Community conservation continues to expand, increasing the number of people who benefit from natural resource use, as well as the area under conservation. Increased landscape connectivity created by new conservancies across Namibia is vital to ensuring environmental resilience and countering the impacts of climate change. These developments are major contributors to Namibia’s efforts to fulfil its constitutional commitment to safeguard the environment while at the same time achieving economic growth and rural development. CBNRM is recognised by the Namibian government as contributing to a range of national development goals, including several for the environment.
Namibia's national parks cover 16.8% of the land surface and protect a portion of every major ecological biome in the country. While some biomes are well represented within the parks (e.g. pans and the Succulent Karoo), several biomes are underrepresented within the parks system (e.g. Oshanas/floodplains and the Nama Karoo). Communal conservancies and community forests (jointly covering 21.9% of Namibia) cover several of these less protected biomes more extensively than the parks, thus greatly expanding the areas in each biome that are under sustainable land management.
Parks and community conservation areas have distinctly different goals and reasons for being established. The needs and rights of people living in conservancies and community forests are prioritised, with the ultimate goal of linking sustainable development with nature conservation in these areas. National parks (NPs) are more focused on protecting species and ecosystems, generally in the absence of people (with Bwabwata NP being a notable exception).
These two systems of land management can operate side-by-side for mutual benefit: community lands can function as wildlife corridors that link separate national parks, while neighbouring communities can benefit from their association with parks. In some cases, tourism concessions within a park can directly benefit the neighbouring communities. Indirect benefits to park neighbours include attracting joint venture tourism partners, boosting wildlife populations and fees and meat from hunting opportunities.
Both parks and conservancies were established with human goals (i.e. to conserve nature and/or generate income) and constraints in mind, which means that their boundaries do not necessarily make ecological sense. Ecosystem management therefore requires a larger landscape-scale approach that goes beyond park and conservancy boundaries. This includes fostering better working relationships among conservancies at regional and sub-regional levels and between conservancies and neighbouring national parks. Aligning conservancy land use zones with each other and using data on animal movements to identify wildlife corridors between parks are therefore priorities for landscape conservation in Namibia.
Community conservation cover
The area covered by conservancies and community forests has rapidly grown to 180,083 km2, which is 58.7% of all communal land. At the end of 2020, there were an estimated 233,114 people living in conservancies, with another 6,800 members of the Kyaramacan Association living in Bwabwata National Park. This figure has been estimated based on Namibia Population and Housing Census data for 2001 and 2011.
A landscape approach to conservation
Increased landscape connectivity created by the growth of conservancies across Namibia is vital to ensuring environmental resilience and countering the impacts of climate change, not only nationally but also across national borders. The creation of contiguous conservation areas and transboundary conservation areas provide for conservation at scale.
Wider benefits of conservation
These developments are major contributors to Namibia’s efforts to fulfil its constitutional commitment to safeguard the environment while at the same time achieving economic growth and rural development. CBNRM is recognised by the Namibian government as contributing to a range of national development goals, including several for the environment.
It is important to note that conservancy formation was and is driven by local communities, which have decided to protect wildlife as an economic option because they derive benefits from it through tourism and conservation hunting. The expansion of conservation areas has also led to the expansion of wildlife populations in state and community protected areas.