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Over­hunt­ing bush ani­mals threat­ens food secu­rity of Cen­tral Africa’s rural communities

pub­lished 02 May 2012 | mod­i­fied 05 Decem­ber 2012

who depend on wild sources of meat for up to 80% of the pro­tein in their diets.

Sci­en­tists at the Cen­ter for Inter­na­tional Forestry Research (CIFOR) are encour­ag­ing Africa’s city dwellers to stop the con­sump­tion of pro­tected species and con­sume sus­tain­able sources of meat, whether from domes­tic ani­mals or from resilient species that are hunted in a sus­tain­able way.

For peo­ple in the coun­try­side, bush­meat is a cru­cial part of their diets, and we can­not sim­ply tell them not to eat it – they will always con­tinue to

Robert Nasi, Direc­tor of the CGIAR Research Pro­gram on Forests, Trees and Agro­forestry and co-​author of the recent study The role of wildlife for food secu­rity in Cen­tral Africa: a threat to biodiversity?

Nonethe­less, in cities it is some­what eas­ier to find other sources of pro­tein than in a vil­lage in the mid­dle of the for­est, so it is here that we have an oppor­tu­nity to reduce unnec­es­sary demand by shift­ing their meat con­sump­tion to other sources and thus pre­serv­ing Africa’s biodiversity.”

bushmeat gabonbushmeat suriname

Though the word “bush­meat” may be syn­ony­mous with eco­log­i­cal exploita­tion and species extinc­tion, in Africa it could mean a poten­tially sus­tain­able source of food: unlike cat­tle, which require large tracts of for­est to be cleared, small, fast repro­duc­ing ani­mals can be har­vested with­out sig­nif­i­cant impacts on the ecol­ogy of the forests. Bush­meat is de facto one of the most read­ily avail­able sources of nutri­tion and pro­tein in regions of Africa that are strug­gling with main­tain­ing a secure food supply.

For a minor­ity of peo­ple liv­ing in Africa’s grow­ing num­ber of large cities in Equa­to­r­ial Guinea, Gabon and Cameroon, bush­meat is con­sid­ered a lux­ury prod­uct, due to the exotic nature of the meat com­pared to farmed ani­mals. New migrants from the coun­try­side often highly value bush­meat over farmed meat due to its cul­tural famil­iar­ity, hav­ing eaten it through­out their childhoods.

But for the major­ity of the urban poor how­ever, as Nasi points out in another new paper, Empty forests, empty stom­achs? Bush­meat and liveli­hoods in Congo and Ama­zon Basins, in cities which are nei­ther iso­lated rural areas nor major cap­i­tals, bush­meat is not a lux­ury but rather a neces­sity for urban poor as it is one of the most cheaply acquired sources of pro­tein. Unfor­tu­nately, due to pop­u­la­tion growth, defor­esta­tion, civil con­flicts, weak gov­er­nance and inad­e­quate law enforce­ment, hunt­ing for bush­meat is increas­ing dra­mat­i­cally and many species of wildlife are strug­gling to bounce back.

Researchers know that the vol­umes of meat caught are high: Nasi et al. esti­mate bush­meat con­sump­tion across the Congo basin and the Ama­zon is in the range of 6 mil­lion tonnes a year. How­ever, esti­mat­ing the true size of total bush­meat catches is extremely chal­leng­ing, as the ulti­mate source of the meat is dif­fi­cult to deter­mine. It is also dif­fi­cult to know the true size of what is caught, as the vol­ume of meat that reaches mar­kets will inevitably be smaller than the ini­tial harvest.

To develop a new set of tools for esti­mat­ing bush­meat har­vests, Nasi and col­leagues exam­ined the meat on sale in urban mar­kets in the African city of Kisan­gani and doc­u­mented which ani­mals were on sale, which were abun­dant or threat­ened species, and the pric­ing for each type of meat. They found that par­tially pro­tected species rep­re­sented 50 per cent of the total bush­meat sold in Kisan­gani in 2002, but had increased to 66 per cent in 2009. Mar­ket data thus can be valu­able for pol­icy mak­ers and aca­d­e­mics for “rais­ing the alarm” when rapid changes in wild pop­u­la­tion num­bers are documented.

But under­stand­ing the impor­tance of bush­meat to local cul­tures, both in terms of liveli­hood as well as nutri­tion, is essen­tial, said Nathalie Van Vliet, Post-​Doctoral Researcher at the Uni­ver­sity of Copenhagen.

Appre­ci­at­ing the kinds of meat that regional peo­ple value and why, is cru­cial for devel­op­ing effec­tive poli­cies and strategies

In the case of rural com­mu­ni­ties, where reli­able sources of pro­tein may be hard to come by, sim­ply pre­scrib­ing an aban­don­ment of bush­meat will not work.

We should not crim­i­nalise the whole sys­tem – it’s like with any other essen­tial resources, the trade will just go under­ground and con­tinue with even less options for con­trol,” Nasi said.

But what can be done, through poli­cies and care­ful pub­lic edu­ca­tion pro­grammes, is to dis­cour­age the hunt­ing and con­sump­tion of ani­mals that repro­duce slowly and do not recover quickly from culls, such as fruit bats. Other species, such as rats, are abun­dant, and due to high repro­duc­tion rates recover quickly from hunt­ing impacts. They are also highly val­ued by local com­mu­ni­ties. “In some mar­kets, the most expen­sive form of meat is in fact rat,” Van Vliet said.

Peo­ple do in fact like the taste of the meat, show­ing that nei­ther rar­ity nor size is the only indi­ca­tor of price, and that some species that are resilient to the impacts of hunt­ing are pre­ferred, thus cre­at­ing options for man­age­ment.” Despite there being only a few poli­cies that effec­tively man­age the lev­els of bush­meat hunt­ing sus­tain­ably, at the gov­ern­men­tal level, there has been come recog­ni­tion of the need to mon­i­tor and reg­u­late the trade in bushmeat.

Since COP11 in 2000, three cen­tral African coun­tries have drafted national bush­meat action plans: Cameroon, Gabon, and both the Repub­lic and Demo­c­ra­tic Repub­lic of Congo. But these drafts are still very much incom­plete and inef­fec­tive. Nasi is work­ing with the Con­ven­tion on Bio­log­i­cal Diversity’s liai­son group on bush­meat, which rec­og­nizes that exist­ing poli­cies and legal frame­works are unprac­ti­cal or unfea­si­ble. But in his expe­ri­ence, Nasi and col­leagues say that work­ing with gov­ern­ments in Africa has not been suf­fi­cient. Con­versely, they have found that part­ner­ing with log­ging com­pa­nies – who them­selves can become big dri­vers of hunt­ing through the cre­ation of roads that pen­e­trate forests, com­bined with remote camps pop­u­lated with hun­gry work­ers – has often resulted in a high degree of suc­cess in achiev­ing sus­tain­able hunting.

In the future we think devel­op­ing private-​public part­ner­ships to man­age hunt­ing of resilient species while pro­tect­ing vul­ner­a­ble ones would be an effec­tive ele­ment of the solution

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at Cen­ter for Inter­na­tional Forestry Research via Alert­Net. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.

(Source: Forests Blog CIFOR, 05.04.2012)

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