Thursday, 25 April 2013

A Big Year for the Flies

This year Jason Drew expects to sell millions of mosquitoes. He is also banking on it being a big year for flies – literally.
Drew is an eco-capitalist, although not so long ago he was your typical corporate heavyweight: for 25 years he held leadership roles in companies such as the conglomerate General Electric,  health insurer Bupa and British online financial group Egg. Eventually he left the corporate world to start his own enterprises until, in 2008, he sold them all.
The heart attack that came that year didn’t stop Drew dead in his tracks, but the second one changed his life.
Born in the UK, Drew studied at the European Business School in London, Paris and Frankfurt and today lives on his farm in South Africa’s Tulbagh Valley. Once he had offloaded his “industrial revolution” businesses, Drew travelled the world and was shocked by the damage he saw wrought on the planet’s seas, fresh water and land ecosystems. 
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Jason Drew at Ci2012 - "From Industrial Revolution to Sustainability Revolution"

Jason speaking at TEDxTable Mountain

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

More rhinos were killed in the last 18 months than in the last decade

To save the rhino we must stop the hand wringing do-good conservation nonsense and get busy finding 21st century solutions to the problem. We need to re-start trade in rhino horns, save human lives, create jobs and let capitalists save the rhino from otherwise certain extinction.  Let me explain.

The CITES blanket solution of banning trade in endangered species is archaic and born out of the 20th century antagonism between capitalists and environmentalists.  The industrial revolution is over and the sustainability revolution has begun – conservationists and business need to work together to deliver a permanent solution to the issue. If they do not, - the rhino will be extinct within 20 years from now and the only people to blame will be the conservationists and governments whose thinking is stuck in the past.

It is estimated that in 1970 there were 60,000 rhinos in Africa and today there are nearer 20,000 - mostly as a result of habitation loss fuelled by the ban in their trade as their natural habitat is turned to more profitable cropland. The ban has been in place for over 30 years during which the main beneficiaries have been criminal poaching organisations. More rhinos were killed in the last 18 months than in the last decade. At the current rate, deaths will outstrip births by 2016, and yet we persist with policies that do not and will not work.

Rhinos mainly exist in privately owned and national game reserves. Having a rhino attracts more visitors to a reserve so it has a tourist value. Rhino are regularly traded at annual wildlife auctions and fetch somewhere in the region of $30-40,000.  Their value is falling as the danger of owning one increases. Every year over fifty game rangers are killed protecting endangered species.

The problem is that rhino are worth more dead than alive – so a poacher will spend more time and resources trying to kill one for its horn than an owner can justify in trying to protect it. The price of a rhino horn on the black market has stayed fairly stable at about $440,000 – over ten time the value of a live one. This market anomaly is created by governments and conservation groups in their misguided attempt to save the species.

The price of rhino horn is a function of supply and demand. As the number of rhino decreases the price of the horns will increase. With normal goods this would dampen demand - however with rare things from diamonds to artworks, sky-high prices can make them seem even more attractive.   With an increasingly wealthy Asian market the logical conclusion of extending the current ban on the trade in rhino horn is the animal’s extinction.   

Rhinos are in fact relatively easy to breed – all they need is plenty of space to be happy and mate.  With some 20,000 rhinos in South Africa natural, deaths could provide over 600 horns a year.  Private rhino breeders could provide more by regular horn “harvesting”. This would also protect and increase natural habitat.

A government regulated selling organisation could take a percentage of the revenue and plough it back into their conservation in the wild, and consumer education in Asia. Advertising that ridiculed consumers as munches of worthless toe nails might do the trick. That is after all what the horn is - Keratin.   This may over time reduce demand whilst financing their conservation and ensuring their survival.

The South African government, as guardian of most of the world’s rhinos, is a key stakeholder. Visiting Africa to see the big four would be a major blow to its vital  tourism industry.  SA supports the restarting of the controlled trade in horns. It is the likes of the WWF, the Born Free Foundation and Governments without a vested interest in the survival of the rhino who oppose it - and will be to blame for the rhino’s extinction.

Lets get busy repairing the future.

Jason J Drew