Night Time Spinach

22 July 2009 | News story

The lack of meat in refugee rations in East Africa is causing a flourishing illegal trade in wild meat, threatening wildlife populations and creating a food security issue for rural communities.

A report Night Time Spinach: Conservation and livelihood implications of wild meat use in refugee situations in north western Tanzania published last year by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, uses case studies from Kagera and Kigoma in Tanzania, host to one of the largest concentrations of refugees in the world.

Illegally-obtained wild meat is covertly traded and cooked after dark and referred to as ‘night time spinach’ inside many refugee camps. “The scale of wild meat consumption in East African refugee camps has helped conceal the failure of the international community to meet basic refugee needs,” says Dr George Jambiya, the main author of the report. “Relief agencies are turning a blind eye to the real cause of the poaching and illegal trade: a lack of meat protein in refugees’ rations.”

The sheer numbers of refugees often leads to extensive habitat degradation and dramatic loss of wildlife in affected areas, with species like chimpanzees threatened by the demand for meat. Populations of buffalo, sable antelope and other grazing animals have also shown steep declines.

Since Tanzanian independence in 1961, more than 20 major refugee camps have been located close to game reserves, national parks or other protected areas; 13 of them still remained in 2005. In the mid-1990s, an estimated 7.5 tons of illegal wild meat was consumed weekly in the two main refugee camps.

Trade in wild meat is less expensive than local beef and culturally more desirable for many refugees, also offering refugees the chance to generate income. That’s despite official Tanzanian refugee policy discouraging self-reliance within the camps. Conservation organizations believe the key is to supply meat from legal and sustainable wild meat supplies, as well as rigorous law enforcement on the ground.