Funded by the European Commission, the seven-year programme is an initiative of the African Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP). Led by FAO, it will also rely on the expertise of the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
The programme will contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of wildlife in forests, savannas and wetlands by regulating wildlife hunting, strengthening the management capacities of indigenous and rural communities and increasing the supply of sustainably produced meat products and farmed fish. This will help to avert a looming protein deficit for poor rural families and meet the growing rural and urban demand for food.
FAO Director-General Jos Graziano da Silva speaking at today's launch said: "Wildlife has ecological, social and economic value. It is important for rural development, land-use planning, food supply, tourism, scientific research and cultural heritage. This programme will protect wildlife species, conserve biodiversity, and maintain the essential ecological roles of wildlife. It will also help to secure the stocks and ecosystems services that are essential to the livelihoods of the poorest communities on the planet".
"This is the first time we have tackled these two issues - conservation and food security - hand-in-hand," said Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development at the launch ceremony. "This kind of collective effort and comprehensive approach is essential for meeting our dual aims of protecting the biodiversity of forests and savannahs, while ensuring the food security of some of the most vulnerable and politically marginalised people on the planet".
"The challenges this initiative seeks to address are significant and numerous, including health and nutrition, economic development and biodiversity," reminded Patrick I. Gomes, Secretary-General of the ACP Group of States. "None of these challenges can be solved by a single intervention, so that is why this new partnership of FAO, CIFOR, CIRAD and WCS is well positioned to provide the multi-sector solutions we desperately need."
Participating countries in the project include Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Guyana, Madagascar, Mali, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Congo, Senegal, Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The level of hunting and fishing in the target countries is often unsustainable, affecting wild animal populations in forests and savannas.
Many countries are already facing a "wildmeat crisis". The programme estimates that, for example, in the Congo Basin, some 4,6 million tonnes of wildmeat are consumed annually, an equivalent of approximately half of the beef produced in the European Union.
If hunting wildlife for food is not reduced to sustainable levels, not only will biodiversity be lost, but also countless numbers of families, whose livelihoods depend on natural resources, will suffer soaring levels of food insecurity and debilitating child malnutrition.
Shifting from wildmeat to other sources of animal protein
The Sustainable Wildlife Management programme will work closely with national authorities to provide rural communities with alternative protein sources such as chicken, livestock or farmed fish. Doing so will help deter hunting of endangered species, support recovery of their populations and reduce food safety risks that can be associated with the consumption of wild meat.
In places where production of livestock is limited due to unfavourable climate conditions, or where imported meat is unavailable or unaffordable, people will continue relying on wild animals to feed their families. However, measures like recognition of people's customary tenure rights may encourage them to engage more in wildlife conservation on their land and avoid unnecessary hunting.
In contrast, in large urban areas, wild meat is sold and consumed less as a nutritional necessity, but more as a luxury item. Although the proportion of city dwellers consuming wild meat is often low, net demand can be enormous. In such cases, restrictions on wild meat consumption need to be put in place.
Improving wildlife management
The programme aims to help governments develop proactive policies and strengthen legal frameworks to reduce wildmeat consumption to sustainable levels without compromising food security of people who depend on wildlife hunting for their livelihoods and nutritional needs.
The initiative also focuses on creating jobs in the farming sector, empowering women, and securing the rights of indigenous and traditional people to access the natural resources their livelihoods and cultures depend upon.
The programme contributes to several targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to food security, sustainable land management and biodiversity conservation, specifically supporting SDG15, this year's review of which notes that "poaching and trafficking of wildlife remain serious concerns".