Community Conservation Governance

Resources can only be sustainably used if effective management structures exist to guide their use.

CBNRM, Community Based Natural Resource Management, is the basis of democratic control by local communities over natural resources and the distribution of benefits from them, usually through communal conservancies.

Managing conservation from the ground up

Before independence, rural communities were disenfranchised and the absence of a sense of ownership over resources led to their neglect and indiscriminate exploitation.

Conservancies, community forests and community associations are self-governing bodies that elect boards and operate in accordance with their constitutions. They are accountable to their members through annual general meetings (AGMs).

An AGM in Ehi-Rovipuka Conservancy
An AGM in Ehi-Rovipuka Conservancy

Annual General Meetings provide a vital platform for establishing democratic governance in community conservation organisations, and must be held annually as per the SOPs. At the AGMs discussions include the conservancy chairperson’s report, benefits distributed to members, feedback on Human-Wildlife Conflict interventions, financial reports and, depending on stipulations in individual conservancy constitutions, elections are held.

At AGMs planning for the following year's activities is done, including developing a work plan and an operational budget. The AGMs are a platform where those in the management committee provide feedback to the general conservancy members, and enable discussions on issues to allow for decision-making.

Standard Operating Procedures

The MEFT approves the formation of conservancies and community associations operating within national parks. The Ministry has laid down Standard Operating Procedures, which set out the essential elements of good governance. Where there is clear evidence that funds are being mismanaged or misappropriated, MEFT has the power to suspend the conservancy’s accounts and/or restrict the use of funds until the problems have been investigated and resolved. Five conservancies’ accounts have been suspended thus far, pending resolution of their specific issues. Community conservation governance is supported by the Institutional Development Working Group, which monitors governance peformance. See the review and table below.

The MEFT and NACSO conduct integrated annual audits in all conservancies to assess whether wildlife and financial monitoring is taking place, and to monitor democratic representation through AGMs and gender balance. With 86 conservancies to cover, these audits cannot carry out financial book-keeping, which requires professional expertise.

An integrated audit in Salambala Conservancy
An integrated audit in Salambala Conservancy

The Institutional Development Working Group (IDWG)

The IDWG comprises experts in governance and natural resource management from NACSO members and the MEFT. Its purpose is to develop and guide institutional support to conservancies, in order to strengthen their governance structures, with particular reference to resource management, democracy, transparency and gender balance.

New in 2021

New ways of working

Adaptation was key to delivering on governance in 2021. The Institutional Development Working Group (IDWG), fieldbased NGO partners, MEFT and communal conservancies all adapted to the situation on the ground caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Conservancies adapted to smaller, decentralised, village-level meetings while IDWG and others were flexible in holding virtual meetings and seminars together with field-based technical staff despite the limited access to internet connections in some regions.


In adapting to external factors, conservancy governance structures proved resilient. Smaller annual general meetings were held in different centres meaning more community members were reached and involved in decision-making. MEFT was able to regularly engage with the conservancies on the ground through the disbursement and reporting of COVID relief grants from the COVID Relief Recovery and Resilience Facility.

Gender Mainstreaming

The Gender Mainstreaming support strengthens the Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA) to CBNRM-related policies, programmes, and projects by advancing the principles of empowerment, non-discrimination, inclusivity, equity, transparency, and accountability.

The Institutional Development Working Group (IDWG) formed part of the Poverty, Rural, and Economic Development Cluster that participated in an online focus group discussion aimed at reviewing the current National Gender Policy (2010 – 2021) and the development of the new National Gender Policy (2021 – 2031) and its plan of action.

Community conservation governance at a glance

At the end of 2022 there were:

  • 68 conservancy management plans in place
  • 20 sustainable business and financial management plans in place
  • 69 annual financial reports presented
  • 77 Annual General Meetings been held
  • 13% female chairpersons
  • 49% female treasures/financial managers
  • 34% female management committee members
  • 23% female staff members

The capacity of government ministries and NACSO

Human and financial resources remain a challenge for supporting governance work in conservancies. However, NACSO’s Institutional Development Working Group (IDWG) has been revitalised, with clear terms of reference, a coordinator, work plan and an operational budget. The working group has secured funding from four different sources to strengthen conservancy governance and institutional management capacity. This increase in financial resources has enhanced support to conservancy governance, including AGMs, financial management, reviews of constitutions, improving membership engagement and promoting benefit distribution. Moreover, NACSO Conservation Leadership Programme interns assisted with conservancy integrated audits in Zambezi and Kunene regions, providing additional human resources to MET and NGO regional staff. 

Financial management

The Institutional Development Working Group (IDWG), which comprises members of NACSO and MEFT staff, continue to support good governance practices within communal conservancies through training and performance tracking. This year, funds from the CRRRF were provided to keep conservancies running, and financial reports were required for each quarter before each new tranche of funding was released for the next quarter. This tightened financial reporting for this year resulted in less unaccounted funds than in other years where only annual reports are required.

Lessons learned during 2020 were therefore taken into 2021, whereby more frequent financial reporting will be required for funds from all sources. The on-going support for financial reporting (known as “dripping tap” support) within conservancies has borne some fruit by reducing financial mismanagement. This support includes improving the bookkeeping skills of conservancy administrators and oversight capacity among elected treasurers. Nonetheless, more can be done to improve this aspect of governance by working at regional rather than national levels.

In 2020, the IDWG reached out to MEFT and other colleagues who work at regional levels to get a better understanding of why some conservancies regularly fail to meet the financial reporting standards. Each regional team was tasked with creating an action plan to work with underperforming conservancies to improve their financial reporting standards.

The information from regional MEFT and NGO staff provided a useful starting point for determining where the weaknesses lie in the support provided to conservancies. The current tools for assessing governance performance, which includes monitoring compliance and a questionnaire filled in by relevant support organisations are also being reviewed to ensure that these are accurate reflections of the governance status of each conservancy. The next step will be to aggregate the information from the regional to the national level and hold a think tank meeting on the way forward to provide better long-term support for this crucial part of the CBNRM programme.

* The MET operates a Self Reliance Scheme with money from its Game Products Trust Fund. Money is paid to conservancies, which they can add to with income from tourism and conservation hunting, if available and sufficient, to pay financial offsets to conservancy members who have suffered losses due to wildlife, e.g. loss of crops or livestock.

Annual General Meetings

In 2021, almost half of the conservancies were able to cover their operational costs, and 54% distributed some kind of benefits to their members (this includes meat from hunting). Less than a third of the conservancies have sustainable business and financial plans, which is a concern.

Category Number of conservancies Number of conservancies reporting Percentage of category
Registered conservancies (incl. Kyaramacan assoc.) 87 87 100
Conservancies generating returns (excluding grant income) 69 87 79
covering operational costs from own income 48 81 59
distributing cash or in-kind benefits to members, or investing in community projects 54 81 67
Conservancies with management plans 57 84 68
sustainable business and financial plans 26 84 31
Conservancy AGMs held 73 84 87
financial reports presented at AGM 65 84 77
financial reports approved at AGM 64 84 76
budgets approved at AGM 59 84 70

Governance indicators for 86 conservancies and the Kyaramacan Association, in 2021. Number of conservancies are those that fall into the category (e.g. are covering operational costs) and conservancies reporting are those that have provided data for that category.

Gender balance

Category Number of people Number of conservancies reporting Percentage of category
Conservancy managment committe members 1008 84 100
female management committee members 333 84 33
female chairpersons 19 84 11
female treasurers/financial managers 38 84 45
Conservancy staff members 1051 84 100
female staff members 227 84 22

Gender balance within conservancy structures for 84 reporting conservancies in 2021. The percentage of category is the proportion of females out of the total number of people in that category (e.g. 333 female committee members out of 1008 total committee members).

Training and certification

While the evaluation process still needs to be refined according to the Namibia Qualifications Authority requirements, basic game guard certificates have been issued to 234 game guards. The programme expects to expand training and evaluation services to other key players within conservancies, including managers. Therefore, NACSO initiated the process of registering as a section 21 company, to provide necessary training services. 

During the year 2018, various trainings were carried out to improve conservancy governance. These include training for MET and NGO field staff on how to monitor financial management in conservancies and how to understand financial management cycles; training for conservancies on basic bookkeeping, accounting systems and filing; monitoring the quality of financial statements; the role of audits in demonstrating a commitment to transparency, accountability and demonstrating credibility and, overall, to enhance their understanding of the principles of financial management. 

The Sustainable Communities Partnership Programme piloted a leadership-training programme in Zambezi Region, primarily targeting conservancy managers in 9 conservancies within the Mudumu North and South complexes. A total of 32 people, mainly managers and treasurers, were trained to enforce day-to-day conservancy management operations. In the north central regions Community Based Organisations were trained in basic computer usage and proposal writing. As a result, three conservancies and two community forests were successful in applying for the climate change grants from the Environmental Investment Fund through the Empower to Adapt project, receiving a total of about 17 million Namibia Dollars in grants.

A comparison with previous years shows that conservancy management capacities fluctuate, influenced by staff and committee changes, as well as the degree of external support. Many conservancies have strong and growing female participation, and a substantial number of conservancies that used to be dependent on grant aid are now covering operational costs from their own income, with many also distributing benefits to members or investing in community projects. Figures include the Kyaramacan Association, which operates as a de facto conservancy within Bwabwata National Park.

Overall institutional compliance

Conservancy Commitment

The programme continues to develop various tools to promote good governance in conservancies, one of which is the MEFT’s Guidelines for Management for conservancies and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Conservancies are required to report on all 5 key compliance requirements annually; these include: member engagement, benefit planning and distribution, accountability, stakeholder engagement, and financial management.

Conservancies are required to submit reports a month after their AGM. The MEFT is not just looking at whether the required documents were submitted, but also evaluates whether plans are being implemented. When conservancies submit reports after the communicated period, this delays the compliance evaluation and the conservancy will end up being non-compliant.

In 2020, during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, MEFT made exceptions to the standard reporting procedures because of the challenges with having AGMs under the COVID lockdown regulations. The MEFT thus allowed conservancies to report on two compliance requirements (financial reporting and game management & use reporting). In 2021, conservancies returned to reporting on all five compliance requirements.

Annual general meetings were still impacted by COVID restrictions; however, conservancies, with support from the MEFT and field based support NGOs, adapted to ensure that decision-making platforms still occurred.

The governance commitment and performance review are an assessment of conservancies by conservancies together with their field partners. Performance evaluations are based on questions specific to member engagement, benefit planning and distribution, accountability, stakeholder engagement, and financial management.

Institutional compliance of conservancies
Institutional compliance of conservancies
Overall commitment and good governance
Aggregate results of the 2021 governance performance review, which included specific questions on member engagement, benefit planning and distribution, accountability, engagement with stakeholders (e.g. joint venture partners) and financial management.
Category Status Number of conservancies reporting Percentage of category
Registered conservancies (incl. Kyaramacan Assoc.) 87 87 100
Conservancies generating returns 69 87 79
  • covering operational costs from own income
48 81 59
  • distributing cash or in-kind benefits to members, or investing in community projects
54 81 67
Conservancy management committee members 1008 84 100
  • female management committee members




  • female chairpersons




  • female treasurers/financial managers
38 84 45
Conservancy staff members 1051 84 100
  • female staff members
227 84 22
Conservancies management plans 57 84 68
  • sustainable business and financial plans
26 84 31
Conservancy AGMs held 73 84 87
  • financial reports presented at AGM
65 84 77
  • financial reports approved at AGM
64 84 76
  • budgets approved at AGM
59 84 70

From 2020 to 2021, 41 more conservancies were able to hold AGMs. This was possible because of the mitigation processes that were put in place to ensure that information is shared with their members and for the support provided through the working group for pre-AGMs and AGMs. Due to this, financial reporting improved by 40%. The CRRRF also contributed to conservancies working and reporting back better. Those conservancies that were not making an income but were given support through the CRRRF, were motivated to perform.

A community forest is declared under the Forest Act of 2001 based on a forest management agreement between the community and the Ministry (formerly the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, but now the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism). The Directorate of Forestry is mandated to support communities that want to establish community forests, ensure that they comply with legal requirements once established, and to monitor their performance over time. Traditional Authorities (TAs) and Communal Land Boards are key stakeholders that community forests must engage, since the rights granted to a community forest overlap with the powers granted to TAs and Land Boards.

Overall community forest governance
Overall community forest governance


In terms of governance, Standard Operating Procedures exist to maintain a standard of operations for community forests throughout Namibia. Each community forest must have a constitution and an elected management authority, which functions in the same way as a conservancy management committee. The Forest Management Plan (FMP) lays out how the forest resources will be used sustainably both by members of the community forest and nonmembers (provided the latter pay for a permit). Annual General Meetings are held to approve a budget that includes a Benefit Distribution Plan and the presentation of annual financial statements.

Conservancies and community forests can overlap extensively or entirely, which gives the community living in those areas rights to use both wildlife and plant resources for their benefit. In cases where the boundaries of the conservancy and the community forest match, the conservancy committee doubles as the forest management authority and the management plans are integrated into one overall plan (with one chapter for the FMP and one for the GMUP) and governance activities like AGMs are done jointly. Each entity nonetheless maintains its own constitution, although these are closely aligned (e.g. definition of membership are the same).

Following the Inland Fisheries Resources Act No 1 of 2003, the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) can declare a section of a river as a community fisheries reserve. Before a reserve proposal is submitted to the Minister, the community that wants the reserve must prepare several key documents and obtain approval from the relevant Traditional Authority and Regional Governor. Upon declaration, a locally elected Inland Fisheries Committee (IFC) is granted the power to monitor and regulate fishing practices on behalf of their community. Where fisheries reserves are established within conservancies, the Conservancy Management Committee could also function as the Inland Fisheries Committee (IFC).

Each fisheries reserve must have a constitution that determines how the reserve will be managed, its objectives, and the powers of the IFC. Although the main purpose of establishing a fisheries reserve is to protect a valuable resource for subsistence use, some reserves may generate income by entering agreements with tourism operators that wish to offer catch-and-release fishing as an activity. In cases where income generation is likely, the reserve must have its own account and budget (linked with a benefit distribution plan), while financial statements should be reported at AGMs.

The fisheries reserve management plan outlines the specific areas on the river that are designated as reserves and the rules and regulations pertaining to fishing in the reserve. Each community may decide how strict these laws should be (as long as they are in line with Namibian law) and what kind of fishing equipment is allowed. For example, all fishing (regardless of equipment used) could be banned within the reserve all year round or seasonally, or some fishing could be permitted within certain limits.

The key staff members in a fisheries reserve are fish guards and monitors. Fish guards are delegated power from MFMR to stop and board fishing boats when they suspect illegal fishing, seize boats or gear that have been used for this purpose, or seize any fish that are caught illegally. The task of fish monitors is to record legal catches made by local fishers on a regular basis to keep track of fish stocks. Reports from fish guards and monitors on their patrols and data collection should be provided regularly at community meetings to evaluate whether or not the reserve is achieving its objectives.

Governance Milestones

The following governance milestones must be met before a fisheries reserve can be formally declared:

  • Meetings held with community members and external stakeholders to gauge interest in establishing a fisheries reserve
  • Inland Fisheries Committee elected by the community
  • Proposed boundaries of reserve demarcated and mapped with a GPS
  • Constitution developed and signed
  • Fish guards and monitors appointed
  • Reserve management plan developed

Gender Mainstreaming

The unique roles men and women play in their communities lead to differences in knowledge about their environments. Gender mainstreaming is an approach to policy-making that considers both men and women’s interests and concerns. Good standards and practices in governance and mainstreaming gender, ensure that the voices of the most vulnerable are included in the decisionmaking processes not just for benefits, but also for safeguarding the continuation of conservation and creation of livelihoods for various groups. Therefore, it is important to integrate gender mainstreaming into CBNRM-related policies, programmes, and projects.

The IDWG formed part of the Poverty, Rural and Economic Development Cluster that participated in an online focus group discussion aimed at reviewing the current National Gender Policy (2010 – 2021) and the development of the new National Gender Policy (2021 – 2031) and its plan of action. Reflecting on the previous policy, participants mentioned that climate change and its effects on women were not integrated and moreover women in rural areas were not consulted. To ensure ownership and implementation of the new policy, women groups such as the Namibian Rural Women’s Assembly and the Women for Conservation group participated in providing input on challenges and recommendations based on their experiences.

The gender mainstreaming support also strengthens the Human Rights Based Approach to community conservation by advancing the principles of empowerment, non-discrimination, inclusivity, equity, transparency, and accountability.

While gender mainstreaming work is relatively new, there is a focus on empowering indigenous and marginalised groups in CBNRM. The interest of the youth in conservation activities is also escalating, and young people are being elected into management structures, which not only adds fresh voices but also helps to secure the continuation of conservation for another generation. Women’s groups are taking the lead in organising themselves so that their voices are heard at key decision-making processes, such as AGMs. More women are occupying leadership positions and are encouraging fellow women to join them. On the ground, the number of females taking up roles such as game guards and rangers, positions typically held by men, has also increased.

Strengthening Community Voices

When decisions are made that impact the lives of rural community members and how they co-exist with wildlife, local voices must be a part of the conversation. Communities come together to share best practices at platforms such as bi-annual planning meetings where progress and challenges related to planned activities are discussed, a resolution is sought on cross-cutting issues, and recommendations from meetings may be used to inform policies development.

For community voices to be amplified, community members need to know their rights and responsibilities. There is a need to raise awareness on human rights and have grievance mechanisms in place, both of which add strength to the power of community and individual voices.

At a national and regional level, the three NACSO working groups have learning and reflection sessions to improve service provision to conservancies. During the pandemic, these platforms were critical lifelines that enabled partners to voice their concerns about current challenges and for communities to know that they were being heard by the relevant stakeholders.

This page was last updated on: 6th October 2023