Conserving Nature to Develop a Country: The Case of Mozambique

Stephen DeAngelis

October 27, 2008

Last night the CBS news program 60 Minutes’ correspondent Scott Pelley profiled an American Internet guru, Greg Carr, who is spending millions of his own money to help restore national wildlife park in Mozambique as a way to help that country’s impoverished population climb onto the road to development [“One Man’s Plan To Save A Natural Treasure“]. Carr, an entrepreneur who became very wealthy after being the chair of Prodigy, early global Internet service provider, discovered Mozambique and its Gorongosa National Park during his search for a way to give something back to a world that had been generous and kind to him.

“Asked why he chose this place, Carr [told] Pelley, ‘Gorongosa was, most people consider, the most popular national park in all of Africa and the most density of animals, the most beauty, the most diversity of ecosystems. So, you have one of the most beautiful places in the world and you also have perhaps the worst poverty of anywhere in the world, side by side.’ To Carr, that’s an opportunity. It’s the same kind of business sensibility that made him a fortune. Right out of Harvard in the mid-1980’s, he and a partner developed a hot new product called voicemail. In 1998, he cashed out to the tune of $200 million and devoted himself to bringing entrepreneurship to charity.”

Pelley reports that after years of conflict (first for independence and then a civil war) the national park that once teemed with animals is now mostly barren space. It is animals, Carr knows, that attracts tourists to Africa. Without animals, Gorongosa will remain a fallow field for tourism and a natural resource sacrificed to the greed and corruption of men. A year ago last May, Stephanie Hanes reported on Greg Carr’s venture in the Smithsonian Magazine [“Greg Carr’s Big Gamble,” May 2007]. At that time, Carr had already been working in Mozambique for three years.

“Carr, an eager American with khaki pants and a Boy Scout’s smile, has spent a lot of time in Mozambican villages … over the past three years, wooing officials and local elders alike in the hot, red dust. … Carr has risked millions of dollars in an effort to revive a national park across the river, a once-heralded place of sweeping savannas and velvety green wetlands called Gorongosa. He believes a restored park will lift this beleaguered region out of poverty. And he believes his success depends on the help of this village, Vinho, and others like it. Vinho is a subsistence farming community of some 280 adults and twice as many children, one of 15 villages along Gorongosa’s borders. It has a school that goes through the fifth grade and a water pump that teenage girls use to fill plastic jugs as they jostle babies tied to their backs. As Carr and Vinho’s leaders settle into wooden chairs shaded by a blue plastic tarp, the villagers gather.”

Carr went to Vinho with a district leader named Paulo Majacunene. They went to convince the people of the village to stop ravaging the park’s resources and help Carr build it back to its former glory.

“Majacunene [spoke] first. He [told] the crowd that when the Carr Foundation restores Gorongosa, there will be new jobs, health clinics and money for Vinho. But the community needs to help, Majacunene says. No more setting fires. No more killing animals. Everyone nods. He leads a series of cheers, thrusting his fist into the air. … After the meeting, Roberto Zolho, Gorongosa’s warden, [told] Carr that the people of Vinho are setting many of the fires in the park, which clear land for farming but devastate the ecology. Carr smiles the wry smile that seems to appear when something strikes him as particularly absurd. ‘Well, we’re starting,’ he [said]. ‘You know, it starts somewhere.’ What Carr has embarked upon is one of the largest individual commitments in the history of conservation in Africa. To restore Gorongosa National Park, he has pledged as much as $40 million over 30 years, an almost unheard-of time frame in a field where most donors—governments and nonprofit organizations alike—make grants for four or five years at most. He also plans one of the largest animal reintroduction efforts on the continent and hopes to answer one of the most debated questions in conservation today: how to boost development without destroying the environment.”

The project will take a long time because Gorongosa National Park is a big place.

“The park was once one of the most treasured in all of Africa, 1,525 square miles of well-watered terrain with one of the highest concentrations of large mammals on the continent—thousands of wildebeest, zebra and waterbuck, and even denser herds of buffalo and elephant than on the fabled Serengeti Plain. In the 1960s and ’70s, movie stars, astronauts and other celebrities vacationed in Gorongosa; tourists arrived by the busload. Tippi Hedren, who starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, was inspired by Gorongosa’s lions to build her own exotic cat preserve outside Los Angeles. Astronaut Charles Duke told his safari guide that visiting Gorongosa was as thrilling as landing on the moon. ‘They called it the jewel of Mozambique,” says Frank Merry, a visiting scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center, which has received a grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation to study Carr’s project. ‘You’ve got an iconic resource there….In the U.S., you might think of Yellowstone.’ But all of that was before Mozambique’s 16-year civil war, which erupted soon after the country won independence from Portugal and set up a socialist, single-party government in 1975. As was common across post-independence Africa, antigovernment forces took refuge in national parks, a ready source of hidden shelter and food. They set up headquarters just outside Gorongosa, and the park itself became a battlefield: land mines were planted, the main camp was shelled and the animals were slaughtered. … By the time the war ended, in 1992, a new constitution had already established a multiparty government and market-based economy. Villagers returned and rebuilt their thatch houses. Some moved into the park itself, setting fires to clear fertile land. Poaching increased as people snared animals to feed themselves and to sell at local bush meat markets. There were few rangers to stop them. The park was in poor shape when Carr came upon Gorongosa in 2004. The Mozambican government had cleared many of the land mines, but the main camp, called Chitengo, was still largely in ruins. Tourists were a distant memory, as were the great animal herds; of a buffalo herd that once numbered 14,000, for example, about 50 animals remained.”

Restoring the park is only part of Carr’s vision. He understands the connection between a thriving wildlife refuge which will attract tourists and the jobs and infrastructure that tourism will bring to the area. As Hanes reported, the vision includes teaching locals to run the park “and create an eco-tourism industry. Soon, they believe, improved education, health and living standards will follow.” So what has happened in the year the Smithsonian Magazine reported on Carr’s efforts? We return to the 60 Minutes report and to the village of Vinho. Carr took Pelley to Vinho after visiting a typical Mozambique village, where “the average life expectancy … is about 40 years old, and in the next few years they are expecting that to drop to about 35 years old. A lot of that is because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and malaria, but part of it is because folks like these villagers can’t get anywhere close to a nurse or a doctor.” Because of Carr’s efforts, Vinho is different.

“Vinho … lies near the Pungue River, which runs along Gorongosa Park. A couple hundred of the villagers work for the park as rangers, cooks, and the like. Carr wanted to show Pelley the difference in Vinho village. ‘You know, I have to think that there was a temptation for a big deal IT guy from America to come in and say, “Okay. We’re gonna put the school here. We’re gonna put the clinic there. We’re gonna put a road here … and this is where the wells are gonna go.” Right?”‘ Pelley asks. ‘That’s right,’ Carr says. ‘If you come here with an American CEO mentality, “We’re gonna make a plan! We’re gonna do it! Let’s go!” And give out orders, that is the wrong way to do development in a rural place like this. Because this is their village. They want schools. They want health clinics. They want water. They want businesses. They want jobs. They need to make those choices.'”

Carr’s approach incorporates portions of approaches recommended and used by others elsewhere around the globe. Carr’s realization that the health of the park and the health of the people living near it are inextricably connected is much like the approach that Dr. Pan Wenshi is using to help save white-headed langurs in China [see my post Money and Monkeys]. His understanding that the best way forward is to allow the people themselves to choose the right path is close to the approach recommended by Seth Kaplan [see my post Fixing Fragile States]. Pelley reports on what the villagers of Vinho wanted from Carr and what he has helped provide.

“When Carr first visited four years ago, school met underneath a magnificent baobab tree. After villagers told him they wanted a new school, Carr spent $100,000 helping them build it. There are more than 500 students, and some walk 90 minutes to get there. And just across the road, there was a line waiting at the new clinic they asked for, built for $200,000. ‘Mozambique needs 750 of these rural clinics to serve the people who now don’t have any health care at all,’ Carr explains. So far Carr has built only one clinic, but he and his foundation want to build 25. Carr has just helped another village build a school, and plans to keep building until there are 100 in the area surrounding the park, along with those 25 clinics. … But even with all the wealth that 200 jobs, a clinic and a school have brought Vinho, Carr still has to convince villagers to help Gorongosa to succeed. ‘We need to decrease the amount of poaching of animals in the park because tourists want to see animals,’ he tells villagers during a meeting. The tourists are returning to Gorongosa in small numbers, but to attract more, Carr knows he needs animals – a lot more animals.”

So far Carr has been able to reintroduce wildebeest and hippopotami and is nurturing a small herd of native elephants. He says he really wants to reintroduce zebra, but he has to obtain them from Zimbabwe and the political turmoil there has stifled his efforts. Carr shared his long-term vision with Pelley at the end of the segment.

“He intends to double the size of the park and leave it completely self sustaining – no longer a charity – but an economic engine attracting investments, creating jobs, and in the end standing on its own without Greg Carr.”

Carr’s approach to conservation and development fits nicely within the Development-in-a-Box™ framework I often write about. He is using best practices, developing jobs, training local workers, and trying to attract foreign direct investment by helping establish a viable workforce that is both educated and healthy. Watching the 60 Minutes’ segment you could catch Carr’s enthusiasm and optimism. Development is always driven by entrepreneurial enthusiasm and optimism. Development-in-a-Box simply provides a framework to ensure that they are correctly channeled and provided with the best opportunity for economic ventures to succeed. I believe Carr will succeed in his grand venture.