The Impact of Community Conservation

Conservation expansion

Large landscape conservation is linking state protected areas with communal conservancies, community forests, and freehold land with conservation goals.

Conservation expansion

Transfrontier conservation areas are building common platforms for the movement of wildlife across international borders, with community-based tourism as an economic driver.

Conservation expansion

International learning exchanges have enabled conservationists worldwide to study the Namibian model of Community Based Natural Resource Management.

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Community conservation is contributing to the national economy, principally through tourism and related enterprises.

Apart from the direct returns to rural communities, conservation has a broad and significant impact on the economy of the country, and promotes nation building by contributing to national economic growth. This national impact can be assessed by taking into account all income streams flowing to communities, government and the private sector through related value chains as a consequence of community conservation.

Additional income is derived from:

  • airlines, hotels and car rental companies;
  • private sector tourism and hunting operations related to conservancies;
  • sales of crafts, fuel and food;
  • further spending generated by the additional income above.
The impact of community conservation

Marketing Namibia

All of Namibia is benefiting from the country’s status as a community conservation model. Tourism and hunting operators active in conservancies have a distinct marketing advantage in this regard, especially if they can show that they are contributing to sustainable growth through the equitable sharing of income and by engaging with communities in development activities.

The net national income

Economic contributions from CBNRM may be termed contributions to net national income (NNI). The NNI contributions can be defined as the value of goods and services that community conservation activities make available each year to the nation.

Estimates of the national economic returns from CBNRM compared to economic investment costs

National economic returns
Estimates of the national economic returns from CBNRM compared to economic investment costs.

*Figures have been adjusted for inflation to be equivalent to the value of Namibia dollars in 2020. This means they are not directly comparable with those used in the 2019 Community Conservation Report, which used figures equivalent to the value of Namibian dollars in that year.

Investment in the conservancy programme started before the first conservancies were officially gazetted in 1996, as community game guards were being trained and the communities mobilised around the concept of CBNRM. Investment was higher than economic returns until 2002, when the programme broke even.

Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, the CBNRM programme contributed half of its 2019 contribution (estimated N$ 983 million) to the Namibian economy during 2020 (estimated N$ 488 million). The programme nonetheless has made a cumulative contribution of N$ 10.8 billion during the last 30 years. This contribution is 3.7 times greater than the cumulative investment into the programme through donors and support organisations, which is estimated at N$ 2.9 billion. The estimated economic rate of return for the programme since 1990 is 18%. The NNI contribution is estimated by taking into account the multiplier effects of international visitors (tourists and hunters) visiting Namibian communal conservancies.

The return on investment

The graph shows that in the first 12 years of the programme, costs exceeded economic returns, but since then rapidly growing returns have far exceeded costs.

The economic merits of programme spending can be seen by comparing the investment in community conservation against NNI returns and increasing annual stock asset values in a cost-benefit analysis. This provides an indication of the degree to which the investment made in the CBNRM programme has contributed overall to the national economy and whether this investment has been economically efficient.

The economic efficiency of CBNRM

Since 1990, the programme has had an economic internal rate of return of 18% and has earned an economic net present value of just over N$ 1.6 billion. This is an exceptional economic return for a programme investment.

Positive economic returns for the programme (economic rate of return above the estimated real discount rate) have become evident during the latter years. The depicted economic return is very encouraging for a programme investment.

Years of investment Economic Rate of Return Net Present Value N$
18 9% 113,949,292
20 12% 293,843,779
22 14% 517,907,418
24 15% 769,052,441
26 17% 1,093,296,790
28 18% 1,429,937,851
30 18% 1,648,686,251
Economic rates of return and net present values

The value of wildlife

The value of wildlife
Photo: William Burrard-Lucas

The additive value of wildlife to NNI could also be calculated through the accumulated capital value of wildlife stocks, to which conservancy management and conservation are making a significant contribution. Using this methodology, the value of animals would be taken as their monetary value ‘on the hoof’, in other words the value they would fetch if they were to be sold or harvested commercially. The annual increase (or decrease) in the capital value of wildlife is the value attributed to fluctuating numbers of wildlife in conservancy areas. However, this value is difficult to determine with current methodologies and is not included in the NNI contributions presented in this report – meaning that the total economic contributions to the NNI are very conservative.

The value of increased capacity

Further economic values could be counted if adequate measures were available, including the economic value of local management institutions and the increased capacity that results from training provided to people associated with conservancies.

The value of increased capacity
Business training for conservation staff in Zambezi Region

CBNRM, Community Based Natural Resource Management, is recognised by the Namibian government for making an important contribution to national development.

The fifth National Development Plan goals include lifting people out of poverty, diversifying livelihood opportunities and providing long-term institutional structures that help to drive economic growth.

Namibia’s fifth National Development Plan consists of four pillars, to which community conservation makes a significant contribution.


Economic Progression

Economy icon



Social Transformation

Community icon



Environmental Sustainability

Environment icon



Good Governance

Governance icon


Economy iconEconomic Progression


  • contributes to Namibian net annual income (NNI contribution in 2018 estimated at N$ 884 million)
  • generates cash and in-kind benefits to conservancies and members (over N$ 147 million in 2018)
  • capitalises on the comparative advantage of charismatic wildlife in spectacular landscapes (often better suited to wildlife than livestock) through tourism and hunting
  • promotes economic development and poverty reduction through diversification and private sector partnerships - enables the development of communal area tourism, one of Namibia’s prime tourism products (61 joint-venture lodges in 2018) - facilitates new jobs and income opportunities in rural areas, especially within the tourism, hunting, natural plant product and craft sectors (4,926 jobs in 2018)
  • increases livestock productivity through community based rangeland management in 66 defined areas
  • increases crop yields through conservation agriculture

Community iconSocial Transformation


  • promotes gender equality and the empowerment of women through equal access to employment and governance, resources and economic opportunities, with documented high female participation (e.g. 41% female conservancy treasurers/financial managers in 2018)
  • facilitates improved health outcomes through conservancy funding of community health, education and other infrastructure projects, as well as transport provision to service centres
  • increases household food security and reduces malnutrition through livelihood diversification and the provision of game meat
  • promotes cultural pride and the conservation of cultural heritage through responsible tourism and the development of living museums and other cultural tourism activities

Environment iconEnvironmental Sustainability


  • makes significant contributions to environmental conservation, funded through tourism and conservation hunting income
  • promotes equal access to natural resources through formal management structures and participatory processes (86 conservancies, 1 community association, 42 community forests, 66 community rangeland management sites etc. in 2018)
  • reduces environmental degradation through structured natural resource management
  • emphasises a precautionary, science-based approach through natural resource monitoring, evaluation and quotas
  • creates landscape-level connectivity which mitigates the effects of climate change on wildlife and other resources
  • reduces pressure on individual resources through land-use diversification
  • promotes environmental responsibility through community-owned structures and activities
  • enables sustainable use of natural resources through formal management structures, benefiting present generations while conserving resources for future generations
  • encourages a sense of ownership over natural resources and responsibility for development
  • facilitates the reduction and reversal of land degradation and deforestation through mandated, structured and sustainable natural resource management
  • promotes sustainable practices and increases agricultural productivity through land-use diversification, structured and sustainable management, and activities such as conservation agriculture and community rangeland management, facilitates integrated land-use planning through formal management structures and collaboration with other community, government and private sector stakeholders

Governance iconGood Governance


  • promotes democracy in rural areas through community participation and democratic election of office bearers
  • emphasises accountability, transparency and good governance through performance monitoring and evaluation
  • emphasises the equitable distribution of returns
  • promotes partnerships through active collaboration amongst communities; and between communities and government, the private sector, NGOs and donor agencies
  • enables significant capacity enhancement through ongoing training in governance, natural resource management and business, as well as in-service training in the private sector

Learning and sharing

Namibia’s CBNRM partners have facilitated many exchange visits, with many conservation organisations vising Namibia to study our conservation model. Particular examples are exchanges with Nepal and a WWF workshop on scaling up of best conservation practices.

Technical support was provided in 2017 to WWF Kenya on the establishment and negotiation of joint venture lodges and WWF Tanzania on business plans and negotiations with private sector for community forests.

The Namibian community game count methodology was introduced to the Silowana Complex – including Sioma Ngwezi National Park and the adjacent Game Management Area, which is also utilised by farmers – in Zambia in September 2017, during which the first community game count in the area was undertaken.

Silowana Complex

Two studies on CBNRM were commissioned: to identify best practices and review lessons learned through 30 years of the Namibia CBNRM Programme; and a global study to document the enabling conditions for common property management. As part of this latter study, some of the most successful community conservation initiatives around the world were identified and analysed for commonalities of success.

Towards a healthier planet

Community conservation provides an important service to the world by maintaining healthy ecosystems and globally important biodiversity assets, while delivering a variety of immediate and tangible returns.

Finding payment mechanisms

Payment for ecosystem services is a concept gaining ground internationally. As ecosystems come under ever-greater pressure from industry and development, ways need to be found to ensure that services such as clean water are sustainably delivered, and that productive soils and healthy plant and animal communities are sustained. The value of eco-system services can be calculated in monetary terms, and options for creating payments to the entities that safeguard the services, such as credits for protecting wildlife, are being explored internationally. Conservancies and community forests could in future become the beneficiaries of such payments and would thereby be able to carry out their functions more effectively and sustainably.

A novel payment system for conservation performance called Wildlife Credits is being developed in Namibia, which may become a model for other countries in the region and globally.

Biodiversity offsets represent a related concept, developed to mitigate the impacts of destructive activities such as mining. The pressure on mining companies to offset the biodiversity impacts of their activities will increase as global environmental concerns such as loss of biodiversity and climate change become more acute. Conservancies should benefit from these biodiversity offsets, because they are safeguarding national and global biodiversity.

This page was last updated on: 4th February 2022