NAIROBI, Oct 14 – The African Conservancies Fund (ACF) that was created to support   wildlife conservancies in Kenya’s Masai Mara region amid the devastating collapse of tourism due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has been feted by London-based Environmental Finance magazine as the ‘2021 Impact initiative of the year Africa’

Launched in late 2020 by environmental non-profit Conservation International (CI), in partnership with the Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association (MMWCA), ACF provided low-interest loans to some of the wildlife conservancies in  the Mara region, enabling them to cover lease payments owed to indigenous Maasai landowners, and offset the revenue loss from COVID-19.  The loans will be repaid out of future tourism returns and conservation fees that the conservancies collect from tourism operators.

One of the award’s judges lauded the initiative for its “innovative replicable approach combining conservation and sustaining livelihoods in times of crisis.”

Home to 25 per cent of Kenya’s wildlife and the greatest annual migration of animals on Earth, the Greater Mara ecosystem is one of the most important conservation areas in Africa. The land is owned by the indigenous Maasai people, who lease it to conservancies for tourism operations, which in turn fund conservation efforts that drive wildlife tourism.

However, within months of the Covid-19 pandemic, this model of wildlife conservation and socioeconomic development faced collapse. The loss of lease income due to the halt in tourism and future uncertainty threatened to force the Maasai landowners to sell, subdivide, or convert their lands to other uses, putting wildlife conservation at risk. Recognizing this threat, CI worked with the MMWCA to establish ACF to support the conservancies.

This was the first step towards the creation of a $5 million fund aimed at helping the conservancies through the crisis, thereby indirectly supporting nearly 10,000 Maasai landowners and their dependents and safeguarding 140,000 hectares of wilderness. The conservancies are adjacent to the world-famous  Masai Mara National Reserve, and provide critical dispersal areas for wildlife.

As a condition of the support, the conservancies are required to implement governance, operational and financial strengthening activities to ensure long-term sustainability of the conservancy model. These include commitment to transparency and inclusivity in leadership elections, and resolving to build up reserve funds in the future as better financial practice.

The fund is currently raising additional capital from impact investors to expand support  for wildlife conservancies in Kenya and across Africa.