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The economics and institutional economics of wildlife on private land in Africa

Abstract

In southern Africa, there are now 10,000 to 14,000 private ranchers that promote wildlife enterprises alone or in some in combination with domestic livestock. An important conservation success, this new bio-experience economy also creates social well-being through economic growth and job creation. It is an economic sector that needs to be taken seriously, not least because it pioneers policies that inform the valorization and sustainable management of ecosystem services. The article describes the historical emergence of a sustainable use approach to wildlife conservation since the Arusha Conference in 1963. It suggests that indigenous multi-species systems may have ecological advantages over modern livestock production systems, but these are difficult to quantify in complex dryland ecosystems and are trumped by economics and political processes. However, wildlife provides the foundation for a bio-experience economy that has a decided comparative economic advantage over agro-extractive commodity production (like beef) in drylands. We describe how new policy approaches, especially the valorization of wildlife and the devolution of proprietorship to landholders and communities, have allowed wildlife's economic advantages to be reflected in land use decisions through both ‘game ranching’ and ‘community-based natural resource management’. Institutional changes have modified the economics of wildlife in drylands, promoting both conservation and development by allocating environmental raw materials to higher-order goods and services. A further goal of the paper is to describe practical economic methods for assessing and explaining the wildlife sector to policy makers in terms of its profitability, both to individual landholders and to society through jobs and economic growth. The paper covers a 50-year period between the PhD studies of the four authors and takes a trans disciplinary approach which values the knowledge of practitioners as much as the academic literature.