Community Conservation Governance

Resources can only be sustainably used if effective management structures exist to guide their use.

CBNRM, Community Based Natural Resource Management, is the basis of democratic control by local communities over natural resources and the distribution of benefits from them, usually through communal conservancies.

Managing conservation from the ground up

Before independence, rural communities were disenfranchised and the absence of a sense of ownership over resources led to their neglect and indiscriminate exploitation.

Conservancies, community forests and community associations are self-governing bodies that elect boards and operate in accordance with their constitutions. They are accountable to their members through annual general meetings (AGMs).

An AGM in Ehi-Rovipuka Conservancy
An AGM in Ehi-Rovipuka Conservancy

Annual General Meetings provide a vital platform for establishing democratic governance in community conservation organisations, and must be held annually as per the SOPs. At the AGMs discussions include the conservancy chairperson’s report, benefits distributed to members, feedback on Human-Wildlife Conflict interventions, financial reports and, depending on stipulations in individual conservancy constitutions, elections are held.

At AGMs planning for the following year's activities is done, including developing a work plan and an operational budget. The AGMs are a platform where those in the management committee provide feedback to the general conservancy members, and enable discussions on issues to allow for decision-making.

Standard Operating Procedures

The MEFT approves the formation of conservancies and community associations operating within national parks. The Ministry has laid down Standard Operating Procedures, which set out the essential elements of good governance. Where there is clear evidence that funds are being mismanaged or misappropriated, MEFT has the power to suspend the conservancy’s accounts and/or restrict the use of funds until the problems have been investigated and resolved. Five conservancies’ accounts have been suspended thus far, pending resolution of their specific issues. Community conservation governance is supported by the Institutional Development Working Group, which monitors governance peformance. See the review and table below.

The MEFT and NACSO conduct integrated annual audits in all conservancies to assess whether wildlife and financial monitoring is taking place, and to monitor democratic representation through AGMs and gender balance. With 86 conservancies to cover, these audits cannot carry out financial book-keeping, which requires professional expertise.

An integrated audit in Salambala Conservancy
An integrated audit in Salambala Conservancy

The Institutional Development Working Group (IDWG)

The IDWG comprises experts in governance and natural resource management from NACSO members and the MEFT. Its purpose is to develop and guide institutional support to conservancies, in order to strengthen their governance structures, with particular reference to resource management, democracy, transparency and gender balance.

A review of 2020

Maintaining governance standards

Community conservation is an inherently social and democratic endeavour, which requires good communication between the members, their elected representatives, and those employed to run the operations. In normal years, this would include holding an Annual General Meeting (AGM), distributing benefits according to a Benefit Distribution Plan (BDP), reporting on the use of wildlife as per a Game Management Utilisation Plan (GMUP) and producing accurate financial reports. Conservancy Management Committees (CMCs) must also be elected every few years according to each conservancy’s constitution.

In early 2020, all of these activities were possible, but as restrictions relating to public gatherings tightened in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, AGMs that required a large quorum to take place were no longer possible. In conservancies where CMC elections were due, these had to be postponed. Furthermore, financial and movement restrictions greatly limited benefit distribution this year. Because conservancies were still hunting and receiving income from COVID relief grants, they were expected to comply with financial reporting requirements and game utilisation reporting regulations stipulated by MEFT.

Surprisingly, 19 conservancies managed to meet all of the compliance requirements of a normal year, either by holding their AGMs early in the year, or when restrictions eased enough to reach a small quorum (conservancies with fewer members have relatively small quorum requirements). Fifty conservancies met the two minimum compliance requirements for 2020 (game utilisation report and financial statement submitted). Some conservancies adapted to the public gathering restrictions by holding smaller meetings at village or block level to keep their members informed of the conservancy’s activities.

Besides monitoring compliance, conservancy support entities evaluate the conservancies they work with on other governance metrics (e.g. member engagement, accountability). These results reveal that several conservancies were rated as “poor” this year, which is a regression from 2019 when they were rated as “weak” or “moderate”. While some of these changes may be due to the pandemic and its related impacts of social and financial hardship, more attention must be paid to these underperforming conservancies.

Community conservation governance at a glance

At the end of 2020 there were:

  • 50 conservancy management plans in place
  • 26 sustainable business and financial management plans in place
  • 30 financial reports which had been presented at AGMs
  • 32 Annual General Meetings which had been held
  • 16% female chairpersons
  • 45% female treasures/financial managers
  • 34% female management committee members
  • 23% female staff members

      in communal conservancies in Namibia

The biggest challenges were:

  • Covid-19
  • Financial mismanagement
  • Non-compliance to the Standard Operating Procedures
  • Poor broad-based benefit distribution to conservancy members
  • Inadequate membership engagement

The capacity of government ministries and NACSO

Human and financial resources remain a challenge for supporting governance work in conservancies. However, NACSO’s Institutional Development Working Group (IDWG) has been revitalised, with clear terms of reference, a coordinator, work plan and an operational budget. The working group has secured funding from four different sources to strengthen conservancy governance and institutional management capacity. This increase in financial resources has enhanced support to conservancy governance, including AGMs, financial management, reviews of constitutions, improving membership engagement and promoting benefit distribution. Moreover, NACSO Conservation Leadership Programme interns assisted with conservancy integrated audits in Zambezi and Kunene regions, providing additional human resources to MET and NGO regional staff. 

Financial management

The Institutional Development Working Group (IDWG), which comprises members of NACSO and MEFT staff, continue to support good governance practices within communal conservancies through training and performance tracking. This year, funds from the CRRRF were provided to keep conservancies running, and financial reports were required for each quarter before each new tranche of funding was released for the next quarter. This tightened financial reporting for this year, which resulted in less unaccounted funds than in other years where only annual reports are required.

Lessons learned during 2020 were therefore taken into 2021, whereby more frequent financial reporting will be required for funds from all sources. The on-going support for financial reporting (known as “dripping tap” support) within conservancies has borne some fruit by reducing financial mismanagement. This support includes improving the bookkeeping skills of conservancy administrators and oversight capacity among elected treasurers. Nonetheless, more can be done to improve this aspect of governance by working at regional rather than national levels.

In 2020, the IDWG reached out to MEFT and other colleagues who work at regional levels to get a better understanding of why some conservancies regularly fail to meet the financial reporting standards. Each regional team was tasked with creating an action plan to work with underperforming conservancies to improve their financial reporting standards.

The information from regional MEFT and NGO staff provided a useful starting point for determining where the weaknesses lie in the support provided to conservancies. The current tools for assessing governance performance, which includes monitoring compliance and a questionnaire filled in by relevant support organisations are also being reviewed to ensure that these are accurate reflections of the governance status of each conservancy. The next step will be to aggregate the information from the regional to the national level and hold a think tank meeting on the way forward to provide better long-term support for this crucial part of the CBNRM programme.

* The MET operates a Self Reliance Scheme with money from its Game Products Trust Fund. Money is paid to conservancies, which they can add to with income from tourism and conservation hunting, if available and sufficient, to pay financial offsets to conservancy members who have suffered losses due to wildlife, e.g. loss of crops or livestock.

Annual General Meetings

In 2020, just over half of the conservancies were able to cover their operational costs, although 72% distributed some kind of benefits to their members (this includes meat from hunting). Only 40% of the reporting conservancies held their AGMs, due to COVID restrictions on public gathering. Only a third of the conservancies have sustainable business and financial plans, which is a concern for the remaining two-thirds of conservancies that could be addressed as part of the COVID recovery plan.

Category Number of conservancies Number of conservancies reporting Percentage of category
Registered conservancies (incl. Kyaramacan assoc.) 87 87 100
Conservancies generating returns (excluding grant income) 62 87 71
covering operational costs from own income 35 67 52
distributing cash or in-kind benefits to members, or investing in community projects 48 67 72
Conservancies with management plans 50 80 63
sustainable business and financial plans 26 80 33
Conservancy AGMs held 32 80 40
financial reports presented at AGM 30 80 38
financial reports approved at AGM 29 80 36
budgets approved at AGM 29 80 36

Governance indicators for 86 conservancies and the Kyaramacan Association. Number of conservancies are those that fall into the category (e.g. are covering operational costs) and conservancies reporting are those that have provided data for that category.

Gender balance

Women leadership in conservancies has increased slightly from last year, with 16% of 80 reporting conservancies being led by female chairpersons. A third of the committee members are women and nearly half (45%) of the treasurers and financial managers are women. This latter figure shows that women are trusted with the important task of working with conservancy finances. Less than a quarter of conservancy staff members are female, however, which is likely due to a bias towards male game guards.

Category Number of people Number of conservancies reporting Percentage of category
Conservancy managment committe members 954 80 100
female management committee members 324 80 34
female chairpersons 13 80 16
female treasurers/financial managers 36 80 45
Conservancy staff members 1057 80 100
female staff members 247 80 23

Gender balance within conservancy structures for 80 reporting conservancies. The percentage of category is the proportion of females out of the total number of people in that category (e.g. 324 female committee members out of 954 total committee members).

Training and certification

While the evaluation process still needs to be refined according to the Namibia Qualifications Authority requirements, basic game guard certificates have been issued to 234 game guards. The programme expects to expand training and evaluation services to other key players within conservancies, including managers. Therefore, NACSO initiated the process of registering as a section 21 company, to provide necessary training services. 

During the year 2018, various trainings were carried out to improve conservancy governance. These include training for MET and NGO field staff on how to monitor financial management in conservancies and how to understand financial management cycles; training for conservancies on basic bookkeeping, accounting systems and filing; monitoring the quality of financial statements; the role of audits in demonstrating a commitment to transparency, accountability and demonstrating credibility and, overall, to enhance their understanding of the principles of financial management. 

The Sustainable Communities Partnership Programme piloted a leadership-training programme in Zambezi Region, primarily targeting conservancy managers in 9 conservancies within the Mudumu North and South complexes. A total of 32 people, mainly managers and treasurers, were trained to enforce day-to-day conservancy management operations. In the north central regions Community Based Organisations were trained in basic computer usage and proposal writing. As a result, three conservancies and two community forests were successful in applying for the climate change grants from the Environmental Investment Fund through the Empower to Adapt project, receiving a total of about 17 million Namibia Dollars in grants.

A comparison with previous years shows that conservancy management capacities fluctuate, influenced by staff and committee changes, as well as the degree of external support. Many conservancies have strong and growing female participation, and a substantial number of conservancies that used to be dependent on grant aid are now covering operational costs from their own income, with many also distributing benefits to members or investing in community projects. Figures include the Kyaramacan Association, which operates as a de facto conservancy within Bwabwata National Park.

Overall institutional compliance

Conservation management performance ratings

The IDWG instituted a governance performance review procedure based on objective evaluations from people who have worked closely with the conservancies they are evaluating. The new questionnaire for external evaluators includes specific questions about each of the five key governance issues – holding an AGM, free and fair committee elections, benefit distribution, game management and utilisation, and accurate financial reporting.

Overall commitment and good governance
Aggregate results of the 2020 governance performance review, which included specific questions on member engagement, benefit planning and distribution, accountability, engagement with stakeholders (e.g. joint venture partners) and financial management.

Overall institutional compliance

Each conservancy must report to MEFT on all five of these key recurrent compliance requirements annually. The institutional compliance of conservancies was measured by two (financial reporting and game management and use reporting), rather than the usual four (the above two plus holding AGMs and presenting benefit distribution plans), metrics during 2020. AGMs and benefit distribution were not possible for many conservancies due to COVID-19 restrictions. Nonetheless, 19 conservancies complied with the usual four requirements despite COVID.

Institutional performance compliance

A community forest is declared under the Forest Act of 2001 based on a forest management agreement between the community and the Ministry (formerly the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, but now the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism). The Directorate of Forestry is mandated to support communities that want to establish community forests, ensure that they comply with legal requirements once established, and to monitor their performance over time. Traditional Authorities (TAs) and Communal Land Boards are key stakeholders that community forests must engage, since the rights granted to a community forest overlap with the powers granted to TAs and Land Boards.

Overall community forest governance
Overall community forest governance


In terms of governance, Standard Operating Procedures exist to maintain a standard of operations for community forests throughout Namibia. Each community forest must have a constitution and an elected management authority, which functions in the same way as a conservancy management committee. The Forest Management Plan (FMP) lays out how the forest resources will be used sustainably both by members of the community forest and nonmembers (provided the latter pay for a permit). Annual General Meetings are held to approve a budget that includes a Benefit Distribution Plan and the presentation of annual financial statements.

Conservancies and community forests can overlap extensively or entirely, which gives the community living in those areas rights to use both wildlife and plant resources for their benefit. In cases where the boundaries of the conservancy and the community forest match, the conservancy committee doubles as the forest management authority and the management plans are integrated into one overall plan (with one chapter for the FMP and one for the GMUP) and governance activities like AGMs are done jointly. Each entity nonetheless maintains its own constitution, although these are closely aligned (e.g. definition of membership are the same).

Following the Inland Fisheries Resources Act No 1 of 2003, the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) can declare a section of a river as a community fisheries reserve. Before a reserve proposal is submitted to the Minister, the community that wants the reserve must prepare several key documents and obtain approval from the relevant Traditional Authority and Regional Governor. Upon declaration, a locally elected Inland Fisheries Committee (IFC) is granted the power to monitor and regulate fishing practices on behalf of their community. Where fisheries reserves are established within conservancies, the Conservancy Management Committee could also function as the Inland Fisheries Committee (IFC).

Each fisheries reserve must have a constitution that determines how the reserve will be managed, its objectives, and the powers of the IFC. Although the main purpose of establishing a fisheries reserve is to protect a valuable resource for subsistence use, some reserves may generate income by entering agreements with tourism operators that wish to offer catch-and-release fishing as an activity. In cases where income generation is likely, the reserve must have its own account and budget (linked with a benefit distribution plan), while financial statements should be reported at AGMs.

The fisheries reserve management plan outlines the specific areas on the river that are designated as reserves and the rules and regulations pertaining to fishing in the reserve. Each community may decide how strict these laws should be (as long as they are in line with Namibian law) and what kind of fishing equipment is allowed. For example, all fishing (regardless of equipment used) could be banned within the reserve all year round or seasonally, or some fishing could be permitted within certain limits.

The key staff members in a fisheries reserve are fish guards and monitors. Fish guards are delegated power from MFMR to stop and board fishing boats when they suspect illegal fishing, seize boats or gear that have been used for this purpose, or seize any fish that are caught illegally. The task of fish monitors is to record legal catches made by local fishers on a regular basis to keep track of fish stocks. Reports from fish guards and monitors on their patrols and data collection should be provided regularly at community meetings to evaluate whether or not the reserve is achieving its objectives.

Governance Milestones

The following governance milestones must be met before a fisheries reserve can be formally declared:

  • Meetings held with community members and external stakeholders to gauge interest in establishing a fisheries reserve
  • Inland Fisheries Committee elected by the community
  • Proposed boundaries of reserve demarcated and mapped with a GPS
  • Constitution developed and signed
  • Fish guards and monitors appointed
  • Reserve management plan developed
This page was last updated on: 18th February 2022