Tourism in Africa is a challenging business. The whole of Africa countries only attracts 5% of global travelers. And the market is quite competitive.
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Despite the spatial importance of national parks and other protected areas and increasing threats posed to nature by different agents, successful conservation still remains inconsistent and, in some instances, controversial.
Tour operators have to deal with high overhead costs and low-profit margins. Furthermore, this industry is sensitive to shocks caused by disease outbreaks, natural disasters, and political instability.
What all these imply is that there’s little money spared for large-scale conservation efforts and/or sustainable community development. And strong competition among tour firms for bookings necessitates promotion of famous animal species like the mountain gorillas in the Virunga massif and the Big 5. The protection of the critically endangered species has also been a major concern for industry players. However, less captivating animals and plants are often overlooked. The hope, for these reasons, placed in ecotourism as part of a solution to Africa’s poverty and conservation problems has not been realized.
But all is not lost. There’s a flicker of light beginning to shine at the end of a tunnel. In Rwanda, an organization called Red Rocks Cultural Center, based in Nyakinama Village, 8 kilometers from Musanzethe town is taking a lead in integrating tourism, conservation and
community development around the Volcanoes National Park.
Instead of basing their activities on wistful thinking and profit-driven motif, Red Rocks is changing the narrative by establishing a partnership with other ecotourism ventures, charitable NGOs and volunteers to fulfill its different programs running under Red Rocks Initiatives for Sustainable Development. And these partnerships seem to be working better. Red Rocks ecotourism programs continue to provide environmentally-sensitive employment to the locals, mostly youth and women, and this, in turn, has led to their economic and social development.
Red Rocks Rwanda has scaled up its approach a step further through engaging conservation professionals and community development organizations in their partnership to provide valuable input and experience needed to operate truly meaningful projects. This has an added benefit of assuring project donors that their funds are paying for best practics, while visiting tourists also have confidence that their dollars are actually making the profound difference.
Red Rocks Initiatives believes that Surplus income from ecotourism allows workers or their family members to start up small businesses or to pass on the money to other community members by buying local goods and paying for child care and other services.
Having transformed from a social enterprise to a non-governmental organization operating mostly around the Volcanoes National Park, Red Rocks Initiatives basically target different fields including conservation, responsible tourism and community development as a key
pillars to ensure the local community gains, and have a say, in tourism activities that would eventually uplift their living standards while they actively take part in conservation efforts.
For instance, the IGIHOHO Support Cooperative program promotes sustainable forest management, which balances social, environmental and economic concerns to meet today’s requirements, while guaranteeing our forests for future generations. Early this year, as part of Red Rocks Initiatives to promote forestation around the protected areas, Red Rocks, under Igohoho involved a group of local women cooperatives to plant 20,000 trees using seedling they grew from biodegradable banana stem bags.
Red Rocks Initiatives for Sustainable Development also made mutual partnership with Kahuzi-Biega Community Conservation Trust in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to find ways through which they can inclusively work together to harness Tourism, Conservation and Sustainable Community Development in and around Kahuzi-Biega
Under the program, named Karibu Community Conservation Trust Fund, it was intended to bring in conservationists, conservation lovers and other well-wishers for a comprehensive study of the primates found in the park, which includes the Lowland gorillas together with other primates.
Red Rocks Initiatives also partnered with local visual artists, where they opened an art gallery in Kinigi, the hub of the tourism industry in Musanze, and Rwanda in general to promote conservation and tourism through art classes while the artists also develop artworks that promote conservation and environmental protection for the future survival of endangered animal and plant species.
The same goes for its botanical gardens around Volcanoes National Parks where Red Rocks Initiatives are protecting the traditional plant species, particularly those involved in traditional medicine and healing.
One of Red Rocks Initiatives major missions is to connect conservation and community health around the Volcanoes National Park.
They do this through encouraging and supporting families to grow nutritious foods in their backyards and gardens behind their homes, sensitizing the local community about the benefits of taking nutritious foods, providing vegetable seeds for them they can grow in
their respective gardens and providing them small animals like sheep, goat and local chicken.
Through these, and a host of innovative programs that Red Rocks Initiatives have established, they hope to bring together tourism and conservation as a conduit of sustainable development around the Volcanoes National Park and the wider Virunna
massif that straddles an expanse land of the three countries of Uganda, Rwanda and DRC. Red Rocks Initiatives believe that when the local community is empowered through education, and when local communities can gain from thriving tourism in their backyards, then they can be key players to protect the environment and stop activities like poaching that has threatened the lives of many species of animals including the iconic mountain gorillas.