Catching Up with David Banks

Africa Program Director David Banks spoke with about how far the Africa program has come since launching in 2006, and where it still needs to go.
"Africa and its wildlife really do represent humanity’s homeland. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to ensure that this sense of place remains intact."

--David Banks, Africa program director

Where is the Conservancy’s Africa Program focusing its efforts right now?

David Banks:

The sheer size and complexity of Africa posed many challenges and opportunities when the Conservancy first started working there almost three years ago. Our initial efforts focused on five countries: Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia. Today we’ve added two more geographies to the mix, Mozambique and the West Indian Ocean. Our work in Africa touches every major habitat type the Conservancy strives to protect around the world. Whether it’s the Kafue Ecosystem in southern Africa or eastern Africa’s Great Rift Valley, the Conservancy always follows three guiding principles:

  • Work in partnership with local conservation organizations
  • Provide essential technical tools, skills and resources to partners and projects
  • Connect conservation to human well-being

With such a great area to cover, how is the Conservancy equipped to achieve our desired results?

David Banks:

First, we’re fortunate to have a talented team. We’re spread out in offices across the globe but we work well together to accomplish our conservation objectives in Africa.

And in 2010, we opened our first office in Africa, located in Arusha, Tanzania. As the program has evolved, the need for the Conservancy to have an on-the-ground presence on the continent became obvious.

The other reason we’re able to achieve results in Africa is our collaborations with partners. All of the major international conservation organizations now work in some part of Africa, but lately we are working more with smaller, locally based groups. These organizations have instilled themselves deeply into specific issues and places. By applying our financial resources and scientific and conservation planning expertise to enhance these groups’ work, I believe we can help them scale up their work and make a bigger difference in the long run.

What projects and partnerships are you particularly excited about?

David Banks:

We’ve been making great strides in Kenya. The Conservancy partnered with a grassroots organization, the Green Belt Movement, to reverse deforestation and improve the health of Kenya’s forest ecosystems. We’re supporting Green Belt Movement’s tree planting projects in the Mau Forest, providing organizational capacity building and assisting with national policy work.

In Kenya’s northern rangelands, we’re lending our real estate expertise to the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy to secure a 62,000-acre refuge for wildlife. Land acquisition for conservation is a relatively new concept in East Africa, but the Conservancy's nearly 60 years of conservation real estate experience is coming in handy. Endangered black rhino and Grevy’s zebra, along with 70 other large-mammal species, depend on Lewa and surrounding communal lands.

On the latter, a Lewa spinoff called Northern Rangelands Trust is helping communities enhance their well-being through conservation. The Conservancy assisted NRT in developing a five-year strategic plan that will help empower communities to improve their own lands and livelihoods through protecting migration corridors for wildlife. It’s a win-win for people and nature.

Why is working in Africa vital to the Conservancy’s mission?

David Banks:

Working in Africa is essential for the organization to accomplish both its goal of protecting all major habitat types and its overall mission of protecting the diversity of life on Earth.

The United States would fit inside the African continent three times, so just the sheer size and diversity are stunning. From Kenya’s acacia-studded savannas to Namibia’s sun-baked dunes, the landscape is vastly different in every direction. As the Campaign for a Sustainable Planet forges on, our work in Africa encompasses all four Campaign priorities. So marine, freshwater, climate change, and protected areas strategies are always in the forefront of my mind.

Why should donors in the U.S. be concerned with conservation in Africa?

David Banks:

Africa provides the world’s last best chance to protect large wild landscapes that function much as they have for millions of years. Unlike much of the rest of the world, Africa has experienced few extinctions, despite the fact that humans have been on this continent longer than anywhere else. With the population of Africa expected to double in the next 30 years, now is our last chance to act.

I recently talked to one of our supporters who has spent a lot of time in Africa and asked him why he cares so much about our work. He replied that every time he visits Africa, he feels like he is going home. Africa and its wildlife really do represent humanity’s homeland. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to ensure that this sense of place remains intact.

About the Interviewee

David Banks leads The Nature Conservancy's Africa team.


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