The brief glimpse I caught of African wildlife while I was in South Africa was absolutely stunning. True, it did not compare to a visit to one of Africa’s national parks or going on safari; nonetheless my brief visit alerted me even more to the horrific thought of losing what is among the Earth’s most jaw-dropping collection of fauna. And edging as close as 20 feet away from lions and cheetahs reminded me as the global business community mulls investment in Africa, that they have a huge responsibility to help preserve the land and support local citizens. The time to do so, in fact, was yesterday. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Africa may as well start with bolstering two of Africa’s greatest resources: the animals and the dedicated people who watch out for them.
I am on the plane returning from Dubai and am just starting to go through pictures of my travel to South Africa. During my first day in Johannesburg, not even a couple hours after my arrival, a friend picked me up and whisked me away to a local game reserve only 30 minutes outside the city. The rather obvious name, Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve, is understated considering the “up close and nearly personal” experience I had already had. This 1,200 hectares (2,965 acres) of space is one of many typical private game reserves offering a close up look at these gorgeous animals while fighting the uphill battle of preserving them for future generations and our planet’s biodiversity.
The awful tales of rhino poaching, which the local press describes as a natural disaster, are easy to find across the web so I will not go into detail. But I do have a message for Africa’s largest investor: it is time for China and its businesses to put their big boy and big girl pants on and fund a massive mission to help preserve the habitat for these incredible creatures as well as indoctrinate its people on the waste of imbibing in rhino horn powder in the name of Viagra or a fanciful dream of curing cancer. (The same message goes to anyone in any country indulging in this heinous trade.)
The tragic cruelty of poaching is not only immoral, but deprives locals of their heritage and economic opportunity. Private reserves and national parks do their part to educate locals and visitors on how the magnificent lions, sables, rhinoceroses and elephants are not only essential to sustainable living, but provide decent jobs that are otherwise unavailable. But as is true throughout much of Africa, funds for programs for wildlife conservation fall far too short of what is needed.
Which leads me to smart land use. The global land grab has serious implications for both Africa’s people and animals. In one of the presentations I attended last week, one graph estimated Africa has 60 percent of the world’s arable land. That statistic demonstrates both the promise of Africa’s future as well as the possible dangers of destruction. Foreign governments and multinationals are snapping up wide swathes of land, either by purchase or long term leases–and many of them have displaced locals who have lived on these lands for generations and are often the best stewards.
Africa is already doing its part to feed the world: walk into a supermarket in Europe or the Middle East and you will see produce and meat from Egypt, Kenya and South Africa. The thought of this continent becoming the world’s farm is a chilling one–and for those of us who do not want to see Africa’s animals relegated to claustrophobic zoos, it is not enough to send a check to an NGO. We need to pressure multinational companies plunking money into Africa to ensure there is plenty of land, and protection, for the continent’s animals and people who know them best. A few companies such as Mitsubishi and Deutsch Bank have done some work on this front–but this region needs more support.
(Image credit: Leon Kaye)
Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and frequently writes about business sustainability strategy. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. At Better4Business in Anaheim on May 2, he will join a panel discussing how companies can present their CSR initiatives to the media. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).
Leon Kaye’s expenses in South Africa last week were paid for by SAP.