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Antilope en Afrique du Sud.
The ECOPRONAT programme explores the levers for mainstreaming biodiversity into different economic sectors. As part of this research programme, AFD is working with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) to connect agricultural and ecosystem conservation issues in an innovative way, by studying the business models of wildlife ranches as well as the levers for developing wildlife economy.

South Africa’s Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development assists persons (or their descendants) who were excluded the formal agriculture economy on the basis of their skin colour, and who have recently begun to engage in farming with the support and assistance of the State. This broad policy is implemented through the Land Reform Programme, where Recapitalisation and Development funding (Recap) is used to help land reform beneficiaries establish viable enterprises. However, this programme remains focused on traditional models of crop and livestock systems. 

The consortium of researchers assembled by SANBI argues that the Land Reform Programme would benefit from integrating the ecosystem services paradigm to help reduce inequality and understand the benefits of land transfer more holistically (Clements et al. 2021). This research consortium is working to integrate wildlife economy enterprise development within the Recap scope of investment.

More specifically, the research project focuses on wildlife ranching, which can be defined as the breeding and commercial use of wild animals for hunting, game meat production, live animal trading or ecotourism. This economic activity can be an interface between conservation and agriculture but, although anchored for many years in South Africa, it remains little studied. Decision-makers thus lack data on the functioning of this wildlife economy as well as its socio-economic and environmental impacts. 

Developing knowledge and decision support tools on this wildlife economy with the support of the ECOPRONAT programme is therefore an opportunity for better management of agricultural land and natural ecosystems, for the benefit of beneficiaries of the Land Reform Programme. The survey methodology and lessons learned in South Africa will be used for exchanges with Kenyan authorities who are also conducting studies on the role of wildlife economy in that country.

This project is part of the ECOPRONAT research programme, which supports research on how to better take into account biodiversity and mainstream it into key economic sectors.



This project aims to support the development of agricultural policies in Africa that are sustainable on the long-term, and to develop wildlife economy research in South Africa and Kenya. Through its work, the research consortium aims to produce knowledge and tools to enable a large-scale transition, going from a land use that degrades ecosystems to profitable wildlife enterprises that restore natural capital, create jobs and catalyze investment to expand conservation areas. 

To this end, the project aims to: 

  • Develop foundational knowledge for the wildlife economy to facilitate its mainstreaming into agricultural and biodiversity public policies (production of data on business models, their viability, investment and skills development needs, etc.);
  • Co-produce decision support tools that enable local actors, companies and public authorities to adapt their policies and investments and create a systemic impact; 
  • Create a regional community of practice to strengthen research capacity in the South and the development of the wildlife economy. Two master’s students are involved in this project, led by SANBI in partnership with the South African Universities of Rhodes, Stellenbosch and Nelson Mandela. 

This research project is based on participatory knowledge building (including training workshops) and on the development of survey methods to collect social, economic and ecological data. This information will be used to produce decision-support tools. In particular, a geospatial selection tool will be developed to identify the actions and investments to be undertaken. 

The methodology consists of collecting data from the established wildlife ranching industries established in South Africa and Kenya, on the contributions of the wildlife industry to biodiversity, land restoration and socio-economic development. Through statistical analysis and data visualization, the team will convert this information into knowledge products to make it more accessible, and then into decision support tools to assist new and emerging farmers to create businesses in the wildlife economy and thus expand the wildlife ranching estate.


The expected results are: 

  • Identification of viable economic models for wildlife economy businesses;
  • Quantification of the investment made by wildlife farmers in land restoration, in order to develop national accounts and indicators on natural capital;
  • Development of geospatial data to facilitate integrated land-use planning;
  • Mobilization of knowledge produced by this project to analyze and make investments that enable the expansion of wildlife businesses;
  • Development of standards for sustainable wildlife economy certification;
  • Production of an open access survey methodology and of a training program for partners.

The first feedback from this research project highlights that diversified wildlife and domestic animal farming are more resilient to external economic shocks (such as the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic) than conventional livestock farming and protected areas. This adaptive capacity makes it possible to consider new business models.

Read the research paper: Lessons from COVID-19 for wildlife ranching in a changing world