It is a fundamental principle of CBNRM that communities benefiting from wildlife will wish to conserve it. Communities that have control over wildlife will reap the benefits from it; social, cultural, environmental and economic. This is done by empowerment though the building of local governance structures, generation of employment and financial returns, which also increases resilience to climate change.
By transferring the rights over wildlife from government to rural residents, in the same way that commercial farmers have rights over wildlife, government addressed an historic grievance, as well as unlocking the economic potential of wildlife to previously disadvantaged Namibians. Without the benefits made possible by the formation of conservancies, people would be much less inclined to tolerate wildlife that damages crops and kills livestock.
The decision by government to allow the creation of conservancies in 1996 through an amendment to the Nature Conservation Act on 1975 not only made possible the empowerment of rural people through communal conservancies and their management structures, particularly of women, but it also enabled rural economic development based on wildlife. This has also made a significant contribution to the growth of the national economy and to national development goals. In 2021 the contribution to net national income was around N$ 583 million; the total contribution from 1990 to 2021 amounts to N$ 11.9 billion.
The contribution of community conservation through conservancies to national development goals related to Vision 2030, NDP5 and the Harambee Prosperity Plan fall under the sections of:
- Economic progression: Contribution to net national income, facilitation of new jobs and income through smart partnerships with the private sector and government, and the encouragement of conservation agriculture leading to increased crop yields.
- Social transformation: Gender equality and the empowerment of previously marginalised groups and of women, funding of health and education projects and increased household food security through livelihood diversification and the provision of game meat.
- Good governance: Democratic participation of rural people in conservancy management, providing a civil society platform to voice issues, while emphasising financial transparency and the equitable division of economic returns, partnership with government, donor agencies and NGOs, and significant capacity enhancement through training in governance, financial and natural resource management.
- Environmental sustainability: Reduction in land degradation through structured natural resource management and the promotion of environmental responsibility through natural resource monitoring and community owned management structures will lead to greater awareness of the impact of climate change and structures to build a climate resilient society and economy.
As self-governing entities, conservancies decide how to use their income. Joint-venture tourism operations and conservation hunting provide income to conservancies where there is sufficient wildlife to attract tourism operators and where there is huntable game. How that income is spent is decided by annual general meetings, and acted upon by conservancy management committees.
Financial benefits can only be distributed after conservation related costs have been met. A conservancy, in this respect, should act as a business. But it is also a social unit representing its members in the community. In distributing benefits a conservancy has, therefore, two main tasks:
- To decide how much income is required for running costs, including office buildings, vehicles and staff – which include the all-important game guards.
- To decide how to allocate benefits after costs.
Financial benefits can be broken into two broad components: cash pay-outs and community projects.
Economic and social benefits
Cash is often an attractive option to poor rural communities, especially in times of drought. The individual sum may only amount to a few hundred dollars, perhaps equivalent to the price of a goat, but cash can be very important. An example is Nyae Nyae Conservancy where the Ju/’hoan San people traditionally lived from hunter gathering and did not have a cash economy. The annual cash pay-out by the conservancy makes it possible for people to supplement their diet with mealie meal (maize) and to buy clothes for themselves and their children, enabling them to go to school.
Many well established conservancies with experience of benefit distribution are now electing to allocate returns to social projects, with strong encouragement from the MEFT.
- Grants to primary schools have improved school infrastructure.
- Bursaries to students have made it possible for conservancy residents to study in cities. Tourism is a popular subject, with the possibility of students working in joint-venture lodges in management positions.
- Diesel to run water pumps and repairs to windmills assist farmers.
Through payments for social benefits, conservancies are actively contributing to rural development. The strongest example of this has been in Zambezi Region, where several conservancies have paid for the installation of electricity transformers. With an electrical supply, businesses are starting to develop, including shops with refrigeration. Households have to pay for their own connection, but those that do can now cook with electricity in an area that has lost much of its firewood, and children can study at home in the evenings.
Meat from conservation hunting is a major benefit to conservancy members, which are often situated in areas where there are no shops, and people have little, if any income. By distributing meat, conservancies perform three vital functions:
- Poaching is socially unacceptable because meat is fairly distributed, and poaching for the pot is seen as stealing from neighbours.
- Protein is made available to poor rural residents, especially to the elderly and to children, through distribution to schools.
- Local governance is enhanced by making meat available to traditional authority and conservancy meetings.
Although economic benefits and the provision of meat are tangible benefits to poor rural communities, intangible benefits may have the greatest long-term impact. Conservancy formation and management has promoted an improved decision making capacity, and considerably improved gender balance, with strong female participation on conservancy management committees as financial managers and chairpersons.
Although some conservancies have received bad press due to financial management, this should not detract from the fact the majority of the 86 communal conservancies' committees are trying their best to manage complex situations and are producing financial reports to the MEFT to the best of their ability.
It is important to note that rural communities on marginal or densely populated agricultural land, sometimes as a result of historical injustice, are most at risk from the effects of climate change, through increased drought resulting in desertification and episodic flooding and wash-off of topsoils. The opportunities provided by conservation agriculture and holistic rangeland management through support to conservancies should prevent the worst effects of climate change. However, the diversification from agriculture offered to communities through a wildlife-based economy, with the growth of employment, is an increasingly important adaptation to climate change.