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Sustainable wild meat sector could boost economic development, biodiversity
Author: Francis Vorhies
Published: 04/03/2021

A sustainable wild meat sector could help to enhance rural livelihoods and to promote sustainable land management and biodiversity, argues Dr Francis Vorhies from Stellenbosch University's African Wildlife Economy Institute in an opinion piece in Cape Times (4 March).

  • Read the article below or click here for the piece as published.

​Francis Vorhies*

When we celebrate our rich diversity of fauna and flora on World Wildlife Day (3 March), let's also spare a thought for policy makers who have been grappling with the nexus between the preservation of biodiversity and its sustainable utilisation for decades. The IUCN World Conservation Strategy – produced with FAO, UNEP UNESCO, and WWF and released in 1980 – set out sustainable utilisation as a key objective for conservation of living natural resources:

to ensure the sustainable utilization of species and ecosystems (notably fish and other wildlife, forests and grazing lands), which support millions of rural communities as well as major industries."

This global commitment to sustainable utilisation was reaffirmed in the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) as one of its three core objectives and in Article 10 calling on Parties to “protect and encourage customary use of biological resources" and to “encourage cooperation between its governmental authorities and its private sector in developing methods for sustainable use of biological resources."

In 2018, the 14th CBD Conference of the Parties focused on the wild meat sector with the adoption of Voluntary Guidance for a Sustainable Wild Meat Sector with wild meat defined “as the meat of terrestrial vertebrates in tropical and subtropical habitat, biomes and ecosystems which is used for food." The Guidance explains:

“Wild meat has long served as a source of nutrition for millions of people in many regions of the world, in both developed and developing countries. For example, in some rural communities in tropical developing countries, wild meat has been found to provide almost all of the protein in the diet. In Central Africa, it is estimated that over 4 million tons of wild meat are consumed each year, most of it supplying urban areas…"

The Guidance also aims to:

  • “Ensure that the supply of wild meat is sustainably and legally managed at the source;
  • Reduce demand for unsustainably managed and/or illegal wild meat in towns and cities; [and]
  • Create an enabling environment for the sustainable management of wild meat."

In support of these aims, the African Wildlife Economy Institute (AWEI) at Stellenbosch University has set up a Sustainable Wild Meat Research Group that focuses on two key topics: urban demand and rewilding.

Urban demand

Interestingly, the CBD Wild Meat Guidance has a view that wild meat should predominately be consumed rurally where it is produced and the demand for wild meat from urban communities should be reduced. It proposes:

“A holistic approach along the wild meat value chains, focused on conserving and sustainably using the resource at the source (rural areas) and reducing the demand in urban centres, should be developed."

However, this may not be realistic. In light of the rapid urbanisation and the increasing purchasing power of urban dwellers, notably across Africa, as well as acknowledging the capacity of markets to meet consumer demands with supply – whether legally or illegally – the AWEI Research Group is exploring what is needed to ensure a sustainable wild meat sector that supplies urban areas as well as rural areas.

Meeting urban demand for wild meat also has the potential to enhance rural livelihoods and promote sustainable land management, in part, because urban consumers are able to pay higher prices for wild meat products. Thus, our research will build on the CBD Guidance to investigate the possibility of ensuring a legal, accountable, regulated, and sustainable supply of wild meat that can meet both urban and rural demand.

Regarding meeting the urban demand for wild meat, the CBD Guidance includes several particularly relevant steps which require further research and analysis including the following:

  • “Rights over land and rights to manage and benefit from wildlife are clearly defined and recognized and defended by the State.
  • “A rationalization of wildlife laws to focus on sustainability… with due consideration to both food security and conservation concerns.
  • “Wildlife laws governing the trade and sales of wild meat (which are relevant, understandable, and enforceable) should be developed and applied… to encourage legal, sustainable and traceable trade…
  • “Promote responsible consumption of certified sustainably sourced wild meat… Such certified products can highlight benefits such as sustainability, local community livelihoods, conservation impact and health.

Looking at the experiences in countries such as Namibia, South Africa, and the UK, what barriers need to be addressed to unlock the wild meat sector and what policies need to put in place to encourage wild meat sustainability for the benefit of both urban and rural areas?


A second focus of the AWEI Research Group is the role that wild meat can play in restoring ecosystems and habitats. There is an increasing interest globally in landscape or ecosystem restoration, or in what is now often increasingly being referred to as rewilding. Across Africa, rewilding projects are underway. By way of example, Peace Parks, headquartered in Stellenbosch, has a large ongoing Rewilding Africa Project which they explain as follows:

“The rewilding process moves wildlife from areas of overpopulation, to areas of decimation. By reintroducing wildlife to ecosystems where the species once thrived, biodiversity is once again restored, whilst the potential for securing the future of the protected areas through nature-based tourism is increased exponentially."

At the same time, the process relieves pressures of overpopulation at the capture location, thereby halting what could evolve into devastating habitat degradation…

The project started in 2001 when the first 25 elephants were moved to Limpopo National Park. Since then, thousands of animals have been translocated to parks all over southern Africa."

Rewilding has a potential array of economic and environmental benefits in which there could be a strategic role for wild meat, particular in restored/rewilded rangelands. This potential is highlighted in a recent article from The Royal Society titled “Trophic rewilding as a climate change mitigation strategy?" It states:

“There are massive opportunities to reform the current livestock industry and rewild our rangelands by replacing, at least a proportion of, domestic ruminants with native megafaunal communities…. for certain parts of the world it could already be a realistic alternative, including large stretches of communal grazing areas in Africa and Asia and of abandoned land in Eurasia. This could also include mixed strategies, where part of the domestic stock is replaced with wild megafauna. Rewilding rangelands could not only lead to very significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions but also help restore degraded grassy biomes."

Looking again at the experiences in countries such as Namibia, South Africa, and the UK, what barriers need to be addressed to enable a wild meat sector as an outcome of rewilding and what policies need to put in place to encourage sustainable use of wildlife for the benefit of ecosystems and biodiversity? Unlocking the wild meat sector could be a way for policy makers to align the preservation of biodiversity with its sustainable utilisation.

*Dr Francis Vorhies is Director of the African Wildlife Economy Institute at Stellenbosch University.

 *image by Nick-Karvounis (Unsplash)