Community conservation grew out of the recognition that wildlife and other natural resources are of value in communal areas, and that these resources can be unlocked if local communities are empowered to manage and utilise resources themselves.
Living with wildlife – sustainably
By choosing to live with wildlife, rural communities are broadening their livelihood options as well as enabling a healthier environment.
Community conservation in Namibia means rural people managing their natural resources sustainably to generate returns. Conservancies, community forests and other community conservation initiatives create the necessary legal framework for this.
Conservancy chairperson Judy Melekie
//Huab Conservancy in Kunene Region is close to the tourism routes and has income from a joint venture with a lodge, and from conservation hunting.
“As a woman,” says Melekie, “we sometimes underestimate our strength.” Empowering women in rural communities is very much part of the conservation agenda. Melekie says that she has managed to build up the conservancy finances and to employ the first female game guard at //Huab. Under her chairpersonship a mobile campsite has been set up and the conservancy won a best practice award for the protection of rhino.
Drought and wildlife crime are the two major dangers for //Huab, but Melekie is confident that with income from conservation hunting the conservancy will be able to keep up its anti-poaching patrols and to maintain its wildlife.
» Read more about women in leadership.
Conservancy chairperson Abedi Kaiko
Otjombinde Conservancy is in Omaheke Region, bordering Botswana. It is an area of sparse vegetation close to the Kalahari Desert, that can support limited livestock. Kaiko says there is “a lot to be done”.
The first challenge is setting up an office. From there, Kailo wants to build up conservation awareness in the community to conserve what is there for future generations. Part of that work will be to demarcate a core wildlife area.
Meeting with other conservancy chairpersons at a national level in the Conservancy Chairpersons’ Forum was very valuable to Kaiko. He learnt from others about the importance of financial management. Otjombinde does not have a great deal of wildlife, but the conservancy makes common cause with others to oppose potential bans on conservation hunting, because this brings income that can be used for conservation, leading to sustainable wildlife populations.
Conservancy manager Hilde Nathinge
Sheya Shuushona Conservancy lies directly north of Etosha National Park. It has a limited income due to the lack of tourism, although a joint-venture with a private sector lodge is planned.
Nathinge is proud of the conservancy’s record of compliance with the MEFT’s Standard Operating Procedures. “Everything is in order,” she says.
In the past, says Nathinge, women had no say in decision making. All that has changed. She compiles the financial and annual reports, and manages the staff, including game guards, who she calls “the backbone of the conservancy.”
The founding President came from the area, and Nathinge says that the spirit of liberation is still alive. “If we keep working hard we will see the fruits of our labour.”
» Read more about women in leadership.
Conservancy manager Emil Roman
Torra is a large conservancy in the semi-desert area of Kunene Region, with income from tourism and conservation hunting. Its people are spread over a wide area: a challenge for conservancy management, which the management committee have addressed by dividing the conservancy into blocks, which hold regular meetings.
Roman say he “knows what is happening” in the conservancy, enabling him to give advice to the committee on a monthly basis.
The challenges are the low level of literacy in the community, and that conservancy members do not know their rights. He sees his job as enabling community empowerment, especially of women, by persuading them to stand for election to the committee and to take on management jobs.
Roman says: “It’s tough being a manager but the recognition I get from staff and the committee members on my performance is rewarding”.
Game guard Kennedy Muituti
There are 12 game guards at Bamunu conservancy in Zambezi region, including two women. Chief game guard Muituti says it’s a tough job patrolling long tracks along the Linyanti River on the Botswana border. Part of the work is talking to farmers about conservation, and advising them to inform on suspicious activity. Poachers pass through from Zambia, hunting for ivory in Botswana. But Muituti and his team love the work – and success. Working together with the MEFT and the Namibian Police, they have twice netted international poaching gangs.
Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT)
Our vision: "To be a leader in conservation and tourism development through innovation and partnership"
Foreword of the State of Community Conservation 2020 Report
by Honourable Pohamba Shifeta, Minister of Environment, Forestry and Tourism
The year 2020 tested Namibian resilience in every sector, as the COVID-19 pandemic threatened our health, economy and social structures in various ways. His Excellency Dr. Hage Geingob declared a State of Emergency on the 17th of March 2020 and guided our country through this difficult time. Despite efforts to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, thousands of people succumbed to COVID-19 and we are still mourning the loss of our friends, relatives and family members. Our economy was subjected to unprecedented pressure, particularly in the tourism sector, as flights were suspended and lockdowns imposed in countries throughout the world, including Namibia.
Conservation is especially vulnerable to international shocks such as this one, as much of our budget within government and among rural communities is derived from international tourism. Only 10% of the expected 1.7 million international tourist arrivals in 2020 was realised, forcing many tourism operations across the country to shut down and slashing visitor numbers to our National Parks.
The Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT) immediately recognised the threat this pandemic posed to our flagship Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) programme, which relies heavily on photographic and hunting tourists to support their operations and livelihoods. Data collected for previous State of Community Conservation Reports indicated the potential extent and severity of the impact on rural livelihoods. We estimated that over 3,000 jobs created by conservancies and their joint-venture tourism partners were at risk if we did not assist them during this time.
Poverty and desperation would have gripped these rural areas, as each person earning a salary has many dependents. The conservancies would have been crippled, not being able to retain their staff or cover basic operational costs for patrols, game counts, responding to human-wildlife conflict and preventing or reporting wildlife crime. Without functional conservancies and with desperation caused by deepening poverty, wildlife crime would have spiralled out of control. A study on the situation led by the University of Namibia described this pending disaster as a “perfect storm” that threatened rural livelihoods and Namibia’s conservation record.
For these reasons, the MEFT responded quickly and decisively by establishing the Conservation Relief, Recovery and Resilience Facility (CRRRF) to invite partners from all sectors within Namibia and internationally to assist us. Our long-term partnerships with non-governmental organisations, donors and other governments yielded fruits, as the United Nations Development Programme in Namibia (UNDP), Environmental Investment Fund (EIF), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Community Conservation Fund of Namibia (CCFN), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, Nedbank Go Green Fund, Namibian Chamber of Environment (NCE), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), B2Gold and Tourism Supporting Conservation (TOSCO) were among the first to contribute to the Facility. Further, our established structure for financing allowed for the rapid, yet properly controlled, disbursal of these funds to conservancies and joint-venture tourism operators.
Having seen our prompt national response and trustworthy mechanism for support, the German government provided N$ 96 million to this Facility as part of their larger commitment of N$ 250 million to support our National Parks and the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA). With this support from both within and beyond Namibia’s borders, the CBNRM programme was effectively shielded from the worst economic impacts of the pandemic.
Restrictions on gatherings due to COVID-19 made it difficult and in some cases impossible for many conservancies to meet the MEFT governance standards this year, which we fully appreciate. Annual General Meetings (AGM), in particular, were not held in conservancies where the quorum exceeded the maximum number of people allowed to gather under the prevailing restrictions. We are nonetheless pleased to note that 19 conservancies met all five governance requirements despite the pandemic, as they were able to hold their AGMs either prior to the lockdowns or after restrictions were loosened. Other conservancies adapted to the conditions and held smaller meetings to keep their members up to date with their activities.
In terms of natural resource management, the multi-year drought conditions in the north-western conservancies continue to affect the wildlife numbers counted during annual game counts. This situation has exacerbated human-carnivore conflict in the region, which the MEFT is continuing to monitor and intervene where necessary. Nonetheless, we are pleased to note that game counts, foot patrols, reporting of human-wildlife conflict and combatting wildlife crime all continued this year despite the pandemic. Our wildlife crime statistics for 2020 showed reduced poaching for high-value species, which reveals that our joint commitment to wildlife conservation has not diminished.
This year’s report reflects the impact of COVID-19 and the steps taken by the MEFT, the Namibian Association of CBNRM Support Organisations (NACSO) and our partners to minimise the negative consequences of this global crisis for our people and wildlife. Although we hope to see a recovery of international tourism arrivals soon, we are nonetheless committed to building resilience into the CBNRM programme to reduce the impact of such shocks in future. I would especially like to thank the many partners mentioned above for supporting our CBNRM programme during 2020 and encourage collective efforts to build a more resilient programme in the coming years.
The Namibian Association of Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) Support Organisations
Our vision: "NACSO connects the communities and organisations that manage and conserve Namibia’s natural resources"
Introduction to the State of Community Conservation 2020 Report
by Mr Ronny Dempers, NACSO Chairperson
Learning our lessons from Covid-19
The challenges posed to the CBNRM programme during 2020 required urgent and decisive action at the time, but in hindsight it has left us with many thoughts to ponder. The global pandemic was an unprecedented external shock, particularly to communal conservancies that rely so heavily on international travellers to generate their income. The withdrawal of international tourism has revealed several weaknesses in the CBNRM programme that are more easily concealed during normal years.
The restrictions relating to COVID-19 tested CBNRM in a number of different ways; some of these tests were passed, while others highlight existing problems that need urgent solutions. By combining the positive and negative lessons we learned from our response to the pandemic, we can create a more fruitful and resilient programme in future.
Resilience of rural livelihoods
Communal conservancies rely heavily on tourism-based industries for their income, and until 2020 most of that tourism was from international visitors. International travel restrictions thus had an immediate impact on the financial viability of conservancies. Yet of even greater concern was the survival of their members, who struggled more than ever to meet their most basic needs this year. In many rural areas, conservancies and community forests are the only locally based institutions to which people can turn to for help, yet we must ask if these institutions are sufficiently able to provide such help. Although the focus of CBNRM has been to link wildlife conservation with rural development, we must reflect on whether the programme is making a real difference to the lives of rural people. This is a true measure of success that has not yet received enough attention.
The Conservation Relief, Recovery and Resilience Facility (CRRRF) saved many jobs during this year in the CBNRM sector, but we must still ask whether more can be done to meet the needs of the many conservancy members who have not found employment in the sector. Is there a way that CBNRM can facilitate rural economic growth that is not overly dependent on international travel? Although initiatives such as CRRRF ensured the survival of conservancies, moving forward we need to explore ways to support rural households more directly during these tough times.
The programme continues to heavily emphasise conservancies, yet rural livelihoods are supported directly by other natural resources such as the harvest of timber and other plants, which falls under the remit of community forests. We failed to provide a proper and coordinated response to the moratorium on timber harvesting, which resulted in a loss of income and employment for community forests in the north-east. This report is a first step towards bringing greater attention community forests by providing more information on their current status from the Directorate of Forestry within MEFT.
Adapting governance systems
One of the key means of linking conservancy management with members is the Annual General Meeting (AGM) and similar General Meetings (GMs) held each year. Since the quorum required for AGMs in many conservancies is higher than the public gathering restrictions allowed, most conservancies were unable to hold their AGMs in 2020. As the model currently functions, much decision-making power lies with the AGM, as financial reporting, budgeting, approving plans, and elections are all held at these events. Yet perhaps the system has become too reliant on large meetings. Even in normal years, not all members can make it to these meetings and will therefore feel less involved with decision-making in their conservancies.
Some conservancies adapted to the public gathering restrictions by holding smaller village-level meetings that were used to inform members and discuss the conservancies’ activities at that level. It is likely that more people are engaged during many smaller meetings than at one large meeting, so it is worth considering if a more decentralised form of decision-making might improve conservancy governance. Major decisions like committee elections and annual financial matters would still require an AGM as per the conservancies’ constitutions, yet decentralised discussions around reports or plans that will be presented at AGMs or GMs would increase member input into these key documents.
Decentralised village-based decision-making platforms will not only increase the resilience of the programme to external shocks like COVID-19, but also empower conservancy members to make key decisions that directly affect their lives. To enable such governance changes, there is a need to review our compliance frameworks that currently focus on centralised decisionmaking platforms.
The disbursement of CRRRF grants to conservancies brought with them quarterly reporting requirements. Because the next quarter’s funds were contingent on detailed reports regarding how the previous quarter’s funds were spent, the financial reporting systems were tightened. Prior to 2020 when most conservancies were generating their own funds, financial reporting was an annual exercise. Perhaps moving to a quarterly reporting system with assistance from support organisations (when the CRRRF is phased out) will improve conservancy financial accountability.
Providing better support
When travel between regions in Namibia was restricted, many NACSO organisations could not reach some of the conservancies they regularly support. While the rest of the world moved online for their meetings, conservancies and community forests generally have poor Internet connectivity, thus limiting their communication options. As with the thoughts on conservancies, this situation showed the value of decentralised operations where support staff from NACSO and MEFT are located in the same region as the conservancies they assist.
The coordinated financial support provided through the CRRRF, which was established by MEFT and fully supported by all NACSO members and other partners, provides the best positive lesson from our year of COVID. As we move into a recovery period, we need to develop financial resilience in an equitable manner across the CBNRM programme. A collaborative, democratic decision-making platform similar to the CRRRF could become a model of equitable resource distribution at a national level. This platform sets the scene for more discussions and actions regarding resource mobilisation and coordinated financing for CBNRM activities.
The Namibian CBNRM programme has withstood the challenges posed by COVID-19 because of the strong partnerships that have been built to support it. Together we have ensured the survival of CBNRM and have learned valuable lessons in the process. Going forward, we must strengthen our partnerships further and commence a robust stock taking process to reflect honestly on both the strengths and shortcomings of CBNRM in Namibia. I look forward to working through this process with all our partners in the coming year.