes, and regulatory processes and agreements to deliver sustainability outcomes.

Internal governance refers to how a wildlife economy entity within itself is structured and managed, whether as a privately-owned business, a community endeavor, or as a public conservation entity such as a national park. This might include technical and scientific aspects, business planning, marketing, or any other aspect relating to the management of the entity.

Strategic Goals

To fulfill its mission, the Institute’s theory of change starts with identifying the knowledge gaps within these themes and filling them through a strategic programme of academic research. AWEI will then ensure that all stakeholders have access to this knowledge through its outreach and communication activities. With this shared knowledge, the Institute can engage with key stakeholders and decision-makers to strengthen the governance of African wildlife economies in support of conservation and inclusive, sustainable development. Thus, AWEI’s programme has three strategic goals:

Deepen knowledge of African wildlife economies — by coordinating and consolidating research, AWEI will deepen knowledge and understanding of wildlife economies in Africa. In particular, AWEI will seek to fill knowledge gaps by promoting and facilitating both multi- and interdisciplinary research that connects law, economics, sociology, and business disciplines to natural resource science and management. A detailed research agenda will be developed engaging academics at SU, across the continent, and globally, along the lines of the Research Framework presented further below.

Disseminate knowledge of wildlife economies across Africa — AWEI will use a blend of modern, internet-based strategies and processes and traditional engagement strategies to ensure that its research reaches all its relevant stakeholders. Through effective use of internet-based platforms and focused dialogues, AWEI will disseminate knowledge on African wildlife economics across Africa and beyond. This includes a content-rich website, blogs, social media outreach, strategic workshops and conferences, and engagement in key policy conferences and debates.

Utilise knowledge to strengthen wildlife economy governance — The third strategic goal is to engage effectively with all relevant stakeholders, so that they are aware, committed and empowered to make the needful changes that will result in enhanced governance of wildlife economies at all levels. Building on its communication and dissemination strategies, AWEI will engage actively with those stakeholders to advance its goals. Through empowering public and private decision-makers, AWEI will aim to improve wildlife economy policies and practices in support of biodiversity conservation and economic development.

The engagement strategy is twofold. In the first place, it will target individual stakeholder groups, for example, through specialised training courses for particular stakeholder groups such as policymakers or by engaging with industry associations. Second, it will seek to advance its goals by promoting multi-stakeholder dialogue. By bringing together different stakeholders — public and private; local, national, and international; and producers, traders, and consumers — AWEI will embrace the complexity of ensuring that wildlife economies are inclusive and sustainable. In this way not only is knowledge deepened through targeted engagement, but more importantly, opportunities to share knowledge and perspectives across different stakeholder groups at national and international levels can greatly enhance impact.

Research Framework

AWEI has identified a series of knowledge gaps regarding our understanding of wildlife management, production, utilisation, trade, and the governance needed to ensure that wildlife economies contribute to the conservation of biodiversity and to promoting economic development that is inclusive and sustainable. In this regard, AWEI’s proposed research framework addresses three core themes, as follows:

The ethical context of the wildlife economy — Values, beliefs, and perceptions about the role of wildlife in society, and attitudes to the use of wildlife influence how we govern the conservation and sustainable utilisation of wildlife.

The governance of the wildlife economy — Policies, laws, and regulations at the local, national, continental and international levels shape the way in which any wildlife economy functions — either at the entity-level or at the economy-wide level — and how it can contribute to conservation and development.

The functioning of the wildlife economy — The sustainability of the wildlife economy depends on well-functioning value chains in sectors such as tourism, hunting, and meat production; and on effective systems of production management, product development, marketing, sales, and finance.

AWEI in 2019

AWEI is starting out as a cost-efficient, virtual organisation using a soon-to-be-launched website and stakeholder management system as a knowledge and networking platform for connecting academics and professionals across the continent. As resources become available, core staff functions will be filled on a part-time or full-time basis, and there will financial support for strategic research, outreach, and engagement activities. –  Medium