Press Release: Southern Africa meets resistance to proposals on communities and wildlife trade

Southern Africa meets resistance to proposals on communities and wildlife trade

  • Countries in the Southern African Development Council (SADC) are pushing
    to incorporate rural communities and their livelihoods in decisions about the
    international trade of wildlife.
  •  While they have met resistance to their proposals from other countries, SADC
    governments have showcased how working alongside their communities can
    achieve conservation and sustainable development goals.
  • Community representatives from Southern Africa who attended CITES made
    interventions in support of their governments’ position.


Botswana, Eswatini, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe have
been especially vocal proponents of including rural communities in decisions about
global trade of wildlife. These countries have jointly proposed and supported the
greater participation of rural communities during the 19th Meeting of the Conference
of the Parties (CoP19) of the Convention of International Trade on Endangered
Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) currently being held in Panama City.

These parties used the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous
People (UNDRIP) and Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas
(UNDROP) as a basis for their argument to include the views of communities in
CITES decisions. One of their most powerful assertions has been that CITES is
lagging on this issue relative to other multi-lateral conventions on the environment.
For example, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the UN
Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have mechanisms for local
communities to participate in their deliberations.

Community representatives from these Southern African countries have attended the
debates during CoP19 and made several interventions on subjects that affect them.
They have also co-hosted and attended side events that demonstrate why their
government’s proposals are important and how including the views and perspectives
of communities can improve the state of biodiversity. These communities work
together to present their views under the auspices of the Community Leaders Network
of Southern Africa (CLN).

Prior to CoP19, the CLN collaborated with the Africa CSOs Biodiversity Alliance
(ACBA) to produce a position paper supporting the proposals relating to communities
and livelihoods. CLN alongside their partners Resource Africa and ACBA emphasise
that nature conservation must involve people and their livelihoods to be successful
and sustainable. It is not an accident that the countries that have submitted and
supported these proposals also have national programmes for community-based
natural resource management (CBNRM), which puts people at the centre of

During CoP19, Parties (countries that have signed the convention) have decided on
numerous matters relating to the trade in over 600 wild plants and animals. Some of
these involve the regulation of trade in species of concern – placing a species on
Appendix II introduces permit procedures to track the trade and some restrictions on
the purpose of the trade, while Appendix I prevents all commercial trade. Other
decisions involve procedures on how CITES itself functions and makes decisions,
either related to particular species (e.g. monitoring illegal killing of elephants) or
across all species.

This year, Southern African Parties proposed two key documents regarding how
CITES works. The first document proposed including representatives of rural
communities worldwide on an advisory committee that would provide input on all
future CITES proposals. Hon. Mangaliso Ndlovu, Minister of Environment, Climate
Change, Tourism and International Trade in Zimbabwe stated: “CITES is turning 50,
and yet it still does not have a mechanism to include local communities and
livelihoods. CITES decisions should take into account the livelihoods of the poor, but
the key question is how?” Hon. Ndlovu strongly believes that rural communities are
the key to tackling illegal wildlife trade, which is a major challenge to the
implementation of CITES.

The second document proposed including considerations relating to community
livelihoods in CITES decisions. Hon. Philda Kereng, Minister of Environment,
Natural Resources Conservation & Tourism in Botswana, explained, “If you look at
the communities in the KAZA [Kavango-Zambezi] region, you will see how the
elephants destroy livelihoods and even kill people. We need to find a way for people
to receive benefits from this wildlife. We need their voluntary contributions for
conservation to work, so we need to work with them and deliver benefits to them.”
Hon. Kereng emphasised the need for people-centred conservation approaches that
support the livelihoods of rural communities and thus include them in the fight against
wildlife crime.

Hon. Rodney Sikumba, Minister of Tourism and Arts in Zambia supported the
Southern African position as the current Chair of the KAZA Trans-frontier
Conservation Area. “In Zambia, we have Game Management Areas that function as
buffer areas around our National Parks, and our communities living in these areas are
viewed as our partners in conservation.” He further noted, “These communities need a
seat at the table to help make decisions and ensure that they derive benefits from their
natural resources.”

CBNRM actively involves communities in decisions about their wildlife and aims to
supplement rural livelihoods through the sustainable use of natural resources. This
management system has resulted in reduced poaching and stable or increasing wildlife
populations across the region. By bringing communities into CITES, Southern Africa
is suggesting that this international convention can learn from their experiences at the
national level.

Unfortunately, they have met resistance to these proposals from other CITES Parties.
Some countries have argued that they represent their communities at CITES and there
is no need to include them in decision-making at this level. Others are concerned that
considering livelihoods in CITES decisions will divert focus away from the
conservation of plants and animals. Yet most of those standing against these proposals
cannot boast the same conservation success as Southern Africa; perhaps they could
learn something from SADC countries?

During this CoP, Southern Africa has shown that it is serious about community-based
conservation in a number of ways. Ministers and top environmental officials from
SADC have co-hosted and contributed to side events alongside their communities to
showcase their proposals and help other Parties understand how conservation works
in this region. Botswana funded the attendance of Community Trusts at CITES and
South Africa included communities in its government delegation, which is highly

Community representatives attending the CoP supported their governments’ proposals
by making statements whenever possible. Dr Rodgers Lubilo, representing CLN and
the Zambian Community-based Natural Resources Management Forum stated: “Our
communities may not have political power, but they live with wildlife on a daily
basis. Ultimately, we decide the fate of wildlife. We want a positive outcome.
Therefore we would like to discuss more about the benefits of legal trade than illegal

Similarly, Ditiro Mmereki representing the Ngamiland Council of Non-Governmental
Organisations (NCONGO) made an intervention during CoP19 saying, “It is time for
CITES to include the views and perspectives of rural communities. We cannot just
keep speaking about it; we need some concrete actions and way forward.”
During the final plenary session, Dr Lubilo expressed his gratitude, “we would like to
thank our countries from Southern Africa, especially for their persistent call that
community involvement is critical to conservation. We would like to invite our
friends from all over the world who have not had the opportunity to work with
communities to come to Southern Africa. Wildlife populations are thriving in
Southern Africa because our governments have put communities at the centre of

Although the SADC proposals on communities and livelihoods have not been adopted
outright during CoP19, there remain some ways forward. Two other proposals were
adopted during CoP19 on these matters, which allow CITES Parties and observers to
join working groups that will examine community inclusion and livelihoods before
the next CoP. The SADC governments and community representatives all volunteered
to be part of these working groups and bring their ideas to the table.
The governments and communities of Southern Africa thus showed a united front
during CoP19. They are standing for the role of communities in conservation and
their rights to sustainably use and trade plants and animals in a way that supports their
livelihoods. This joint effort and solidarity gives us hope that other countries will
realise the benefits of including communities in global discussions about conservation
and wildlife trade.


Please download PDF Version: Press Release – CITES and communities

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