Wildlife industry transformation must be done right to prevent repeat of land reform failures

By Ismail Obaray MPL DA Northern Cape Spokesperson of Environment & Nature Conservation:

The DA welcomes the initiative by Northern Cape Environment and Nature Conservation MEC, Tiny Chotelo, to transform the wildlife industry in the province and calls on the provincial government to ensure that it uses models that have been proven to work in order to prevent a repeat of the high rate of land reform failures.

The racial dispossession of the past has left the Northern Cape with skewed patterns of ownership that exclude the majority of South Africans from land assets and rural economies. As a result, the wildlife industry in the Northern Cape remains 100% white and redress in this sector is undeniably long overdue.

What we cannot, however, afford is for the wildlife industry transformation to follow in the footsteps of land reform, which has been marked by very slow progress and an unacceptably high failure rate in terms of agricultural activity.

Game farming and hunting contributes significantly to conservation, tourism development, job creation and sustainable development, especially in rural areas, and is part of the broader biodiversity economy. In fact, the local hunting industry brings in excess of R255 million to the provincial wildlife economy per annum.

Policy dictating the transformation of the wildlife industry, which is currently being crafted by the provincial department, must therefore ensure successful reform the first time round. Otherwise the Northern Cape will lose money, jobs and wildlife while also placing conservation efforts under pressure.

In this regard, provincial government needs to provide policy certainty through improved security of land tenure and a firm commitment to the principle of ‘willing buyer-willing seller’. Government must further ensure that new entrants receive adequate support and that productive land is transferred to beneficiaries who are ready and organised to manage it effectively.

Land reform models that work, such as joint ventures, co-operatives, contract farming and farm equity schemes, must also be specifically adapted to service the wildlife industry.

Most importantly, the wildlife transformation process must also be informed not by the need to achieve quantitative land targets but by the objectives of supporting a thriving commercial wildlife industry that can conserve the provincial environment, promote entrepreneurs where economically viable and alleviate poverty.

There is no doubt that, just like land reform, a transformation of the wildlife industry presents a significant potential to lift rural people out of poverty and invigorate rural economies. But for this to happen, it must be done properly.