Community conservation grew out of the recognition that wildlife and other natural resources are of value in communal areas, and that these resources can be unlocked if local communities are empowered to manage and utilise resources themselves.
Living with wildlife – sustainably
By choosing to live with wildlife, rural communities are broadening their livelihood options as well as enabling a healthier environment.
Community conservation in Namibia means rural people managing their natural resources sustainably to generate returns. Conservancies, community forests and other community conservation initiatives create the necessary legal framework for this.
Conservancy chairperson Judy Melekie
//Huab Conservancy in Kunene Region is close to the tourism routes and has income from a joint venture with a lodge, and from conservation hunting.
“As a woman,” says Melekie, “we sometimes underestimate our strength.” Empowering women in rural communities is very much part of the conservation agenda. Melekie says that she has managed to build up the conservancy finances and to employ the first female game guard at //Huab. Under her chairpersonship a mobile campsite has been set up and the conservancy won a best practice award for the protection of rhino.
Drought and wildlife crime are the two major dangers for //Huab, but Melekie is confident that with income from conservation hunting the conservancy will be able to keep up its anti-poaching patrols and to maintain its wildlife.
» Read more about women in leadership.
Conservancy chairperson Abedi Kaiko
Otjombinde Conservancy is in Omaheke Region, bordering Botswana. It is an area of sparse vegetation close to the Kalahari Desert, that can support limited livestock. Kaiko says there is “a lot to be done”.
The first challenge is setting up an office. From there, Kailo wants to build up conservation awareness in the community to conserve what is there for future generations. Part of that work will be to demarcate a core wildlife area.
Meeting with other conservancy chairpersons at a national level in the Conservancy Chairpersons’ Forum was very valuable to Kaiko. He learnt from others about the importance of financial management. Otjombinde does not have a great deal of wildlife, but the conservancy makes common cause with others to oppose potential bans on conservation hunting, because this brings income that can be used for conservation, leading to sustainable wildlife populations.
Conservancy manager Hilde Nathinge
Sheya Shuushona Conservancy lies directly north of Etosha National Park. It has a limited income due to the lack of tourism, although a joint-venture with a private sector lodge is planned.
Nathinge is proud of the conservancy’s record of compliance with the MET’s Standard Operating Procedures. “Everything is in order,” she says.
In the past, says Nathinge, women had no say in decision making. All that has changed. She compiles the financial and annual reports, and manages the staff, including game guards, who she calls “the backbone of the conservancy.”
The founding President came from the area, and Nathinge says that the spirit of liberation is still alive. “If we keep working hard we will see the fruits of our labour.”
» Read more about women in leadership.
Conservancy manager Emil Roman
Torra is a large conservancy in the semi-desert area of Kunene Region, with income from tourism and conservation hunting. Its people are spread over a wide area: a challenge for conservancy management, which the management committee have addressed by dividing the conservancy into blocks, which hold regular meetings.
Roman say he “knows what happening” in the conservancy, enabling him to give advice to the committee on a monthly basis.
The challenges are the low level of literacy in the community, and that conservancy members do not know their rights. He sees his job as enabling community empowerment, especially of women, by persuading them to stand for election to the committee and to take on management jobs.
Roman says: “It’s tough being a manager but the recognition I get from staff and the committee members on my performance is rewarding”.
Game guard Kennedy Muituti
There are 12 game guards at Bamunu conservancy in Zambezi region, including two women. Chief game guard Muituti says it’s a tough job patrolling long tracks along the Linyanti River on the Botswana border. Part of the work is talking to farmers about conservation, and advising them to inform on suspicious activity. Poachers pass through from Zambia, hunting for ivory in Botswana. But Muituti and his team love the work – and success. Working together with the MET and the Namibian Police, they have twice netted international poaching gangs.
"To be a leader in conservation and tourism development through innovation and partnership"
This State of Community Conservation Report – as a web site – gives the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, together with our NACSO partners, an opportunity to set out our vision for community conservation, in which our chief partners are the 86 communal conservancies covering just over 20% of Namibia and almost 223,000 people.
The MET is responsible for Namibia’s national parks and tourism concessions, covering over 16% of the country, and for environmental and tourism policy that aims not only to conserve our environment and wildlife, but also to nurture and encourage sustainable economic growth through a developing wildlife based economy.
That is why the synergy between communal conservancies and state protected areas is vital. Nearly 40% of Namibia is under gazetted conservation management and 77% of the boundaries of national parks and communal conservancies are shared, meaning that large conservation landscapes have been created where wildlife can move freely and where its habitat is maintained.
The web site of the MET has information about the Ministry and its work in state protected areas. This site is concerned with our work with communal conservancies, and I wish to highlight the importance of five critical issues:
- benefits to communities
- good governance and financial management
- conservation hunting
- wildlife crime, and
- drought related to climate change.
In addressing benefits to communities it is noteworthy that the MET has received numerous complaints from communities stating that benefits from tourism concessions and hunting activities are not reaching down to the grassroots level. While it is important to note that conservancies have first to cover their costs, it is essential to stress that income from tourism and conservation hunting should be allocated towards the implementation of community development projects. Communities should feel the impacts of financial resources that are being generated by conservancies. All conservancies are now directed to submit a detailed report on how they are providing benefits to members by 30th November each year.
We believe that all communal conservancies should aim to become sustainable financially and institutionally. In order to achieve this, a more business-oriented approach is necessary in terms of how conservancies are run. Conservancies need to develop and diversify their income sources while also cutting running costs where necessary.
Good governance is essential for the long-term institutional stability of conservancies. We have all heard of the ‘Big Five’: iconic wildlife conserved and protected by the MET and conservancies. I would like to spell out a Big Five for governance:
- All conservancies must hold annual general meetings according to their constitutions.
- They must ensure that conservancy management committees are elected according to terms of office and implement conservancy activities accordingly.
- Financial management should be monitored and all conservancies must produce annual financial statements.
- All conservancies must have and implement Benefit Distribution Plans.
- All conservancies should manage their wildlife as per the Game Management and Utilisation Plans and submit a Wildlife Utilisation report.
While we recognise that not all conservancies can derive sufficient income from their activities to cover their costs; that cannot be an excuse for poor governance. As a Ministry we are committed to overseeing the implementation of governance guidelines set out in our Standard Operating Procedures for conservancies.
Hunting is, and will remain, guided by a conservation approach. Conservation hunting as defined by the Ministry as the legal and sustainable utilisation of wildlife is essential to the economic survival of many communal conservancies and provides income for provision of conservation activities such as game guard patrols, which are crucial in combatting wildlife crime. It is also a vital source of meat for communities far from towns and with little cash income.
For this reason all of us must be aware of the damage that can be caused by reckless hunting practices. I call on hunting operators and conservancy managers to uphold the highest moral, legal and professional standards, both during and after hunting activities. We have a system in place to monitor every animal that is hunted, and we will ensure compliance with that system.
Conservation hunting is carried out under quotas that are reviewed annually based upon annual game counts. However, instances have occurred of animals being hunted that were not on the quota. In times of acute stress brought on by continuous years of drought, it is imperative that conservancies see hunting above the set quotas for what it is: poaching.
We are aware of efforts made by well-meaning people overseas to ban hunting and the import of trophies from countries such as ours, where conservation hunting is carried out to the highest ethical standards under scientifically derived quotas. On behalf of the Namibian government and people we will strenuously oppose these proposed bans while advancing scientific arguments for conservation.
Wildlife crime has been a growing concern. Although the numbers of elephant and rhino killed for ivory and horn have been low compared to other African countries, crime syndicates have begun to target Namibian parks and conservancies. Our response has been swift and effective due to the strong partnership between the MET, other government law enforcement agencies, and communities. Conservancy game guards are the eyes and ears of the community. Thanks to significant funding from a consortium of partners that are supporting government to tackle wildlife crime with increased training, better equipment and enhanced community awareness.
While Namibia is used to periods of drought, we have to recognise that global warming is going to have a profound effect on our country. Although we cannot predict with accuracy when droughts will occur, we can say with scientific confidence that the severity of droughts will increase. Paradoxically, we will also have to face increased flooding episodes due to erratic rainfall patterns. These climatic conditions will cause increased stress to rural farming communities. In addition to loss of crops and livestock due to lack of rain, there will be increased human-wildlife conflict as predators attack livestock due to a reduction in the prey base.
The growth of our human population has inevitably placed an extra burden on the land, with increased farming activity. This has been compounded by the illegal occupation of land set aside for wildlife, in the search for additional grazing land due to drought. This fragmentation of land places in danger the connectivity between state protected areas and conservancies that is vital for wildlife.
The increased risks of farming make income from conservation activities all the more important. Tourism is the fastest growing sector in our economy, which allows for the diversification of income. The MET has supported this by granting tourism concessions inside national parks to adjacent conservancies. This brings direct income to conservancies that can, and must, be channeled to members through community development projects. It also brings income to community members who work in lodges as waiters, tour guides and, increasingly, in management positions.
This is the ‘Wildlife Economy’ in action. In the Ministry of Environment and Tourism we work hand in hand with our NACSO and conservancy partners to bring sustainable rural and economic development through conservation.
This site and the annual report
The annual State of Namibian Conservation report is, I believe, a comprehensive review of the efforts of conservancies, community forests, conservation NGOs and the Ministry to enhance rural development through conservation and a wildlife-based economy. We recognise the challenges that face us, but are justly proud of what we have achieved.
The Namibian Association of Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) Support Organisations
“NACSO connects the communities and organisations that manage and conserve Namibia’s natural resources”.
NACSO Director Maxi Louis shares her thoughts about community conservation over the past year.
The partnership between NACSO and the MET has grown from strength to strength over the years. We work in synergy and are now steering towards an annual integrated calendar that will incorporate all our important events such as the game counts, conservancy audits and meetings that take place throughout the year. We have a common mission through CBNRM and other cross-cutting issues; hence we regularly meet up on different platforms to discuss strategic issues and how to tackle challenges.
The programme has suffered quite a lot due to insufficient funding, and because of that we could not implement some of our activities on the ground. Illegal poaching, wildlife crime and human-wildlife conflict amongst others continue to be big issues in conservancies. We are now also experiencing what we call human-human conflict because of land invasion and illegal settlement by people moving into wildlife core areas and corridors in search for grazing.
On learning and sharing
Namibia has a commendable community conservation programme, which continues to attract international recognition. This year, NACSO and the MET hosted three exchange visits as part of our learning and sharing programme. Two were from Mozambique, with one from the Mozambican CBNRM Network and another one from the Gorongoza National Park. The third visit was officials from Uganda’s Ministry of Environment and Antiques, parliamentarians, and staff from parastatals. It makes me proud whenever I see other countries implement policies that put local communities at the centre of decision making of natural resources management in a way that also benefits them.
This year in March, I was part of the Namibian party delegation to Brussels that represented the “Namibian Community Voice” at the CITES standing committee meeting, to push for a Namibian community voice at CITES. Namibian communal conservation communities were invited to go and share their experiences at the 14th meeting of the Conference of Parties. Three people from Kunene conservancies regional associations attended and shared information about CBNRM in Namibia, including wildlife management programme, benefit distribution mechanisms and how they address human-wildlife conflict. The United Nations Secretary-General also attended, and their stories were well received. We are now seeing a much stronger voice from communities through the regional conservancy and community forest associations and hope to take some community representatives to CITES next year.
On growth and development
The area under communal conservation in Namibia has grown, with three more conservancies gazetted this year. However, there is a lack of resources and capacity to give enough support to all conservancies. As the programme grows and the number of conservancies continues to expand, it has become a challenge not only to conservancies, but also to the support organisations that give technical support to conservancies.
A long-term funding mechanism for CBNRM called the Community Conservation Fund of Namibia has been developed and is now fully operational. The fund aims to promote and support strategic community conservation initiatives and make possible the provision of critical support services that will maintain CBNRM as a viable rural development programme nationally. Proceeds generated from the Fund will be used to consolidate gains and help to steer Namibian conservation into the next phase.
NACSO and the MET have recently developed a website, called Conservation Tourism, as a means of encouraging visitors and travellers to explore tourism in communal conservancies. This will not only enhance the marketing aspect of tourism in conservancies, but it will help to increase income for conservancies, while on the other hand creating and promoting cultural awareness. I see diversification in terms of income to conservancies, and also a spin-off to local people who sell their products to tourists.
A lot has changed since we started this programme 23 years ago. After more than 20 years of CBNRM in Namibia, we have realised the need for the programme to diversify from traditional livelihoods, more so now in the face of climate change. We are now at a place where we need to relook at the whole programme and review where we are, what we have achieved, what still needs to be done and see how we can reposition ourselves and leverage new opportunities.