Akashinga is a community-driven conservation model, empowering disadvantaged women to restore and manage a network of wilderness areas as an alternate economic model to trophy hunting. 

VISION: To lead a just future for family, nature and nation

GOAL: To employ 1000 female rangers by 2025 protecting a network of 20 nature preserves under IAPF management.

OVERVIEW: From 2009-2017 the IAPF ran conservation programs which were largely focused around law-enforcement. In conservation tactics were becoming increasingly militarised across the world in an act of retaliation to poaching and desperation to defend what was left. We wanted to explore new methods which reunited conservation and community.

In August 2017, we set out recruit and train the first all-female, armed anti-poaching unit in the world in an abandoned trophy hunting reserve in Zimbabwe. Making 191 arrests in the first 2.5 years of operations, they helped drive an 80% downturn in elephant poaching in Zimbabwe’s Lower Zambezi Valley, one of the largest remaining populations left on earth. The concept has now set down roots and the project has expanded to 5 parks under management totalling one million acres. We are in the process of training 240 more women for full-time positions as we scale towards 1000 rangers and a portfolio of 20 parks by 2025. 

Akashinga is not just about the natural world it can protect, but the scalable case study the example is becoming, driving its own expansion throughout the region. It is a different way of looking at philanthropy, conservation, empowerment, gender mainstreaming, law enforcement, rural development, health & wellbeing, trophy hunting and land management in Africa. These all feed into a larger, global narrative and impact poverty, climate change and conflict crisis.

When we put women at the centre of the model, focusing on their personal vision and development, we get the greatest traction (dollar for dollar) in community development. From there, conservation becomes an automatic bi-product led by the communities themselves.

Akashinga is a platform for women to change the world for the better. It is women carrying out one of the most demanding and respected jobs in the world, while thriving at it and building their own lives, their families and their communities in the process.

KEY POINTS

  • Long term (15+ years) partnerships with local communities to protect, connect and restorewilderness areas in key ecosystems and ecoregions.
  • Achieving economy in scale through the strategic selection of reserves in each ecosystem and ecoregion we engage.
  • Securing and resurrecting areas of biodiversity and strategic importance that would otherwise have been lost to human settlement, trophy hunting, timber harvesting, agriculture or mining – Areas that need the support, not the ones that have it.
  • Ecosystems, ecoregions and corridors – Not parks/preserves in isolation
  • The potential to rebuild regions and even countries through the conservation platform: Communities and nations which are: Educated, hardworking, compassionate, nature focused, healthy, strong, driven by actions not profit, uncorrupted, ethical 
  • When the IAPF was set up in Zimbabwe in 2009, the country had the lowest life expectancy in the world for women – 34 years of age.
  • In conservation, women are outnumbered by men in front-line roles by a ratio of as much as 100:1.
  • Akashinga employs the most marginalized women from rural communities; educates and trains them to be rangers and biodiversity managers – protecting the large landscapes previously reserved for and financed by trophy hunting.
  • A woman with a salary in rural Africa invests up to 3 times more than a male into their family (UN Women)
  • 62% of operational costs of the Akashinga model go directly back to the local community – turning biodiversity conservation into a community project – 80% of this reaches the community at household level. These factors equal a better financial return for the local community than what deteriorating trophy hunting operations provided prior to collapse. The first pilot project area in Zimbabwe puts the equivalent amount of money into the community every 34 days as what trophy hunting did per annum.
  • Trophy hunting areas across Africa take up one-sixth of all landmass across participating countries. An expanse collectively greater than all of Texas. The hunting industry is rapidly declining, leaving these wilderness areas and communities without sufficient income to incentivise conservation – Unless an alternative source of income is provided, these areas are lost, along with their rich biodiversity.
  • It prepares women for the worst-case scenario in their roles, but fosters a harmonious relationship with local communities as the best defence against illegal wildlife crime.
  • The women are both encouraged and supported to buy land in their local communities as a form of investment. Many have done so already.
  • Education to become the key component of individual development and the mapping of career paths towards personal goals. We need to create a generation of highly intelligent, ethical leaders.

SUMMARY

What excites us about this program are the possibilities. We started a trial in a small landlocked country of sub-Saharan Africa, in a conservation industry which is becoming increasingly antagonistic with local indigenous communities, on a continent which has had a 700% increase in armed conflict in the past decade. All we did was shift the male roles to construction and labour and put women into the power roles of law enforcement, management and decision making.

In doing so, we completely deescalated local tension, brought conservation and community together, while cutting our operational costs by two thirds. The remaining third, invested mostly into women, becomes the most effective form of community development, while our core business of conservation is more successful than ever. If this is possible here, what is possible beyond Zimbabwe? What is possible beyond conservation?

“These women have achieved what few armies in history have come close to – They won the hearts and minds of the local population. If given the opportunity, women will change the face of conservation forever.” Damien Mander 

For more information email akashinga@iapf.org

Akashinga is a project of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF)

National Geographic Magazine Feature Here

BBC World News Feature Here

60 Minutes Feature Here

Read The Guardian story here

Full picture essay here

Photography by Adrian Steirn & Damien Mander

~ The program is entirely vegan for a greener planet ~