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The International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) has commissioned a report by Economists at Large assessing the value world wide of whale watching to support their position of an outright ban on whale hunting at the current International Whaling Commission meeting.  The report estimates that whale watching generates $2.1 billion per year.

The director of Ifaw, Patrick Ramage, is quoted by the BBC as saying “Whale watching is clearly more environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial than hunting and whales are worth far more alive than dead.”

Mr Ramage is setting up the economic argument as an “either or” but various people (such as the Icelandic whaling commissioner) have suggested that you can have some of both.  We’re back to economics 1.1 as shown in the diagram below.  The curved line shows the marginal rate of substitution between eating whales and watching whales, and the straight budget line shows the relative price of the two goods.  The “optimal” point is (theoretically) where the gradient of the lines are equal.  At this combination the maximum value is extracted.

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This piece of basic under-graduate economics probably gets us not very far to the answer of “how much hunting, how much watching?” but it does go some way to debunking the argument that if one good is more valuable than another you should only produce the first good.  People corporately probably want a bit of both.

And what of the recession? How does this affect the logic of maintaining whale populations as tourist attractions?  Again considering the properties of the two goods in the model above may be useful. Consuming whale watching is by its nature lumpy. To go whale watching I need to travel to the country in question, probably as part of a larger holiday and I will probably do various other touristy things while I’m there.  When money gets tight it is difficult for me to cut the cost of the combined single good of “holiday to a place where I can go whale watching.” As such I’m likely not to go at all, or to go to some place cheaper without whales.  My demand for whale watching is reduced by 100%.

The problem is that whales can only be watched whole and in their natural environment. However if I shoot the whale, cut it up and put in tins it becomes a lot more transportable and less lumpy (economically speaking, I’ve never eaten whale so can’t comment on its texture). If say I would usually consume ten cans of whale meat in a year and money gets tight, presuming whale meat to have a cheaper substitute, I can chose to consume only eight tins this year. My demand for this product has only reduced by 20%.

As with so many good and markets considered by Sustainable Slump the consumption is defined by the properties of the goods themselves but also there substitutes. Is whale watching a luxury good? Probably. Is global travel going to get more expensive in the future? Probably.  Will whale watching still be worth $2.1 billion if the recession continues? Possibly not.

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An article by the Guardian recently revealed plans for increased numbers of armed guards and miles of electric fencing to be erected around its key national parks in order to ‘protect water sources and stop impoverished people felling trees’. Kenya’s five national parks are thought to provide almost 80% of the country’s drinking water and hyrdroelectric power, but in one park in particular – Mau, 15,000 people now live ‘illegally’ and are believed to have cut down 104,00o hectares of trees in the past 15 years. Other parks – including the Mara, mentioned in an earlier post – have suffered from excessive livestock grazing and from deforestation for charcoal.

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The increased use of natural resources in national parks is believed to be a result of drought triggered by changing weather patterns associated with climate change and is being futher exacerbated by population growth.

The head of the government run Kenya Wildlife Service states that “the long rains have failed for the first time. The implications for food security and water scarcity and energy are profound. Kenya will face these three crises in the next 10 years without a doubt. If we carry on the way we are going, in 20 years the consequences will be horrific”.

The recession is undoubtedly a double blow to the communities involved in conservation and tourism in areas surrounding national parks, as they begin to suffer from falling tourist revenues and as food prices and inflation rises.

Whilst the article highlights a very serious and significant issue, its stance is very much one of a concerned conservationist or environmentalist with local populations regarded as the core problem. What it fails to consider is the wide responsibility we all have in facing and dealing with the global impacts of climate change and above all, worsening poverty, on people.

Many have argued that ‘conservation’ has long been a powerful political tool to justify the control and subordination of marginalised people, and whilst this fence may not be a direct means of subordinating the local population it does not deal with the root cause of the issue – that of profound poverty and the exacerbation of this poverty caused by anthropogenic climate change and the financial crisis.

Fences, after all, can be climbed and when your family’s life depends  on it, no wall is insurmountable.

Does Kenya, therefore, provide a small glimpse of the future for many communities in the developing world as the recession and climate change take their hefty toll? Surely a more long-term, meaningful solution than an electric fence is needed? Now, more than ever, can we ill-afford to solve only one, very small part of the problem.

A few of the posts in this blog have discussed the possibility of a decline in tourists numbers as the credit crunch bites.  In East Africa in particular, some countries have reduced park fees for international tourists as a strategy to bring them back to the national parks that are so dependent on tourist revenues and park fees for conservation – particularly for maintaining the delicate balance between local inhabitants and their livestock and wildlife.

Uganda has turned its focus towards locals to support its tourist economy. The Ugandan Tourist Association says it is developing a series of attractive tourist packages for local tourists and is reducing park fees it some of its national parks – such as the Queen Elizabeth national park. It is also reducing the cost of boat trips in the park. In 2006, 8,556 Ugandans visited the park, while 9,835 visited in 2007. Obong said last year 11,563 Ugandans visited Queen Elizabeth National Park. This was almost three times the number of foreign tourists.

No doubt the temptation exists to focus on international travellers who pay higher park fees, but with growing volumes of local tourists, Uganda may be on to something…

An article recently written by the BBC, referencing research carried out by the International Livestock Research Institute has found that wildlife numbers have been falling in the Masai Mara between 1989 and 2003. This is thought to be a result of growing human settlements in land bordering the reserve:

“Our study offers the best evidence to date that wildlife losses in the reserve are widespread and substantial. These trends are clearly linked to the increase in human settlements on lands adjacent to the reserve.”

In particular numbers of giraffe, impala and warthog have been falling and this has a negative knock-on effect for the predators who depend on grazing animals for their own food source.

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It is believed that the loss of animal numbers is down to increased grazing of cattle in the reserve – an illegal activity, and a switch of some of the Maasai from conservation and tourism to agriculture. Wildlife also move from the reserve to bordering ranchland and as such are increasingly competing for habitat with Maasai livestock. However, some Mara experts doubt the findings of the research – based on direct personal experience and the validity of the methodology itself. The blog argues that in 2003 the situation in the Mara was very different to today – poaching was a real problem and one that has been brought under greater control through increased poaching patrols and protection. It argues that despite the recession there is sufficient funds to carry out anti-poaching and de-snaring on a daily basis.

‘Safe havens’?

Scientists also argue that the traditional nomadic-pastoralist way of life of the maasai has also played an important role in helping to conserve wild animals. Traditionally, the Maasai livestock is moved seasonally is search of water and pasture and by doing this on a well-patterned basis the land is able to re-generate. According to Kibwana and Masandika this pattern rhymes well with the migratory system of wildlife. As a result of ‘growing communities of pastoralists and their exclusion from the development of land policies has made their traditional way of life difficult to maintain’ and many have moved to permament settlements bordering reserves.

Robin Reid, a co-author of the ILRI paper who is now director of the Center for Collaborative Conservation at Colorado State University in the United States argues that ‘there appears to a be a ‘tipping point’ of human populations above which former co-existence between Masaai and wildlife begins to break down. In the villages on the border of the Mara, this point has been passed, but larged areas of the Mara still have populations low enough that compatibility is still possible’.

However, there is a potential solution as suggested by the ILRI. They are helping to promote schemes where Maasai living next to game reserves receive rent payments from private game lodges in return for allowing wildlife to continue to roam on their property and tourism companies are working with Maasai landowners to establish conservancies where they can manage the number of settlements and livestock to try and acheive an equilibrium. The community also receives a share of the profits from tourism on their land, creating an incentive to maintain wildlife numbers.

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And the recession…..?

Although this article does not deal directly with the potential impacts of the recession, tourism, sustainable development and conservation are inevitably impacted by the recession but the form this impact will take remains unclear. A fall in tourist numbers could decrease revenues for parks and reserves and thus the amount of money spent on conservation methods, such as anti-poaching measures and the amount of revenue received by the Maasai to aid in conservation. As their income decreases, will deforestati0n and poaching actually increase as a means to obtain an alternative income source or will there be less incentive to monitor livestock?

However, it could also lead to a decline in ‘lower-end’ trips to the Mara and the congestion, overcrowding and negative knock-on effects that brings for wildlife numbers and disturbance. Tourists have a role to play if, and when, they do decide to visit the Mara – they can help support lodges that support local communities and have sound conservation practices and choose not to visit those that don’t. Perhaps the recession will make us more thoughtful about the ways we do decide to spend our money?

I recently reported on the detrimental impact of falling tourist numbers as a result of the recession on developing countries revenues and environmental conservation. Predictions by the UN World Tourism Organisation show falling tourist numbers in 2009 but that tourist destinations in Asia, the Pacific, Africa and the Middle East can still hope for some positive growth, albeit with a much slower performance than previous years.

‘The WTO expects international tourism to be in a range of 0 per cent to 2 per cent decline and says along with the Americas, Europe will be the most affected region in terms of overall tourism results as most of its source markets are already in, or entering into, recession. In Asia and the Pacific results are expected to be positive, although growth will continue to be much slower compared with the region’s performance in recent years; the same applies to Africa and the Middle East.’

However, a recent article in ETN shows that Tanzania may lead the way in demonstrating positive tourism trends, arguing that ‘despite the global financial crunch, Tanzania Tourism is still optimistic’. The source of this optimism is its recent International Tourism Fair in Berlin, where trade visitors exceeded all expectations.

Airlines have been quick to respond to predictions of positive trends in demand:

‘Concurrent with this increase in demand is the increase of seat capacity to Tanzania by major airlines such as KLM, which is now using the wide Boeing 777-400 aircraft. Swiss International, Qatar Airways, Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines and Condor have all seized this opportunity in market demand for Tanzania.’

Recent media coverage, such as that of various British celebrities scaling the heights of Kilimanjaro for Comic Relief may have played an important role in boosting Tanzania’s tourism. Responsibletravel.com reported a 1225% increase in enquiries for climbing the mountain in the first two weeks of March, when compared to the same period the previous year –  a result of the so called ‘Cheryl Cole‘ effect. Whether these enquiries translate into increased numbers remains to be seen, but the outlook is positive.

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However, can visitor numbers at a tourism conference really serve as an accurate proxy for actual future tourist numbers? Other reports suggest that hotel cancellations to Tanzania late last year were on the rise and that Tanzania had failed to follow Kenya’s example of lowering park fees for foreign visitors. Tanzania’s biggest concern is that the US, an important source of visitors to the country and a country particularly badly hit by the recession, will seriously impact the industry. Only time will tell which report is the most accurate, but let’s hope its the former.

Taking stock

According to the UN WTO, the recession provides an ample opportunity to re-assess, take stock and make necessary efficiency improvements throughout the industry:

History proves that crises can also provide opportunity because they call for substantial efforts and industry solidarity. Moreover, if short term crisis actions can be aligned with the continuing longer term global poverty and climate needs, the overall industry structure may actually be strengthened.’

Perhaps Tanzania can lead the way in doing just that….?