Economic sustainability of national parks in the Congo Basin : a case study of the Sangha Tri-national Park
Tieguhong, Julius Chupezi
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The second largest complex of tropical rain forest is located in the Congo Basin. This forest is renowned for its biodiversity, harbouring thousands of rare species of plants and animals and providing environmental services at a global level. At the same time these forests are of critical importance to the people of the region. The local economies depend on timber harvesting, while the forest dwellers support their subsistence with forest products on daily basis. The dilema faced by policy makers, conservationists and the local communities is in merging the various ideals, objectives and needs at a local, national and global level in order to sustain the forests, their fauna and the people. Examples from Southern and Eastern Africa have shown that, with the right management in place, natural ecosystems managed jointly for ecotourism, conservation and recreation, can yield appreciable benfits at minimum environmental destruction. Therefore it is believed that well-organized tourism can become the best way to use the Congo Basin’s forests for creating economic opportunities without destroying the resources. The challenge therefore, is in convincing decision-makers that conservation of forests can provide for sustainable economic development. However in the Congo Basin this potential has not been demonstrated thus far. Deliberate policy initiatives to cost recovery, profit making or generation of local business are woefully lacking. Not only are the protected forests maintained with marginal funds, but the management systems in place are also ineffective, especially regarding poor financial management resulting in losses of 2/3 of the expected revenue. The centralized collection and distribution of funding by government agencies prevents local initiatives from achieving financial sustainability. It also remains unclear how the fees paid by tourists visiting the parks are related to the operational costs and if these fee structures do in fact approximate tourists’ willingness-to-pay (WTP). In this study the factors of (i) tourists’ WTP higher entrance fees and (ii) duration of stay, were evaluated in two protected areas of the 28000 km2 Sangha Tri-National Park shared by Cameroon, the Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. It was found that if park facilities were improved the potential entry fee in the Lobeke National Park could be increased by an additional US$ 10 per visitor. At the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park, foreign, resident and national tourists could be paying an additional US$ 30, 20 and 7, respectively. To this end improvements in park facilities, efficiency in entrance fee setting and management structures are recommended.