Conservancies, community forests and other legally recognised community conservation initiatives have created effective formal structures for democratically managing communal resources.
Who manages what?
A democratic resource management model
Good governance of resources depends upon the people mandated. It is crucial that community conservation organisations are run in the interests of their members rather than those of a small elite. Democratic governance means that members participate in the most important decisions such as approving budgets and the distribution of returns. Committees need to be accountable to the members who elect them and there needs to be good, transparent financial management. Democratic governance also means that when committees are not accountable or transparent, members are able to remedy the situation.
Each conservancy and community forest has its own constitution, which guides the management committee and staff.
The written constitution stipulates how often AGMs should be held, how many members constitute a quorum, and may include provision for different areas of a conservancy to be represented at an AGM. Essential elements of a constitution are:
- The holding of annual general meetings
- A game management and utilisation plan
- A procedure for the election & removal of members of the conservancy committee
- A procedure for equitable distribution of benefits
- Provisions for managing finances, including:
- appointment of a treasurer experienced in bookkeeping
- keeping of proper accounting records
- preparation of annual financial statements
- opening of bank account in the name of the conservancy
- a procedure for determining the use of derived income
Annual general meetings provide a vital platform for establishing democratic governance in community conservation organisations, and must be held in compliance with the constitution. At AGMs, management committee elections are held, annual budgets and financial statements are approved by members, issues are discussed and decisions are taken. The AGM fosters a positive relationship with members, facilitates accountability, and helps to avoid mismanagement, capture of resources by elites, and corruption. In rural areas with settlements often far apart, it is important for voices to be heard at the AGM from residents who are unused to large gatherings and who may not be vocal, particularly women. Area or block meetings are used by some conservancies to allow issues to be discussed in smaller groups, prior to the AGM. In some conservancies, a quorum cannot be constituted unless each area or block is represented. Communal Conservancies and community forests elect management committees in accordance with the constitution. Usually, a management committee sits for one year, and members can be re-elected at the AGM.
This democratic model can be endangered by three factors:
- Elite capture: when residents with more wealth or power than others dominate the committee and serve several terms, allowing them to benefit from sitting allowances and possibly to influence business decisions.
- Recycling of committee members: whether or not the committee members benefit from re-selection, other residents may feel excluded and lose interest in conservancy matters when the same committee members regularly take decisions.
- Lack of handover: when committee member are replaced – and sometimes whole committees – there is often an inadequate handover and loss of experience, meaning that new members have to ‘learn on the job’.
Many conservancies have joint-venture operation with private sector tour operators or professional hunters. Managers, particularly treasurers and enterprise officers, have to engage with the private sector and its sophisticated accounting techniques. In rural areas where there is little or no cash economy, staff positions may be highly prized. Not only do they bring income, but also experience in running a business, which may be useful to the individual when looking for other work. As with committee members, conservancy residents, through the AGM, have to guard against the tendency for management to recycle itself, and should ensure that competent managers are appointed, and act transparently.
Community forests are managed in the same way as conservancies. Most community forests overlap conservancies, and many do so completely.
The Forestry Act of 2001 and the Forestry Amendment Act of 2005 enable the registration of community forests through a written agreement between the Directorate of Forestry and a committee elected by a community with traditional rights over a defined area of land.
The agreement is based on an approved management plan that outlines the use of resources. All residents of community forests have equal access to the forest and the use of its produce. Community forests have the right to control the use of all forest products, as well as grazing, cropping and the building of infrastructure within the classified forest.
The Directorate of Forestry may declare a community forest as a fire management area, in which case the management committee of the forest takes on the responsibility of a fire management committee to implement an approved fire management plan.
Community fish reserves
The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources regulates the use of all inland fisheries and their resources. A legal framework has been developed to enable communities to register rights and management authority over these resources. Several conservancies are supporting the management of fisheries in the Zambezi Region (formerly Caprivi).
Fish reserves are patrolled by fish guards who have three main functions: to prevent illegal fishing by their presence, to collect illegal nets and call the ministry officials to confiscate them, and to apprehend people who are fishing illegally. Fish guards do not have the power of arrest, and have to call upon ministry officials or the police to arrest criminals.
Fish reserves in the Zambezi and Chobe rivers act as breeding channels for young fish. Overfishing has not only led to lower catches for legitimate local fishermen, with much of the illegal catch going to markets as far away as the Congo, it also threatens sport angling, which is an important source of revenue to conservancies through joint ventures with lodges specialising in angling.
There is currently only one community association: The Kyaramacan Association. Although it operates in the same way as a conservancy, it is situated inside Bwabwata National Park, which straddles the north-east regions of Kavango east and Zambezi.
The Kyaramacan Association benefits from a hunting concession inside the park, which was formerly a game management area, and is divided into core areas, where wildlife is protected, and a multiple-use area where residents, predominantly Khwe San people, are allowed to keep small stock and to grow crops.