Can An African Safari Help Reduce Poverty?
Posted on July 15, 2005 by Anita Roddick
Justin Francis, a friend of mine and co-founder of ResponsibleTravel.com, sets out to discover if it is possible to enjoy one of the most authentic luxury bush camp safaris in Africa and to help reduce poverty at the same time.
It's 5.45am in South Luangwa National Park. In the copper-grey half dawn we gather around a smouldering camp fire and prepare for the ultimate bush experience – a walking safari to track the park’s heavy brigade of elephant, buffalo, hippo and possibly lion.
Our guide, Daudi Njobvu’s bush knowledge is legendary, he’s progressed to managing Nsefu Camp for Robin Pope Safaris who actively seek to develop local staff, and Dausi is an eloquent advocate of the company’s philosophy ‘we don’t treat people as guests or employees here, but as part of one big family.’
Robin Pope himself first came to South Luangwa in the early seventies, and was one of the pioneers of Luangwa tourism, and in particular walking safaris. The park remains a largely unspoiled wilderness with high densities of wildlife, but relatively few tourists. Robin and his wife Jo now operate three small, highly personal and authentic bush camps – Nkwali, Tena Tena and Nsefu - offering a professional but relaxed atmosphere. Each camp has just six to ten rondavels (or large and airy tents in the case of Tena Tena) with huge beds, thatched roofs and your own private but open air shower! It is often possible to watch elephants from the private veranda of each room.
The daily routine involves being woken by gentle pre dawn drumming before a game drive or walk, followed by the chance to share news of game sightings with other guests over breakfast back in camp. You’ll most likely want to relax or enjoy an afternoon siesta before an exciting night game drive in an open top landcruiser looking for leopards and lions with spotlights.
A walking safari is a totally different experience to being in a vehicle. It requires a far deeper awareness of your surroundings, and during our walk we utilise all of our senses to track lions and buffalo; listen to alarm calls indicating the whereabouts of big game; identify birds and learn how to stay downwind of Puku antelope to avoid them smelling us.
On the way back into camp I learn a little more about Daudi’s own family - he has 4 children, and from what he acknowledges is a ‘well paid job’ he supports a further 10 children from his extended family through school. In this Daudi is not unique.
My guide to the village of Kawaza is the lovely Mary Mtiti, 25. Mary’s father died and her mother is disabled. She is one of 12 children, 7 of whom are still alive. Like many young Zambians Mary wanted a smaller family, and has just one child, however she also looks after 4 more from her and her husband’s deceased siblings. HIV/AIDS casts a tragic and long shadow throughout Zambia.
A day visit to Kawaza village costs £9, overnight £23. From this guides such as Mary, the healer, and the drummers and dancers from a spectacular performance under the moonlight are paid. The balance goes into a central fund which the community allocate to projects such as Kawaza village basic school.
Since my last visit 6 years ago the school has been transformed. Then there were 327 pupils and 4 teachers. Now there are 551 pupils and 16 teachers. As Zambia pays five times as much in debt repayments on education this has in a large part been made possible by Robin Pope Safaris (RPS) who pay for 8 of the teachers; sponsor 51 of the most vulnerable children through school; and built new classrooms together with clients who have donated money. Deputy Head Maxwell Chimba says that ‘the school would be in a very deplorable state without RPS’.
The jobs created for local people through the tourism industry extend beyond the safari camps and village tourism. 14 years ago Gillie da Motta began to paint and create items including stunning tribally inspired cushion covers and bed spreads for friends. As she had no power she devised a unique and organic manufacturing process. Extraordinarily her company, Tribal Textiles, now employs 162 local men and women in a joyful open air work space creating a collection of handmade products for sales to tourists and for export. Gillie recruits many men and women who have not even attended school. ‘They simply need to be honest and want to work’ she says.
After eight days spent interviewing local people by my calculations your holiday with Robin Pope Safaris (just one of several highly responsible operators in South Luangwa) directly benefits 308 local people including - 160 permanent and temporary staff; 24 workmen building a wonderful new family lodge; 15 people employed transporting goods between camps; 3 baggage handlers at the airport; 8 scouts; 3 local fruit sellers; 15 performers and guides at Kawaza village; 51 sponsored children at Kawaza school; a total of 16 teachers in 2 rural schools; 3 plumbers and electricians; 1 welder; 4 weavers; 3 thatchers and 2 tailors.
Indirectly thousands more local people benefit from your trip. There are approximately 1280 extended family members of the RPS staff in addition to; a Doctor funded by RPS treating hundreds of patients; 150 villagers at Kawaza; the families of 14 teachers; 160 staff at tribal textiles and their families who benefit if you buy from them; and 200 Park staff which your Park entry fee helps support. That’s before local shops selling goods to those employed by tourism.
What makes Robin Pope Safaris (and others like them in Zambia) contribution to the local communities even more remarkable is that while Robin Pope Safaris is a professionally run & profitable business affording the owners a wonderful lifestyle, it is very far from being a risk free venture generating massive profits.
A recent report stated that the combined profit of all the operators in South Luangwa in 2003 at just over $80,000. Jo Pope says ‘I could make more money selling used tyres.’ She adds that ‘we are in the business of making a profit, but also in the business of offering clients life changing experiences’.