Managing the Bushmeat Trade By Working Together
Poverty in tropical Africa is often described as a trap because it is a curbing, undesirable circumstance from which escape is difficult. Academics around the world believe it, according to a September 2014 online article in The Economist. But, Pauline Ekofi, who left school at twelve years old and is now a Congolese mother of five children and a meat seller in the central market of Mbandaka, knows it.
Originally from Boende, a small village in the Maringa Lopori Wamba (MLW), Pauline followed her second husband to Mbandaka, the capital city of the Equateur Province, two decades ago in the hope of a prosperous family life. Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out as she had dreamed, for he spends more of the year on assignment around the province than at home, leaving her to support the children and herself with little assistance from him. That’s why each Friday morning she takes a motorcycle taxi from her house to a weekly market on the city outskirts, which specializes in produce from the forest. Selling bushmeat is her livelihood.
"I know it’s illegal. It’s the Ministry of the Environment that catches people,” Pauline acknowledges in her account of how, one month ago, just as she was setting up her stall and balancing accounts with her fellow retailers because they buy together in bulk, the police confiscated her significant purchase from that out-of-town weekly market: 550,000 Congolese francs' (US$580) worth of bushmeat. It left her devastated.
Recently, AWF hosted a workshop in Mbandaka, led by AWF biologist, Nakedi Maputla, and AWF Sustainable Livelihoods officer, Tabu Senga, on the results of a survey monitoring the bushmeat trade in the MLW landscape. Pauline attended and was neither embarrassed to hear about her role as retailer directly linked to the year-round illegal hunting, nor too surprised by some of the numbers of protected species, including bonobos, being sold. She related the phenomenon to a typical supply-and-demand chain easy to follow: a commercial hunter ventures into the forest, catches and kills a bush hog, antelope, bonobo, or elephant; a retailer at the food market in town is contacted by the hunter and makes the purchase; a restaurant cook spots the meat on display upon a market stand and ends up with a high-end dish that diners always praise.
“My customers are restaurateurs,” Pauline explains. “They don’t ask me any questions. They just ask what meat it is and give the money.”
In a sub-Saharan country where 80 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 per day1 (1,125 Congolese francs), it’s easy to understand why communities here seek relief from their lowly economic position through activities that unfortunately create an overdependence on the forest. What’s less obvious is that year-round illegal hunting is not just driven by economics, but also culture. Pauline’s discreet supplier is adamant.
“It’s a way of life. I grew up from hunting. My father hunted. And my grandfather hunted. When the colonists came here they found us already hunting.”
The workshop succeeded in drawing attention to the alarming negative impact of trade and consumption of bushmeat on the conservation of wildlife and people, all the while emphasizing the importance of MLW’s ecological status. On their own, participants put forward several recommendations, including job creation in other sectors, extension of the existing Hunting Act, educational initiatives to accompany associations of seller and hunters, and further awareness and capacity building.
With a view to developing a strategy for anti-poaching in the MLW landscape, AWF makes use of a substantial amount of scientific data, and the workshop is but one in an essential series of steps in a participatory approach to development.