Research: Does conservation make sense to local communities? 1

Our Research posts are about the latest academic research being done in the School of Economics. This week:


by Melville Saayman, Riaan Rossouw & Andrea Saayman

Good for community development

The Kruger National Park (KNP) in South Africa is a key ecotourism attraction for both domestic and international tourists. Not only is it one of the most visited attractions in South Africa; it is also the country’s best known and one of the most profitable national parks in the world (Saayman and Saayman, 2006). The KNP is South Africa’s flagship national park.

National Parks have recently come under pressure to uplift and to build relationships with communities surrounding the parks. Accordingly, South African National Parks (SANParks) has three primary objectives: 1) to conserve the biodiversity of the country; 2) to maintain a relationship of community upliftment and capacity building among people living in the areas neighbouring the parks; and 3) to provide a tourism and recreational outlet that allows people to enjoy the wonders of the parks. Based on objectives 2 and 3 and the aforementioned pressures, our research addresses the question: how do communities benefit from the KNP? A tourist survey to estimate expenditures and a community survey to determine the perceived contribution of the KNP were conducted.

Based on the results of our research, it is clear that the KNP has a significant impact in terms of its social as well as economic mandate. From an economic point of view, the KNP attracts large numbers of tourists/visitors whose spending generates in excess of R2 billion per annum. Moreover, the income generated by the KNP is significantly more than any other park in South Africa.

Concerning job creation, ecotourism activities in the KNP are responsible for approximately 10 150 jobs in the region of which most are in the trade and accommodation sectors. Given that the average household size was 4.3 in Limpopo and 3.9 in Mpumalanga during the 2007 community survey (RSA, 2008) the KNP provides a livelihood for approximately 41 500 people, which is around 0.5% of all the people in these provinces. Seen in the light that 34% of all people in Limpopo and 28% of everyone in Mpumalanga lives below the poverty line of R250 per month (RSA, 2008), it is not surprising that it is the view of the community that the KNP fulfils its role as job creator in the region, and that it is responsible for new business developments and thus increased economic activity in the otherwise rural area.

In addition, the KNP is viewed as having a positive impact on the quality of life of its surrounding communities. Residents regard the KNP as an asset and acknowledge its economic, environmental, conservation and social value.

Based on our findings, the following implications can be derived:

  • Firstly, in terms of community relations, it is imperative that a system must be developed whereby information dissemination can be improved. Currently SANParks is implementing a system of park forums.
  • Secondly, to address the fears of wildlife escaping and causing harm to livestock and humans, greater co-operation with the community is again paramount.
  • Thirdly, in terms of marketing policy, efforts should be primarily focussed on domestic visitors firstly, and foreign visitors secondly. This approach is relevant if SANParks wants to achieve its goals.
  • Fourthly, product development again requires greater co-operation between the KNP and community to ensure that business activity is stimulated in the area with the accompanied increase in employment opportunities.

On the question: Does conservation make sense to local communities?, the main findings of our research clearly indicate that it does. This research also shows that conservation can generate significant economic benefits. Therefore, the KNP is a useful example (or model) of how government can achieve both economic (poverty alleviation) and conservation goals with protected areas. Communities not only benefit financially through increased economic activity and job creation, but also through the improvement of their quality of life and social cohesion.

The complete article is forthcoming in Development Southern Africa, issue 29 volume 4.



Saayman, M and Saayman, A. 2006. Estimating the contribution of visitor spending in the Kruger National Park to the regional economy. Journal for Sustainable Tourism, 14(1): 67-81.

RSA (Republic of South Africa). 2008. Development Indicators 2008. Pretoria: The Presidency, Republic of South Africa.

One comment

  1. Pingback: Tourism Month 2014: Tourism and community development « Skool vir Ekonomie

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