Resources are used sustainably
In rural areas people depend upon subsistence farming and natural resources. Conservancy management has facilitated large-scale wildlife recoveries and enables the protection of valuable species and intact wildlife habitats.
Charismatic African wildlife is one of Namibia’s greatest and internationally competitive resources. Healthy populations of wildlife (including the Big Five: elephant, rhino, buffalo, leopard and lion) create a tourism value that is not easily surpassed by other land uses. Other rare and valuable species such as cheetah, wild dog, roan and sable antelope further increase that value. The effective management of this immeasurable resource lies at the heart of community conservation.
Resource monitors are employed by community forests to conduct patrols, report illegal harvesting activities and assist with taking forest resource inventories. The Forest Management Plan includes a zonation plan that delimits which areas may be harvested, an annual allowable cut indicating the number of live trees, poles and dead wood to be harvested, and a Conditions of Use section that includes restrictions, penalties for illegal use and permit prices for forest resources. The resource monitors are tasked with monitoring these activities to ensure that the people using the forest resources are doing so in accordance with these plans.
Each community forest should complete a forest inventory every five years to establish the current state of their forest resources and thus guide the issuing of harvest permits. The National Forest Inventory team from the Directorate of Forestry (DoF) officials take the lead in this process and provide training for resource monitors and community members to collect the necessary data.
Completing an inventory is a time- and labour-intensive task, as teams of people are sent to sample plots marked on a GPS to collect detailed information on the trees within a radius of 20m of the GPS point. Within this radius, every tree that is greater than 10cm in diameter at breast height (DBH = 1.3m from the ground) is identified to species level and measured in terms of its log length (i.e. the useable part of the tree were it to be harvested). Saplings that fall between 5-10cm in DBH are identified and measured and even smaller seedlings of species that could become trees are measured within a radius of 10m from the GPS point. Qualitative data is also collected from each sample area, as trained observers describe the site in terms of its potential for grazing, timber harvesting, non-timber forest products, among other general descriptions.
This exercise requires 4-5 days of initial training for the data collectors and several days in the field to cover many sample sites – the number of sites depends on the size of the forest, accuracy required and resources available. The forest inventory should be conducted every 5-10 years for each community forest and included in an updated Forest Management Plan (FMP). Due to financial constraints in the community forests and the DoF, only 19 of the 43 registered community forests have up-to-date forest inventories. Five more are expected to complete their forest inventories by end of the DoF 2021/2022 financial year.
Flourishing flora, including forest resources, is an extremely valuable asset for many rural communities. Woodlands in the north and north-east contain a variety of valuable trees such as kiaat and Zambezi teak with commercial timber value, while burkea and ushivi are used for construction. A growing range of veld products includes devil’s claw tubers, used as a herbal remedy and omumbiri (Commiphora wildii) resin utilised by the perfume industry.
Harvesting of plant products is regulated through a licensing system and user groups have formed to coordinate harvesting and marketing activities. International corporations are searching the globe for new biological ingredients for their products, an activity called bio-prospecting. While this is likely to open further opportunities within the plant sector, bio-prospecting needs to be carefully controlled.
Community fish reserves
A wide variety of fish are found in Namibia’s northern rivers, including such sport-angling favourites as tigerfish, catfish and bream. Inland fisheries are an important food resource for communities. Fish productivity in rivers is being improved by creating community fish reserves that facilitate undisturbed breeding.
Fish guards and fish monitors work together to reduce illegal fishing and assess the status of fish stocks in the fisheries reserves. By protecting parts of the river that are important for fish breeding or ecosystem function, fish stocks in the rest of the river are likely to recover. This allows fishing to continue on other parts of the river and, if done sustainably, should result in better catches both in terms of the size and numbers of fish caught over time.
Fish guards are tasked with regularly patrolling the reserve to detect illegal fishing activities and remove illegal nets from the river. They are therefore trained as fish inspectors and thus greatly increase the capacity of Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) to control illegal fishing. Where arrests are required, the fish guards would work together with MFMR inspectors and the police.
Fish monitors collect data on legal fish catches on a regular (weekly or twice a week) basis by visiting boat landing sites in their area to find out how much fish was caught using what methods. They are trained by fisheries scientists to accurately identify fish species and fill out data collection sheets. Adaptive management principles can then be applied based on the information collected over time. The monitor’s data sheets are archived at the local MFMR offices to be kept for future reference. Monitoring data from the fisheries reserve in Sikunga Conservancy reveal that fish catch rates have increased up to five times within the reserve and doubled in fishing areas adjacent to the reserve.
Conservation during a pandemic
Global pandemics, international travel restrictions and national lockdowns do not directly affect the function of our natural ecosystems, but the indirect effects could have been dire. Conservancies are heavily reliant on international visitors for their income, which was all but halted soon after March 2020. International travel restrictions thus threatened to shut conservancies down altogether, resulting in no patrols, no response to human-wildlife conflict and a dramatic increase in rural poverty that could lead to a spike in wildlife crime.
The pandemic came hot on the heels of a multi-year drought, which is still affecting the north-western parts of the country. The drought massively reduced livestock and wildlife numbers, impoverished many rural households throughout Namibia and intensified human-wildlife conflict. The year 2020 thus provided a stern test to the resilience of the Namibian community-based model of natural resource management.
For the Natural Resource Working Group (NRWG), the challenge was to continue monitoring activities for wildlife, plant and fish resources, while keeping a close watch on human-wildlife conflict and wildlife crime. All of these activities rely on conservancy employees who spend most of their time in the field – game guards, resource monitors, fish monitors and guards. Securing funding for conservancies to pay these critical workers through the CRRRF was therefore essential to ensuring that conservation continued despite the global pandemic.
Natural resource management at a glance
At the end of 2020 there were...
- 83 conservancies and one association using the Event Book monitoring tool
- 54 conservancies conducting annual game counts
- 50 conservancies with a game management and utilisation plan
- 45 conservancies with a zonation plan
- 763 game guards and resource monitors working in conservancies
- 50 conservancy management plans in place
- 45 conservancies with conservation hunting concessions
The biggest challenges were…
- Drought continued to have a devastating impact on wildlife populations in north-west Namibia
- Depressed wildlife numbers in the north-west resulted in reduced meat and financial benefits to conservancies
- Reduced prey has caused predators to attack livestock – eroding support for conservation
- Wildlife crime prevention is proving successful – but costly – and efforts to counter crime must be continuously upgraded
- Land invasions by farmers seeking grazing are threatening the existence of areas reserved for wildlife
- Many conservancies are not fully compliant with MEFT regulations
The severe and on-going drought continued to have a devastating impact on wildlife populations in north-west Namibia, with mortalities and almost no successful breeding taking place. The depressed wildlife population numbers in the north-west have resulted in wildlife offtake quotas remaining low or at zero, which has in turn reduced meat and financial benefits to conservancies. In addition, the depressed wildlife numbers have caused predators to seek alternative prey, therefore driving up livestock losses. The reduced benefits and increased human-wildlife conflict (HWC) has eroded community (and some political) support for a wildlife-based economy, which is a major concern. It is essential that more support effort be put into mitigating HWC. However, diminished funding to CBNRM support organisations is making it extremely difficult to respond to this challenge in a systematic and sustainable manner.
As criminal syndicates have penetrated into Namibia from other African countries, wildlife crime remains a significant challenge. On the positive side, rhino poaching in the north-west communal areas has been stopped through community support and increased anti-poaching effort by all partners including law enforcement, NGOs and communities. In north-east Namibia, however, elephant poaching continues. Whilst this is still below the level that would affect the sustainability of the population, it nevertheless remains a challenge. The Combatting Wildlife Crime Project partners have responded to wildlife crime across the country and inroads are starting to be made, but the project partners will need to respond quickly to the ever changing dynamics that are characteristic of international crime.
Land invasions and customary land-right registration in areas zoned for wildlife are threatening those areas and the wildlife found there. Unless this is mitigated, it will negatively impact the benefits from both the sustainable use of wildlife as well as tourism, which will have the potential to undermine wildlife as a land-use option.
Natural resource management standards as set out in MET’s new Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) is a challenge with a number of conservancies now no longer being fully compliant. Bringing these conservancies up to standard will require significant effort from an already overstretched and under-funded CBNRM support team. As an example: of the 57 conservancies that have game utilisation management plans, the new SOP’s indicate that many are out of date and several are more than five years old, a situation that the MEFT is working to address.