In the ends of the planet

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By Jorge David Chapas | February 23, 2015

…where there’s no news, unthinkable things have happened that are worth for you to know about. The Mara Maasai National Reserve in Kenya, Africa, an inhospitable region known by a lucky few and because of the Discovery Channel, is the home of a huge quantity of very wild fauna. There, in the middle of a hot silence, is the place where Sammy and Jake Grieves-Cook met, the first one is the guardian of a tribal community located in the Reserve’s frontier and the second one, a tourism entrepreneur whose company, Porini Camps, offers lodge and private tours on the Reserve.

Even though Sammy’s and Jake’s particular interests were different, Sammy’s was to own a Susuki motorcycle that would allow him to move around with more ease in a territory where the roads and transportation are scarce and, Jake’s interest was to increase his company’s profitability, both agreed that they could be in a win-win situation under a common strategy: to attract more tourists so they could both be benefitted by the income. Traditionally, the Maasai haven’t economically valued the wild fauna simply because “there’s no income in that”, what they did valued was the cattle, because their feeding and local prestige depended on it; besides, the elephants, and rhinos and company damaged their crops and killed the cattle, Why would they had to care about them? “If it isn’t and income, we don’t care about it”, that was the Maasai’s implicit motto. And because of that, the 200 acres under their administration had suffered over grazing and degradation, dispelling tourists, not attracted by the view of grazing cows.

After nine months of negotiations, the elder Maasai, Sammy and Jake came to a voluntary agreement: to separate and leave without grazing 8,500 acres (4% of the total) in exchange of a permanent fee per acre plus a percentage of Porini Camps profits. That way, the Ol Kinyei conservation project, is securing income so that the Maasai could have access to basic goods and that way they don’t have to depend exclusively on the cattle, Sammy had the money to buy his Susuki motorcycle, Jake is increasing his company’s profitability and the wild fauna has found a new home.

This pacific and voluntary exchange in Kenya, the “individual transferable fees” in the fisheries of Namibia, New Zealand and Iceland; the wild life fees and the sport hunting agreements in Botswana; the White Rhinos auction and property rights in South Africa; the payments for ecosystem services by private contracts based on the design principles proposed by the Nobel Prize Elinor Ostrom in Santa Cruz, Bolivia; the purchase of water rights between two China provinces, Zhejiang and Dongyang, and the sustainable management of the forests in the Flatland National Reservation, in Montana, USA, are experiences that bring to light the necessity of navigating new courses in the solution of environmental problems.

The legislation that “prohibits”, the national politic that “subsidizes”, the international agreement that “limits” (CITES), the government authority that “decides” have not been a common denominator in those innovative experiences. What has been crucial are the private property, the free market and a limited government in charge of settling the conflicts that arise because of the unfulfillment of private contracts. These are the new courses that we must dare to navigate… but for that to happen it is necessary to think outside the box. ¡I dare you!

P.S. These experiences can be found in detail in the book Environmental Entrepreneurship – Markets meet the environment in unexpected places by Laura E. Huggins. Laura is an associate investigator for PERC, RANA and the Hoover Institute in Stanford University, USA.

Jorge David Chapas is from Guatemala, a forestry entrepreneur, founder and CEO of Rana; a friend of CEES and PERC.