An Eswatini Economic Policy Analysis and Research Centre (ESEPARC) study, ‘An Insight Into Community-Based Ecotourism in Eswatini: Theory versus Practice’, conducted by Graduate Researcher Tamika Du-Pont was awarded as one of the Best Conference Papers at the EEC 2019.

The Eswatini Economic Conference (EEC) 2019 jointly hosted by ESEPARC, the Central Bank of Eswatini and the University of Eswatini (UNESWA) was held last week from Wednesday (October 23) to Friday (October 25) at the Royal Swazi Convention Centre.

Presenting her paper, Du-Pont highlighted that major interventions are needed to ensure that community-based eco-tourism (CBET) continues to boost the local economy. Based on the findings of the study, Du-Pont suggests that further investment into research and monitoring in order to produce real time data and to inform appropriate strategies is needed.

The study also recommends strengthening dialogue at both the national and local level to ensure that the relevant stakeholders are aware of the whereabouts of a project. Furthermore, community members need to be aware of their roles and responsibilities. The study also recommends the adoption of new marketing websites and tools to improve competitiveness of CBET.

The study also calls for any policy incorporation of CBET into the national Tourism Policy, which should cover issues surrounding funding, management, maintenance, and responsibilities of the different stakeholders. Lastly, the study recommends the enactment of legislation that will make pre-assessments compulsory.

Du-Pont stated that the study uncovered many unsettling realities. It was found that CBET projects are good harbours for infrastructural development, which has mostly come in the form of water and electricity schemes. Although CBET projects provide both employment and opportunities along its different value chains, these opportunities remain minimal.

Furthermore, the economic incentive per month amounted to E1,457.40 which is arguably a small amount. CBETs were also found to provide for intangible benefits including feeling empowered and a sense of belonging.

In addition, declining tourist visitation numbers and revenue earnings pose a serious threat to the sustainability of CBET projects, and particularly impacts the ability of projects to allow for broad-based participation. Despite the benefits associated with using online marketing and ICTs, CBET sites in Eswatini have not been able to use these tools due to poor network access and costs.

High input costs such as pesticides and herbicides negatively impact farmers’ profit margins, and has been a contributing factor to the declining number of community participants over time. The study also explored the perceptions and attitudes of community members and found that only 1.6% of the respondents did not like to see CBET projects continue to run.

According to Harris, this is an indication that the host communities are still for the concept of CBET in their communities. Furthermore, a majority of the respondents were dissatisfied with the level of community participation and the amount of consultation between different stakeholders with the community themselves.

The study concludes that project benefits accrue to a small proportion of community members and that some challenges, particularly those related to the farmers who provide produce, indicate the need for collaborative efforts to combat the crosscutting challenges experienced.