Who is the West-Central African Bushmeat User?
by Andrew Tobiason, BCTF
Based on information in Playing in Counterpoint: Bushmeat Users and the Possibility of Alternatives, by Becky Archer, Jim Beck, Karen Douthwaite and David Ruppert of the Fall 2002 ‘Problem Solvers’ course in the University of Maryland graduate program in Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology (the CONS program).
All over the world, people who eat wildlife do so in the context of hunger, preference, opportunity, and legality. Nutrition may also play a role, although perceived benefits to health are likely more important than meeting actual recommended daily allowances of protein, iron, and other nutrients. Regardless, curbing wildlife use requires attention to all the reasons people use it.
Economic and protein alternatives are essential components to any plan to reduce bushmeat hunting and consumption in West and Central Africa. These range from bee keeping to ecotourism, vegetable gardens to cattle ranching. Alternatives must provide a more attractive substitute to bushmeat use, while at the same time ensuring no additional pressure on wildlife habitat. (See Bushmeat Alternatives on p. 5 of this issue).
Who needs alternatives?
One way of prioritizing interventions in the bushmeat trade is to consider the motivations and circumstances of the people who currently benefit from it, as hunters, sellers and consumers. University of Maryland graduate students working with BCTF took this approach in order to evaluate the effectiveness of projects encouraging alternatives to bushmeat. Profiles of principle users, and their threat to wildlife, are paraphrased here.
There are four principle types of bushmeat user in West and Central Africa. These users threaten wildlife in different ways and for various reasons.
Urban Bushmeat Consumer
The average urban consumer occasionally eats bushmeat as a preferred, more expensive alternative to canned or frozen meat. An elite urbanite might be able to afford higher quality meat and fish, but still has a preference for bushmeat, especially for special occasions. In isolation this consumption might be considered negligible, but the aggregate impact is massive. Population growth in sub-Saharan Africa averages 2.7%, and people are increasingly moving to cities (34% in 2002), so the urban consumer is of major concern.
This is the ‘middle man’ – or more frequently, woman – that moves wildlife from the forest to the plate, through transport and/or sale in the market. Many sellers or transporters are engaged in commerce of another kind – agricultural products or timber – and bushmeat is only part of their business. Others work almost exclusively in the lucrative but risky bushmeat trade. Consumer demand, poor law enforcement, public transport and logging infrastructure keep the cost of business low and the revenues high. Bushmeat trading is a relatively lucrative occupation, especially for people with little education and few alternative opportunities.
What constitutes commercial hunting is a matter of degree. Rural hunters might sell or trade what they don’t eat, but generally the bushmeat stays within a community. The typical commercial hunter is motivated by money first and food second, uses guns in addition to snares, and prefers large mammals with less effort for higher yield. They have ties to a network of traders and transporters, or arrange their own transport to urban areas where bushmeat commands a higher price. Many have relatives or friends in both a village and a city, which facilitates their role as primary suppliers for urban markets. Unregulated commercial hunting has nearly always proven unsustainable and will most likely be detrimental to game and other species (in addition to subsistence hunters).
Rural Subsistence Hunter
These hunters rely on wildlife for food and income, taking enough to meet basic needs. They live in an informal economy of farming, fishing and hunting and rely on traditional governance and an extended family support network. For them, bushmeat costs less than other protein alternatives, and can be purchased with time rather than money. Subsistence farmer-hunters are poorly educated and there are few if any other livelihood options in rural villages. Even this level of hunting can locally extirpate wildlife in regions with high human population density, high consumption of bushmeat relative to other foods, degraded forest, and/or if the subsistence practice is becoming commercial. Like commercial hunting, it is usually unsustainable, or likely to become so due to population pressures and forest degradation.
Altering the behavior of bushmeat users requires a targeted mix of solutions, tailored to meet the needs of the specific user types. Economic alternatives and protein substitutes may not be necessary for all groups. Similarly, alternatives alone cannot change behavior, and will require complementary efforts to provide encouragement, enforcement, and/or support in the form of capital or institutional infrastructure (see the full report for definitions). The table on the next page and paragraphs to follow illustrate solutions appropriate to eliciting behavior change in each user group.
For urban users, bushmeat is a luxury good prized for taste, freshness, cultural significance, and other factors. Changing behavior in the long-term will require more desirable protein alternatives, but in the short-term, law enforcement and public awareness are also needed. To compete with bushmeat, protein sources must be fresh, tasty, competitively priced and legal. Cultural preferences are difficult to address, but marketing tools could be employed to promote alternatives as more modern and better quality than bushmeat.
Bushmeat trading can be unpredictable and dangerous. If the costs of doing business (taxes, confiscation, fines) go up and other economic opportunities present themselves, many traders might be convinced to change jobs. This could effectively reduce the commercial availability of bushmeat by breaking the critical link in the commodity chain from commercial hunter to consumer. Clearly, enforcement and public awareness about the law and the sustainability of the resource are also needed, to prevent new traders from filling this vacuum.
Like traders, commercial hunters are in an economically and physically risky business, and might change careers if hunting was less tolerated by authorities and suitable opportunities were made available. In some cases, hunters could be trained as guides or even enforcement officers. In most cases, access to education and capital will be needed to support hunters and their families during a transition to more ecologically sustainable employment.
Rural subsistence hunters have the most needs of all, and will need a suite of programs to encourage behavior change. They will require both protein and income alternatives, as well as functional systems of governance and lending that support their transition to a new livelihood. As with other user groups, this change would be facilitated by information about living sustainably within an ecosystem, and enforcement of laws by authorities and peers.
Based on the profiles presented, a few priorities emerge. At the national level, countries need sound legislation that is enforced, and public awareness about the finite nature of wildlife. Complement this with protein substitutes in cities and income alternatives for commercial traders and hunters, and the commercial bushmeat trade could be significantly reduced. This may be enough for some areas, freeing up the wildlife resource for subsistence users who, with education and management, could learn to sustainably manage a lower level of hunting. Elsewhere, rural users will need agricultural training, job opportunities, and other forms of assistance to move beyond an unsustainable subsistence living.
The jury is still out regarding what constitutes sustainability, and that discussion is beyond the scope of this article (but see Robinson & Bennett 2000). However, recent evidence suggests that an ecologically sustainable hunting regime would be so limiting that it would necessitate significant economic and protein alternatives, even for subsistence users (Fa et al. 2003). Furthermore, recent evidence from Gabon suggests that attempts to legalize and tax the commercial trade in bushmeat would not generate surplus revenues as expected. Rather, tax revenues would not even be sufficient to cover the cost of tax collection and the enforcement of the tax laws (Wilkie et al, in press).
Bushmeat consumption and trade is a bandage to widespread poverty and is not likely to be a viable long-term solution at any level. Strategies to alleviate the bushmeat crisis must define, locate, and halt unsustainable hunting where it exists, then work to improve human welfare through real economic and social development.
For the complete report, with detailed user profiles and an assessment of projects promoting alternatives (based on their effectiveness reaching the various user groups), visit www.bushmeat.org/ps.html#alterns. Other CONS program reports prepared for BCTF are available at www.bushmeat.org/ps.html.
Fa,J.E., D.Currie and J.Meeuwig. 2003. Bushmeat and food security in the Congo Basin: linkages between wildlife and people’s future. Environmental Conservation 30 (1): 71–78
Robinson, J. G., and E. L. Bennett. 2000. Carrying capacity limits to sustainable hunting in tropical forests. Pages 13-30 in J. G. Robinson, and E. L. Bennett, editors. Hunting for sustainability in tropical forests. Columbia University Press, New York.
Wilkie, D. S., E. L. Bennet, M. Starkey, K. Abernethy, R. C. Fotso, F. Maisels, and P. Elkan. 2005. If trade in bushmeat is legalized can the laws be enforced and wildlife survive in Central Africa: evidence from Gabon. Journal of International Wildlife Law and Policy. (in press).