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 MET 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. Although the MET could de-gazette a conservancy if it fails to comply with the SOPs, this sanction has not yet been used. Community conservation governance is supported by the Institutional Development Working Group, which monitors governance peformance. See the review and table below.

The MET 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 MET. 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.

A review of 2018

Community conservation governance at a glance

At the end of 2018 there were:

  • 55 management plans in place
  • 23 sustainable business and financial management plans in place
  • 53 financial reports that had been presented
  • 63 annual general meetings that had been held
  • 17% female chairpersons
  • 41% female treasures/financial managers
  • 33% female management committee members
  • 25% female staff members

      in communal conservancies in Namibia

The biggest challenges were:

  • Financial mismanagement
  • Non-compliance to the Standard Operating Procedures
  • Poor broad-based benefit distribution to conservancy members
  • Inadequate membership engagement

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. 

The Ministry of Environment and Tourism is taking on a stronger leadership role in enforcing conservancy compliance to its Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). A new compliance monitoring system was development by MET and preliminary results indicate a significant number of non-compliant conservancies in Kunene north, southern and eastern Namibia.

Compliance to Standard Operating Procedures
Key compliance

These findings were complimented by an analysis of the governance audit results, which revealed similar results. Hence, as a first step to enforcing compliance, 19 conservancies were issued non-compliant letters for failing to hold AGMs, submit AGM documents or mismanaging funds during the year 2018. This is one of the first response procedures, as stipulated in the SOPs.

Financial management

Conservancy financial mismanagement and poor financial governance has been a growing concern, particularly in northwestern conservancies. However, it is important to note that mismanagement is different from theft or fraud. Most financial mismanagement is the result of poor record keeping, reporting and a lack of supported receipts, although there were cases of misappropriation of cash, some of which are being investigated by the police.

In the north east, financial management is generally improving, owing to a more stringent financial management system launched in 2017, combined with additional support from MET and NGO regional staff. This new system requires conservancies to reduce cash transactions, and restrict bank accounts to a maximum of three, (i.e. Income, Operational and the Human-Wildlife Conflict* accounts) with an additional oversight from MET on transactions between income and operational accounts.

During the 2018 financial year, 15, out of 16 conservancies in Zambezi Region successfully tabled their financial reports at their AGMs.  Only six of conservancies recorded cases of unaccounted conservancy funds, with most being amounts less than N$ 10,000. Overall, only 2.28 % of funds were unaccounted in Zambezi during the 2018 financial year. This is a significant improvement on previous years.  Other regions, including the north central area, also recorded notable declines in unaccounted funds, with conservancies like Iipumbu Ya Tshilongo and Sheya Shuushona paying back unaccounted funds as per demands from conservancy members. 

* 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

Organising meetings in rural areas, where transport is often a large problem, can be difficult. Nevertheless, the annual integrated audits show that most conservancy governance structures are working. The number of AGMs held in 2018 was 63: up from 57 in the previous year. Similarly, the number of management plans in place increased from 46 to 56. While there is an improvement in AGMs held, a need still exists for conservancies to improve on governance and overall compliance with the SOPs.

Gender balance

For many years, it has been a trend for conservancies to choose women as treasurers or financial officers. This trend is helpful in empowering women in rural areas. In 2018 the figure was down from 44% to 41%, which is not a significant variation from previous years. However, only 25% of conservancy staff members were women. This gap between men and women employed is wide, indicating a need to engage more women in conservancy governance. This gender gap was also identified at a meeting held late 2018 by CBNRM practitioners, which recommended that a CBNRM gender mainstreaming strategy be developed to guide CBOs on how to effectively integrate gender dynamics in their operations.

Order Category Status Number of conservancies reporting Percentage of category
1 Registered conservancies (incl. Kyaramacan assoc.) 87 87 100
2 Conservancies generating returns 66 87 76
3 covering operational costs from own income 24 56 43
4 distributing cash or in-kind benefits to members, or investing in community projects 48 56 86
5 Conservancy management committee members 890 76 100
6 female management committee members 291 76 33
7 female chairpersons 13 76 17
8 female treasurers/financial managers 31 76 41
9 Conservancy staff members 962 76 100
10 female staff members 238 76 25
11 Conservancies management plans 55 76 72
12 sustainable business and financial plans 23 76 30
13 Conservancy AGMs held 63 76 83
14 financial reports presented at AGM 53 76 70
15 financial reports approved at AGM 50 76 66
16 budgets approved at AGM 50 76 66

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.

Conservation management performance ratings

Institutional development data is collected annually during integrated performance audits. Conservancies are rated for their commitment, planning, monitoring and management. Conservancies use the information to evaluate and improve their governance, while support organisations are able to provide targeted assistance.

Conservation management performance ratings map

The Natural Resource performance of each conservancy is also reviewed annually, based on fixed criteria. The performance map illustrates comparative performance, and identifies conservancies in the east, south, northern Kunene and Erongo as performing poorly and in need of the most support as part of the adaptive management process.

Conservancies in Zambezi and Kunene North continued to hold bi-annual planning meetings and encourage area meetings, to allow planning at landscape levels, while giving less vocal community members a platform to discuss their local issues.

Performance ratings in 2018 were broadly similar to 2017. However, the number of conservancies covering their own expenses seems to have dropped significantly in 2018, perhaps owing to issues of hunting contracts not being renewed and hunters not paying conservancies timeously, or at all.

This page was last updated on: 9th December 2019