Natural Resource Management

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.

Resources are used sustainably
A lion caught in a camera trap in Mashi Conservancy by WWF photographer Will Burrard-Lucas

Community forests

Forests play a crucial role in mitigating climate change, fighting desertification and land degradation, preserving water sources, conserving biodiversity, food security and nutrition, as well as generating income and providing employment.

As part of the CBNRM programme, the community forest initiative empowers communities by providing rights over land and natural resources, building skills and capacity, establishing community decision-making bodies, promoting community advocacy, and enabling women to take up leadership positions. It contributes to rural development and poverty reduction by providing communities with income for social welfare projects or infrastructure development.

In Namibia forests and savannas cover approximately 22.8 million hectares of which a total area of 8.7 million hectares (38.2%) in 43 community forests is gazetted. Namibians in rural areas depend on forest resources for food and shelter, thus priority should be given to sustainable forest management through gazetting more lands under community-based forest management and increasing efforts to involve local communities in the ownership and sustainable management of forests and wildlife.

Eleven Community Forest office facilities have been constructed in Zambezi, Kavango-East, Kavango-West and Otjozondjupa Regions. The MEFT in collaboration with KfW (German Development Bank) through the Community Forest Namibia Phase II project has been supporting the construction of the community forests' facilities. The facilities consist of offices as well as storage and craft shops in some areas. These amounted to a total infrastructure investment of N$22,118,582. The facilities are vital for the sustainable management of forests and the upliftment of rural communities’ lives.


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.

Harvesting Commiphora wildii in Marienfluss Conservancy
Harvesting Commiphora wildii in Marienfluss Conservancy

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.

Resources are used sustainably
Devil’s Claw, named after its sharp hooks. Below the ground is a tuber. Photo: Patrick Bentley
Fish guard
Fish guard
Resources are used sustainably
Resources are used sustainably

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.

Monitoring in conservancies

The Event Book allows game guards with low literacy, but strong local knowledge of wildlife and the environment, to gather sophisticated data which is analysed and returned to communities as part of the adaptive management process.

The Event Book monitoring system

New in 2021

MEFT Wildlife Corridors Strategy launched on 9 April The strategy provides details on the area’s corridors and their importance in reducing HWC, securing the wildlife economy, maintaining habitat connectivity and conserving wildlife.
Elephant National Management Plan launched in November 2021 With support from the KfW, the MEFT developed a new National Elephant Conservation and Management Plan. The plan provides for new approaches to the conservation and management of elephants such as the creation of regional elephant management structures mainly in the areas identified as elephant conflict hotspots. These structures are designed to involve landholders in the management and mitigation of challenges associated with living with elephants. The Plan was launched in November 2021 by the Honourable Minister Pohamba Shifeta at Susuwe in Bwabwata National Park.
Human Wildlife Conflict (HWC) Registers The Human Wildlife Conflict (HWC) Registers were introduced by MEFT regional coordinators in most conservancies in 2020/21. Conservancies are using the registers to record more detailed data of HWC in conservancies, such as what type of livestock was killed by what type of predator, and how much was spent paying for damage caused by problem animals in each conservancy. The information in the register systems is also used in management plans and to inform the MEFT and conservancy members on the conflict mitigation measures for a specific species. The MEFT uses the data to determine whether conservancies are paying members the right amount for losses as stated in the policy.

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.

Severe and on-going drought
The Combatting Wildlife Crime Project has 13 partners and is funded by USAID
The Combatting Wildlife Crime Project has 13 partners and is funded by USAID

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.

2021: Natural Resources at a Glance

  • 57 conservancies with a wildlife management plan
  • 52 conservancies with a zonation plan
  • 47 conservancies with conservation hunting concessions
  • 38 conservancies directly involved in tourism activities
  • 748 game guards working in conservancies
  • 54 conservancies conducting an annual game count
  • 74 conservancies with own use harvesting quotas
This page was last updated on: 15th March 2023