Buffering livelihoods against the impact of COVID-19
The main sources of returns for communal conservancies relate to international arrivals, either directly or indirectly. Photographic tourism, conservation hunting, and craft industries are all reliant on international customers. Global travel restrictions and closed borders thus had a huge impact on the ability of conservancies and their members to generate economic returns. Consequently, conservancy cash and in-kind benefits nearly halved in 2020 compared to 2019. The impact would have been much greater without financial assistance from the Conservation Relief, Recovery, and Resilience Facility (CRRRF).
Total returns from community conservation
The total cash income and in-kind benefits generated in conservancies (including the Kyaramacan Association) grew from less than N$ 1 million in 1998 to over N$ 150 million in 2019 but shrank significantly in 2020 and 2021. This includes all directly measurable income and inkind benefits being generated, and can be divided into cash income to conservancies including the Kyaramacan Association (mostly through partnerships with private sector operators), cash income to residents from enterprises (mostly through employment and the sale of products), and as in-kind benefits to residents (mostly the distribution of harvested game meat). Relief grants are excluded.
The people living within a community forest have the right to use the plant resources within the forest, provided they follow the guidelines within the Forest Management Plan. This Plan includes Conditions of Use, which outline what plant resources members and non-members of the Community Forest can use, provided they obtain the necessary permission (e.g. timber harvesting requires payment for permits).
Besides income from permits, community forests may develop livelihood projects for their members with their own or donor funding, several of which reduce their members’ reliance on timber products and thus reduce the pressure on their forests. These include brick-making (to reduce the need for wooden poles for construction), agricultural cooperatives, processing non-timber forest products to add value, and bush thinning projects, among others.
Freshwater fish are an important part of the diets of people living in north-eastern Namibia (especially if crops fail), an additional source of income, and as part of cultural and social activities. Fish provide protein and micronutrients that are not otherwise easily obtainable for subsistence farmers, thus reducing the prevalence of malnutrition. Research has shown that fish was consumed almost daily 20-30 years ago, but only once a week in recent years.
This resource is under threat due to overfishing, as it is increasingly being exploited for commercial rather than subsistence purposes. Commercial fishers often come from elsewhere (other parts of the country or even other countries) and will move on to other rivers when fish stocks are depleted. Furthermore, the use of monofilament nets quickly results in overfishing, as they are three times more efficient in catching fish than multifilament gillnets (using monofilament nets is illegal in Namibia). Granting local people the rights to prevent or restrict fishing in certain key parts of the river and prevent the use of damaging fishing gear will thus sustain the long-term use of fish resources for local communities.
Recreational catch-and-release fishing is offered as an activity by lodges in this part of Namibia, which may contribute directly or indirectly to rural livelihoods through payment for fishing licenses or employment. Fishing tourism stands to benefit from the presence of fisheries reserves, as more mature fish will be available to tourist fishers. With a formally established reserve, the community can generate income through fishing permits and agreements with local operators that facilitate recreational fishing.
New in 2021
The NACSO BELWG is facilitating the Business and Financial Sustainability Plans (BFSP) to targeted conservancies. The process identifies the business opportunities of the conservancy, as well as conducting the financial planning of their longterm costs and investments. Conservancies are assisted in developing five-year plans that align income opportunities with the expenditure needs. BFSP can be used to build resilience, i.e., to set aside current year funds for the following year and thereby build a buffer. With these plans in place, conservancies will know where they stand in terms of finances and where they would like to be in the future. A behavioural change can also be observed on how conservancies allocate, use, and reserve their funds, while building resistance to shocks.
For example, Wuparo conservancy’s BFSP was approved at their AGM, and at the end of their financial year, they used the tracking tool to assess whether their performance was within the targets. Currently 26 conservancies are using the BFSPs. However more work needs to be done to get more income earning conservancies to implement these plans.
COVID-19 highlighted the need for a stable local tourism market. Several conservancies’ joint venture lodges worked to develop a foothold in the local market by offering specials to attract Namibian and SADC residents. For example, Gondwana Collection, Wild Waters, and Ultimate Safaris are three of several tourism operators that tapped into the local market and created packages that would match the Namibian public’s desire to explore within their financial means. This was a great way to continue operations and retain jobs in joint venture lodges while giving Namibians an opportunity to explore community conservation tourism establishments.
The Homegrown product is a new initiative that encourages travellers to experience communal conservancies through the eyes of local guides and community members. The premise of Homegrown is to develop a new market for local conservancybased tour guides and provide training that ensures the safety of guests and community members alike in the post-COVID-19 world. Although Homegrown’s pilot project was stalled due to funding, there are plans to revive the initiative.
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The work of the Conservation Relief Recovery Resilience Facility (CRRRF) led by the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism is a great example of collaboration between stakeholders, which rallied support for the communal conservancies when COVID struck. This facility contributed by providing relief to conservancies in the form of grants to the CBNRM program. CRRRF also proved to be an opportunity to share skills, build capacities, grow networks, save costs, and share workloads at various levels during a challenging time.
Going forward, the diversification of income streams will be key to the continued success of conservancies and the wildlife economy model. Conservancies need to rethink the reliance on tourism and hunting as primary income sources and re-examine the impact of conservation on their livelihoods. For example, building smaller economies at a local level and creating macroeconomic businesses that integrate sustainable practices could have an impact in conservancies that isn’t reliant on global travel. Participation in approaches such as Wildlife Credits also provides income at a conservancy and/or individual level, rewarding wildlife stewards while at the same time reinforcing the importance of continued conservation efforts.
The total returns to conservancies are divided into cash income to conservancies including the Kyaramacan Association (mostly through partnerships with private sector operators), cash income to residents from enterprises (mostly through employment and the sale of products), and in-kind benefits to residents (mostly the distribution of harvested game meat). The cash payments to conservancies and their residents, and the monetised value of in-kind benefits increased in 2021 after a stark decrease in 2020, which indicates the resilience of the programme.
2021: Business and Livelihoods at a Glance
- 64 joint-venture tourism enterprises with 774 full time and 62 part time employees
- 47 conservation hunting concessions with 130 full time and 188 part time employees
- 8 small/medium enterprises with b full time employees
- 998 conservancy employees
- 1008 conservancy representatives receiving allowances
- 378 craft producers
- Conservancies generated total cash income and in-kind benefits to rural communities of N$91,745,778 in 2021. Of this:
- conservation hunting generated N$35,219,699;
- tourism generated N$53,838,083;
- indigenous plants N$1,029,191, and
- other income generated N$1,658,805
- Conservancy residents earned a total cash income of N$54,435,785 from enterprise wages:
- Of which N$25,966,819 was from joint venture tourism, N$26,492,704 from conservancies, N$1,877,262 from conservation hunting and N$99,000 from SMEs
- Conservancy residents earned a total cash income of N$1,029,191 from indigenous plants and N$708,900 from crafts
- 326,295 kg of game meat worth N$9,267,048 was distributed to conservancy residents
- N$11,572,810 in cash benefits was distributed to conservancy residents and used to support community projects