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The hunting of bushmeat

Neo-colonial conservation or wise custodianship?

"It is a historical fact that biodiversity is declining not because of subsistence hunting, but from the destruction of ecosystems by extractive industries and industrial agricultural, so called 'development'"

A letter from  Nigel Crawhall, Chair of TILCEPA, IUCN CEESP – WCPA Strategic Direction / Theme on Indigenous Peoples, Local Communities, Equity & Protected Areas.

Dear IUCN CEESP members,

Some of you may be aware of the tensions which flared up at the 14th CBD SBSTTA in Nairobi in 2010. A group of NGOs submitted a report and recommendations on the 'bushmeat' trade to the SBSTTA (from the 2009 Buenos Aires meeting), where they had not included representatives of indigenous peoples, and yet felt competent to make judgements about what was necessary to respond the perceived crisis. The NGO group were condemning all hunting without any reference to sustainable use in subsistence hunting, or distinguishing the different causes and constituencies involved in over-consumption vs. sustainable use. 

The issue was not resolved at the CBD SBSTTA and a number of indigenous delegations were offended by the approach of the NGOs, most notably their failure to understand why people who relied on these resources should be part of the discussion. The issue surfaced again at COP10 in Nagoya, but also became tense and unresolved. CBD Secretariat fortunately stepped in an offered to convene a meeting of various UN agencies, the IUCN and indigenous peoples' representatives at a special meeting in Nairobi in June 2011. 

I have received this email link from the Migratory Wildlife Network. http://www.wildmigration.org/news.php?select=35 which purports to summarise the outcome of the Nairobi meeting, though without making any reference to the voices and views on indigenous peoples. 

It is fascinating to see that they ignore the presence of the indigenous peoples or any of the issues about sustainability and rights versus urban commercial trade (usually facilitated by the security forces and elites in the African context). MWN claims that the Nairobi meeting re-affirmed the Buenos Aires recommendations, which is evidently not the case. If you click on the CBD hot link you will get to the English (only) text which shows that the issue of indigenous rights, sustainable hunting and so forth did feature in the recommendations of the Nairobi meeting. Link is here: http://www.cbd.int/doc/?meeting=LGBUSHMEAT-02

It is a reminder of how powerful the prejudices of Western NGOs can be. For me, one of the underlying issues is that Westerners sometimes do not question that industrial agriculture is normal and ethical, regardless of the abuse of animals, the mental suffering, the ethical violations, serious health risks and the tremendous damage to biodiversity of industrial agriculture and industrial livestock. It is a historical fact that biodiversity is declining not because of subsistence hunting, but from the destruction of ecosystems by extractive industries and industrial agricultural, so called 'development'. The underpinnings of the CBD, notably the Addis Ababa Guidelines and Principles emphasise that local stewards of natural resources are best placed to conserve that on which they rely. 

One thing I have learnt from indigenous peoples in Africa is that they think Westerners are quite confused about conservation and ethics. Since the 19th century, Europeans have been increasingly alienated from nature and food, and the experience of causing death to feed ourselves. An amnesia, a moral vacuum has swept over the Western world, leading to such depraved behaviour as battery hens and mad cow disease.

I've been in New York with indigenous peoples who look suspiciously at packets of meat which they cannot smell and which have no blood - no sign of living origin. Westerners take no responsibility by pushing the killing out of site and buying meat in neat packages without eyes or horns, hair or other tell-tale signs of life. From a hunters perspective, an animal that has lived wild, in its own environment, without stress of captivity, able to breed, raise young and foray and journey through the wild for which it was designed, rather than being forced to eat (not fish pellets or ground up cows). Who is it that has the moral high ground in this argument?  

It is, at least for me, a fascinating reminder that the conservation sector is so culturally blinkered as not to question the Western way of life, but to feel quite justified in seeing people who hunt in the bush or fish for their evening meal as somehow barbaric or primitive, or perhaps even threatening to Western civilisation. If you read the national State texts, it is all about intensifying agriculture, reducing indigenous peoples' rights, without any reference to protecting wildlife, ecosystems, or supporting sustainable stewardship. 

There is also the underlying assumption that any indigenous leader who defends their knowledge system, right to manage wild resources, to have a healthy diet and maintain biodiversity through local governance is somehow a threat to conservation, rather than an ally. In Central Africa, I remember meeting with staff at a national parastatal whose agricultural extension officer happily told me she had no idea what indigenous forest peoples eat, how they sustain their food systems - her job was to bring civilisation, stop nomadism, and promote low grade diets of bananas and cassava. Not a moments thought to the health implications or the radical changes in human density brought about but such naive logic. 

It is disturbing that we are making so little progress in real dialogue or interculturality about food diversity and the importance of wild foods in good health of indigenous people. 

As a reminder to the conservation sector - conservation only happens with good governance. If you force out the local level of governance by disempowering and stigmatising the stewards at this crucial level - do not be surprised when your project fails. 

Your comments are most welcome as always,

Nigel Crawhall

(The Note's title was added by Just Conservation)

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