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By Jamie McCallum and Michael Schoon
The roles of transboundary conservation in the economic sphere are twofold – the promotion of ecotourism and the economic stimulation and development of marginalized rural communities. Regarding the benefits from ecotourism, advocates claim that large-scale protected areas actively promote ecotourism in large transboundary conservation areas as a means of experiencing ecological diversity, natural aesthetics, and the wilderness experience. Generally, transboundary conservation areas might be more attractive to tourists as they can visit two or more countries by going to a single transboundary protected area. Often, the experience is enriched by a unified approach to marketing from neighboring countries who share, and thus reduce, costs for the development of joint maps, common signage and infrastructure.
Historically, many national borders are in remote hinterlands far from the capital or major cities and have correspondingly lower levels of development. At the same time, these areas are often ecologically and culturally rich. As a result, transboundary conservation provides an attractive venue for the international ecotourism market.
In addition to the role of transboundary protected areas in promoting ecotourism, transboundary conservation projects can serve to foster regional and/or rural economic development. This development may happen through a variety of initiatives including tourism and the hospitality industry, protected area management, game farming and other protected area services, and regional development in support of these activities. Past experience indicates that including such activities as community dance troupe or small curio markets for tourists as part of the “benefits” of a protected area to a community rarely provide a major income source for most community members. Instead, some of the benefits are likely to come through shared experiences – cultural exchanges, opportunities to build relationships, and learn about others. Additionally, the experiences of many community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) programs, such as CAMPFIRE in Zimbabwe, show that one of the biggest challenges to sustainable regional development through conservation lies in profit distribution from the regional level to the local level to the household level.
One additional challenge to stimulating rural economies through community-based tourism emerges from the skills required to compete in the hypercompetitive tourism market. Another issue that the transboundary parks face in attempting to stimulate rural economic development involves resource access and usage. Because the creation of a protected area often reshapes local land tenure arrangements, bringing communally held land under the jurisdiction of the state, access to resource bases may be limited. In places, these resources include firewood, medicinal plants, game (both hunting and fishing), fodder and rangeland for livestock, and building materials, among others. Reduced access to these materials often further complicates the induced switch from a subsistence rural livelihood to a money-based service (tourism) economy. Without the safety net of traditional resources from within the protected area, local communities struggle to survive without outside intervention. Changes in land tenure by fiat may not be understood and are often difficult to enforce. Re-gazetting of land as a protected area has resulted in paper parks around the world and does little for conservation initiatives or improved rural livelihoods. Instead park creation and management can benefit from co-management arrangements and active collaboration. Because resources for conservation are limited, efficiency savings born of joint management can deliver real economic benefits by reducing expenditure. The importance of spanning borders and boundaries includes, not only the international frontiers in a transboundary protected area, but also the boundaries between communities and parks, between local political jurisdictions, and between different types of land owners and managers.