Most visitors come to Namibia to luxuriate in its vast open spaces, its richness of wildlife, its spectacular and varied landscapes, and its fascinating cultures.
Most of these attractions are based on diversity, whether of the biophysical or of the cultural world. Phoebe Barnard and Sem Shikongo of the National Biodiversity Programme Co-ordination Unit, Directorate of Environmental Affairs in the MET, report on Namibia’s ten-year strategic plan of action for sustainable development through biodiversity conservation (2000 – 2010).
Biological diversity, or “biodiversity”, is not a new concept.
It simply describes the variety of life on earth. While many people might associate the term with rain forests or coral reefs, Namibia, despite its dryness, has a unusually wide diversity of landscapes and habitats.
Not only does Namibia have a famous and wondrous array of species, but is also fortunate to have a diversity of genetic resources such as unique crop and livestock varieties, wild plants that can be used in medicine, and so on.
People depend on biodiversity for virtually everything they do – directly or indirectly. Rural people are absolutely dependent on biodiversity and biological resources for their livelihoods and freedom from poverty, whether in farming, forestry, fisheries, tourism, manufacturing, water supply, trade or education. Healthy, diverse ecosystems and sustainable farming practices are essential for supporting rural farmers and others. Diverse agricultural genetic resources are furthermore important for food security, since they include genes for resistance to drought, frost, salinity or disease.
In Namibia’s Constitution, Article 95, Namibia’s diverse and scenic natural environment is, along with its people, recognised as its greatest national capital asset.
Top priority is, therefore, given to biodiversity conservation activities as a means of enhancing sustainable development. Further-more, at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth Summit) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, Namibia signed the Convention on Biological Diversity, as well as other highly significant environmental treaties. This is an important convention which guides and supports national activities in the field of environmental conservation.
How does a developing country such as Namibia best protect its biodiversity? One of the chief ways is to educate the general population as much as possible to understand the value of biological resources and a healthy, diverse environment.
Most people have an intuitive understanding of their reliance on natural resources and the need to conserve them for later use. However, due to population pressure, economic hardship and social constraints, these resources are not always managed in a sustainable way without the intervention of policy changes or special incentives.
Many people, especially the older generation, have seen the impact of environmental degradation in their lifetimes, and realised the costs in terms of poor harvests, longer time spent walking to fetch wood, water or other resources, and have experienced diseases from poor sanitation, inadequate nutrition or excessive dust in the air.
Nonetheless, awareness on its own is never enough. Sensible forward planning by Government and its partners in communities and NGOs is a prerequisite for sound biodiversity conservation. This not only includes effective programmes, but also the policies, legislation and enforcement capacity to guide activities, and, where necessary, uphold laws.
As part of biodiversity conservation activities in Namibia, the National Biodiversity Programme is choreographing a consultative national strategy, to be called “Biodiversity and Development – Namibia’s ten-year strategic plan of action for sustainable development through biodiversity conservation, 2000 – 2010”.
It is a strategic plan for sustaining Namibia’s biological diversity by integrating it with national development. It is being fully integrated into the Second National Development Plan (NDP II), and will provide an important framework for sustainable development in the country. It will also provide a convenient basis, in booklet form, on which funds can be mobilised or reoriented from Government, bilateral and multilateral sources.
This action plan will provide strategic guidance for the implementation of Article 95 of the Namibia’s Constitution and
the Convention on Biological Diversity, as well as providing detailed, clear, practical activities through which strategic aims can be achieved.
National strategies and action plans are first and foremost an important basis for national planning. They are also one of the requirements under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Since the National Bio-diversity Programme was formed in 1994, considerable effort has been spent on developing institutional links and structures, and in preparing a comprehensive country study of what is known about Namibia’s biological diversity.
Development of Namibia’s biodiversity strategic plan is co-ordinated by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) on behalf of Government, with the committed involvement of a wide variety of agencies and individuals. It began in September 1998 and is funded by the Namibian Government, the Global Environment Facility through the United Nations Environment Programme, the German Ministry of Co-operation and Development and, informally, by the individuals and organisations involved.
Biodiversity and Development will be the product of many months of intersectoral dialogue, debate and prioritisation of issues and activities. It will:
• Provide the strategic framework for natural resource-management activities, including trade and economic incentives;
• Provide a detailed, prioritised action plan, in the form of a logical framework analysis of activities needed to address this strategy effectively for the next decade; and
• Provide an easy reference booklet with which funds can be mobilised from national, bilateral and multilateral sources to implement the programme.
It is, therefore, critical to have constructive and open-ended dialogue with government agencies, NGOs and the public on a fair and balanced strategy.
The document will consist of three main parts:
• An introductory section on the issues and concepts, which will probably include a comparison of positive and negative scenarios for Namibia;
• A strategy of broad, vision statements and policy objectives, supported by a list of priority activities; and
• An action plan which takes these activities and presents them as logical framework matrices spelling out time frames, lead agencies, collaborators, indicative budgets, priority ranks and logical order for implementation.
Dialogue to build the strategy and action plan has been taking place under a fairly broad section of Namibian society, with input from Government ministries, NGOs, parastatals, unions, private-sector companies, grassroots organisations and interested persons. Most of this dialogue has been centred in Windhoek, and by far the largest contribution has been made by technical specialists.
Most of the formal technical-level input has been via the technical working groups of the National Biodiversity Task Force. Political guidance is being pursued by members of the Task Force from different sectors and by the National Biodiversity Programme staff via meetings with senior representatives of Government Ministries, NGOs, specialist societies and boards with an important political perspective on the Namibian environment and society. Both levels of input are essential for shaping the strategic basis of the national strategy and action plan.
The Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan is not just the responsibility of the MET, but also bears on agriculture, fisheries, health, energy, mining, education and heritage, trade in natural resources, economic policy, and the legal and economic incentives provided for development activities in Namibia. It is thus essential that the entire Government, and all sectors of society, are involved in its implementation.
This article appeared in the 2001 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.