Combining the goals of conservation, tourism and livelihoods in the management of protected areas : case study of the volcanoes national park in northern Rwanda
Abstract: The liberal conservation agenda promotes the incorporation of human needs into the management of Protected Areas (PAs). Across the globe, nature-based tourism has been among the suggested tools of promoting sustainable conservation together with development of the local communities living around the PAs. This exploratory study was conducted to contribute to improved management practices of PAs by using the Volcanoes National Park (VNP) in Northern Rwanda as a case study to explore whether the tourism practices there can help to achieve the reconciliation between conservation and the local people’s livelihoods goals. The study has the main objective of understanding the benefits and constraints of combining the goals of conservation, tourism and livelihoods by using the VNP as a Case Study. The study has adopted a qualitative approach and was based on interviews and literature review as methods of data collection. The study has been conducted during the global pandemic (COVID-19), therefore, phone interviews were used to interview 14 participants in relation to the VNP management, from three different categories of ecotourism stakeholders. The categories are: (1) the government and/or VNP management staff as the Director of VNP; (2) Conservation NGOs like the top management staff of the Diana Fossey Gorilla Fund International and the conservation workers like the Mountain Gorilla Trackers; (3) the local community which, in turn, is also divided into four subcategories: (a) the local institution representatives like the village leader; (b) members of different Community-Based Organisation (CBO) or cooperatives; (c) local people employed by ecotourism projects; and (d) ordinary villagers or farmers. The data collected were transcribed, translated and analysed qualitatively. The results of this study showed that the combination of the goals of conservation, tourism and livelihoods is difficult to achieve to a practice in the context of VNP. The goals of tourism and conservation have been achieved to a higher degree, in comparison to those of the local community’s livelihoods. The study suggests that the mixed success of the linkage is based on the fact that the tourism attraction (VNP) is owned and run by the government which considers the tourism industry as its number one foreign currency earner. Though the major benefits of the linkage between tourism, conservation and livelihood are mostly macro-economic growth, different initiatives of conservation NGOs and the Tourism Revenue Sharing scheme have brought some positive changes in both conservation of the park and the local community’s livelihood diversification. This study, however, shed more light on the challenges such as lack of capacity and power for the local community which in turn limit them from effectively participating in different ecotourism processes such as elaboration and implementation of the management and conservation policies; collection and investment of tourism revenues, etc. The current top-down approach of managing the VNP makes the future of the park conservation uncertain. The study showed that, even though the number of cases is decreasing, illegal activities in the park still exist, the community still depend on the park for basic needs, due to lack of infrastructures like water and electricity. Therefore, the study suggests a shift from a top-down approach to decentralised natural resources management. The decentralisation is believed to empower the local community so that they will be able to manage and use the resources from the park. As a result, the existing benefit leakage among the ecotourism stakeholders could be decreased as well.
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