Sources of Returns

The terminology of income, benefits and returns

For clarity, the following terms are consistently used in this report:

Income – indicates cash income received as payment for goods or services, either by organisations or individuals

Benefits – indicates benefits distributed by a conservancy as dividends or social benefits, or by the private sector as fringe benefits and donations; these go to communities or individual households and can be divided into three types:

  1. cash benefits are dividends paid to conservancy members from conservancy income
  2. in-kind benefits include meat distribution and fringe benefits from tourism employment such as staff housing, etc.
  3. social benefits are investments in community initiatives including education facilities, health services, etc.

Returns – combine income and benefits and indicate overall returns, either to individuals, communities or conservancies.

Total returns to conservancies and members

Total returns
Total returns to conservancies and members excluding relief grants. 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).


Lessons learned for diversifying livelihoods

In 2020, craft sales that rely heavily on tourism dropped by 98%, while the sales of indigenous plant products to other markets dropped by only 31% when compared with 2019. Similarly, community-based tourism enterprises experienced an 88% income drop when compared with 2019.

These comparisons reveal the critical importance of spreading income sources as much as possible to reduce financial risks within the programme. Community enterprises that rely solely on tourism income are the most vulnerable to a downturn in international arrivals, while those that use resources either directly (e.g. game harvesting) or for sale to non-tourist markets (e.g. plant products) were more resilient.

Sources of returns to conservancies and their members in 2020

Source of cash income and in-kind benefits Amount 2020 N$ Percentage Amount 2019 N$ Covid impact (% decline)*
Joint-venture tourism (includes all cash income to conservancies and members) 46,453,579 48.2 93,486,012 50.3
Conservation hunting (includes all cash income and meat to conservancies and members) 26,988,405 28.0 39,480,595 31.6
Game harvesting for meat, conflict animals and live sales 4,646,025 4.8 6,363,201 27.0
Miscellaneous (e.g. bank interest) 1,944,569 2.0 1,974,239 0.6
Indigenous plant products 1,482,160 1.5 2,155,377 31.2
Community-based tourism 917,806 1.0 7,569,429 87.9
Crafts 29,250 0.0 1,420,496 97.9
Grants 13,838,384 14.4 n/a n/a
TOTAL 96,300,178 100 152,449,349  

*COVID impact is the percentage decline experienced in each category when compared with 2019 figures.

Varied sources of natural resource returns

Four sample conservancies illustrate the large variation between conservancies in sources of natural resource returns.

The "Cash income and in-kind benefits" bar charts show total cash income and in-kind benefits over time, and the "Sources of returns" pie charts illustrate the ratios between sources of returns. The "Disbursements" bar charts show disbursements within conservancies, which also vary considerably. While some conservancies pay out substantial cash benefits to households, others provide broader social benefits to resident communities.

For consistency, the same four conservancies are shown annually.

Cash income and in-kind benefits

Note that the y-axis scale differs between the charts.

Returns Khoadi
Returns  Salambala
Returns Torra
Returns Nyae Nyae

Sources of returns in 2019

Income breakdown Khoadi


Income breakdown Salambala


Income breakdown Torra


Income breakdown Nyae Nyae

Nyae Nyae

Returns legend

Disbursements in 2019

Disbursement Khoadi
Disbursement Salambala
Disbursements legend

Returns from tourism and consumptive wildlife use

Benefit flows in conservancies. A schematic diagram showing income flows from tourism and conservation hunting to communities.
Benefit flows in conservancies. A schematic diagram showing income flows from tourism and conservation hunting to communities. The size of the arrows is in proportion to the size of income flows, based on average figures for conservancies in 2011-2013. Figure adapted from Naidoo et al. (2016). Complementary benefits of tourism and hunting to communal conservancies in Namibia. Conservation Biology. 30: 628-638.


Tourism and consumptive wildlife use generate the largest portions of conservancy returns. The merits of hunting as a conservation tool compared to photographic tourism are often debated intensely. CBNRM emphasises the importance of using the broadest range of indigenous resources possible, in order to enhance their value and ensure their protection, as well as the protection of large areas of natural habitat.

The Namibian model illustrates the value of generating returns from both tourism and the consumptive use of wildlife. Rising returns are facilitated through strategic partnerships with the private sector, which offers specialised skills and market linkages. Capacity building and skills transfer create further benefits.

Conservation hunting and photographic tourism were both negatively affected by COVID-19, although hunting to a lesser degree. Income from these industries also flows differently: the conservancy’s operating costs are more reliant on hunting fees than tourism fees, while tourism is a major source of employment for conservancy members. Additionally, whereas meat distribution benefits a large number of people who are not necessarily employed, other in-kind benefits from tourism are more limited to lodge staff members. Hunting and photographic tourism are therefore considered to be complementary sources of income and neither industry can fully replace the other.

Maintaining key partnerships in a pandemic

In some cases, hunting outfitters had paid conservancies before the COVID pandemic reached Namibia in March 2020 for hunts that were yet to be conducted (under the guaranteed section of the quota) and game harvesting continued, thus reducing the financial losses from this sector. While income from wildlife use dropped by about a third, income from joint venture tourism partners crashed by two-thirds. Overall returns from tourism halved (this includes salaries and other benefits to members), while hunting returns dipped by a third. Non-monetary (in-kind) benefits to members, which include game meat from hunting and housing in tourism, slumped in both sectors.

The full impact on joint-venture tourism was reduced through support from the CRRRF. Joint venture partners in photographic tourism are major employers in these rural areas, and as the lockdowns wore on thousands of jobs in this sector were threatened. Some of the COVID relief funds were therefore directed to support local staff at joint venture lodges to minimise job losses during this time, while other relief funds were used to purchase crafts from women who relied on this source of income prior to the pandemic.

Agreements with all conservancy partners needed amendment once it became clear that international travel restrictions would last too long for recovery during 2020. Both hunting and tourism operations had to adjust their prices to attract more domestic hunters and tourists, which meant that less money was available to pay conservancy fees and employees. These partnerships are nonetheless critical for the post-COVID recovery period, so providing some leeway in the contracts was required to maintain the conservancy-operator partnerships.

The complementary roles of sustainable consumptive wildlife use and joint-venture tourism operations

The figures compare the benefits generated by these two important sectors since the commencement of conservancy creation in 1998.

Returns from tourism and sustainable wildlife use
Total returns generated by communal conservancies and their members from hunting and photographic tourism. Returns from the two sectors dropped in 2020, although the extent of the decline was much greater for tourism than for wildlife use.
Cash income to conservancies
Total cash payments to conservancies from hunting and tourism joint-venture operators. Cash fees paid from tourism operators dropped precipitously in 2020, while fees from hunting operators declined by a third.
Cash income to households
Payments to conservancy members employed in tourism and hunting sectors in conservancies. The decline in tourism due to COVID-19 threatened employment in rural areas. Consequently, some of the CRRRF funding supported salaries for joint-venture employees.
In-kind benefits to households
In-kind benefits to conservancy members from tourism and hunting. Benefits from both sources declined in 2020. Fewer conservation hunts led to less meat for distribution, while tourism operators were less able to afford in-kind benefits for their staff.

Reliance on conservation hunting and photographic tourism

Map of reliance on conservation hunting and photographic tourism, and grants
In 2020, many conservancies relied heavily on grant funding, although some were still generating income from hunting and tourism (particularly in the early parts of 2020 before international travel restrictions).

International visitors are a high value market for both photographic and hunting operators, and this sector has been the focus of most operators in conservancies in the past. Due to international travel restrictions, many conservancies relied almost entirely on external financial assistance received through the CRRRF. To buffer future potential impacts, conservancies need to diversify sources of income, and one way to do this is to create more products for the domestic market. Cheaper hunting safaris and discount accommodation rates for Namibian or southern African visitors were required during the lockdown, and more of this kind of tourism might be required in future.

The importance of consumptive wildlife use income

Other potential challenges to these industries include the pressure to ban hunting and prevent trophy imports to key hunting markets, and the pressure on international flights due to climate concerns. The latter concern is more problematic for the photographic tourism industry, as larger numbers of visitors are required in this industry than in the hunting industry to generate a similar level of income. Trophy import bans threaten income from the hunting industry and if hunting were not available as a source of income in 2020, many more conservancies would not have been able to cover their operating costs.

Several conservancies that have no income in a usual year received some support through the CRRRF. However, external funding is unlikely to meet the financial needs of all conservancies and community forests in the long term. A better strategy is to create diverse revenue streams that rely on different markets, while meeting any critical financial shortfalls or providing support to conservancies that are not yet generating their own income through grants.

Cash income generated by conservancies in 2020. This includes income from the CRRRF and other grants.
Cash income generated by conservancies in 2020. This includes income from the CRRRF and other grants. The grants supported more conservancies than those that are able to generate income independently through either tourism or hunting.
The status of cash income under a hypothetical scenario of a hunting ban. Note that grants are still included.
The status of cash income under a hypothetical scenario of a hunting ban. Note that grants are still included.
This page was last updated on: 18th February 2022