Communal Area Conservancies in Namibia – a unique and successful initiative

Private land conservation in Namibia
July 26, 2012
The Olive Exclusive
July 26, 2012
Private land conservation in Namibia
July 26, 2012
The Olive Exclusive
July 26, 2012

The establishment of Communal Area Conservancies has not only given rural Namibians living on communal land the legal right and responsibility to manage their natural resources themselves, but also enhanced the quality of their lives, while at the same time improving the biodiversity of these long-neglected areas, reports Anna Davis, performance management co-ordinator for the CBNRM Programme, Namibia Nature Foundation.

A conservancy is a communally owned and managed area where people have pooled their resources in order to manage, utilise and benefit from their wildlife and other natural resources. Conservancies allow people to diversify their livelihoods beyond normal farming and provide a greater incentive for sound natural resource management.

Four years ago, the Government of Namibia introduced landmark legislation that paved the way for the establishment of Communal Area Conservancies. This change in the “Nature Conservation Ordinance 4 of 1975” gives rural Namibians living on communal land long-awaited legal rights and responsibilities over their natural resources, especially wildlife, and enables people to gain meaningful benefits from the scheme.

Communities soon realised the potential of establishing conservancies. To date, 10 communal area conservancies have been registered, while a further 20 are in the process of being developed. The programme has been welcomed by international conservation organisations and has captivated international audiences through extensive media coverage. In 1998, Namibia became the first country in Africa to receive the World Wildlife Fund’s prestigious Gift to the Earth Award, recognising the international contribution that conservancies make to the earth.

Conservancies are one of the ways in which Namibians can benefit from natural resources. Namibia’s national Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) Programme was initiated at Independence to enhance the quality of life of rural Namibians while improving biodiversity in long-neglected areas. Previous attempts to exclude people from managing natural resources had met with little success, and it had become clear that a new strategy was needed to embrace both the needs and aspirations of people and the country’s international conservation obligations.

The CBNRM Programme is a joint initiative of the Namibian Government, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), community-based organisations (CBOs) and rural area residents, with technical and financial support from international donors and conservation agencies.

The Communal Area Conservancy Programme in Namibia has deep roots in a history of rural people’s commitment to caring for wildlife. With origins in the Kunene Region, communities and their traditional leaders have been taking responsibility for protecting wildlife since the early 1980s. This initiative has spread to the Caprivi, Otjozondjupa, Erongo, north-central and recently the southern regions of Namibia, coupled with a remarkable growth in wildlife populations. For example, in Namibia’s arid north-west, black rhino populations have more than doubled since 1983, while in the same region springbok numbers have grown from less than 1 000 in 1982, to over 25 000 in 1999.

New rights, new responsibilities

The conservancy legislation enables farmers living on state land to establish legally gazetted conservancies, giving them rights over resources, in particular wildlife. This seeks to rectify an imbalance of rights between communal and commercial area farmers. Farmers on freehold (commercial) land were awarded rights over wildlife in 1967. However, until 1996 the same rights were not extended to their communal counterparts.

Communities are not automatically awarded the right to register as a conservancy, but must first fulfil a series of requirements laid down by Government. These include:

• registering members;

• establishing boundaries;

• electing a representative committee to manage the conservancy; and

• developing a constitution and various management plans for the effective and efficient running of the conservancy.

To date, 10 conservancies have fulfilled the requirements and been registered as conservancies (see map on page 10). These conservancies include more than 2 500 000 ha (25 000 km2) of prime wildlife habitat and involve about 30 000 local people.

Improving natural resource management practices

Once a conservancy has been gazetted, the focus shifts to land-use planning and the development of integrated natural resource management. Conservancies work together with all local stakeholders and support agencies (Government, NGOs and the private sector) to set up integrated management plans that include all local natural resources, including wildlife, grazing, water, forest resources and livestock. Strate-gies to address conflicts between people and wildlife are included in these plans.

Members of registered conservancies actively participate in research and monitoring programmes, such as game counts and drawing up wildlife inventories. New, improved monitoring systems for wildlife and other resources are enabling conservancies to set and apply for wildlife-use quotas from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET).

In all conservancies, natural resource monitors are appointed to undertake resource management activities. They are supervised by and report to conservancy committees, and are accountable to the members of the conservancy.

Many conservancies have excellent wildlife habitat but have low wildlife populations. To date, the Nyae Nyae and Salambala conservancies have successfully translocated over 300 animals, while further translocations are expected to take place this year. The MET and the private sector have thus far donated game to these areas, while stronger links between commercial and communal area conservancies are expected to be forged in the future.

Building strong management committees

Conservancies are run and managed by the locally elected committee and conservancy management staff. Committees are tasked by their members to manage the conservancies. Work includes managing staff and income, communicating with their members, involving them in decision-making in the conservancy and representing the needs and interests of the conservancy.

Emphasis is placed on developing new skills to cope with managing a conservancy on behalf of a large membership. These include financial management and accounting practices, staff management and organisational development, conflict resolution, and planning, reporting and negotiation skills.

Generating income and benefits through tourism

Many conservancies are donor dependent, but are moving to-wards self-sustainability through generating funds from tourism and wildlife-related activities. For example, the Torra Conser-vancy in Kunene Region derives its income from a joint venture agreement with Wilderness Safa-ris, while additional income is gained from trophy hunting. As of last year, the institution covers all of its running costs of about N$130 000 per year and makes a considerable profit for its members.

Local tourism ventures range from high-earning joint-venture agreements such as those mentioned above, to smaller-scale conservancy campsites, craft markets and traditional villages. However, suitable tourism legislation addressing community-based enterprises has yet to be tabled. This affects income generation and job creation, as the traditional conservative approach on communal lands is still being experienced.

Several conservancies have begun the process of negotiating joint-venture agreements with local private-sector concessionaires and the MET. The Mayuni Conservancy in Caprivi concluded a joint-venture luxury lodge agreement for one of its prime Kwando island sites. Susuwe Island Lodge opened last year. In 1999, four conservancies, Torra, Salambala, ≠Khoadi//Hoas and Nyae Nyae, earned in excess of N$450 000 through joint-venture trophy hunting agreements with professional hunters.

At present conservancies are willing to manage their areas, but can exercise little legal control over tourists driving through them. Regional tourism plans are being compiled to assist in the process of ensuring that tourism development is sustainable and appropriate, and that it is planned with local stakeholders, ensuring that benefits are returned fairly to the conservancies in question.

The future of conservancies

The CBNRM Programme is increasingly considered as a major rural development strategy. As a result, it is included in the National Development Plans (NDPs). It featured in President Nujoma’s “State-of-the-Nation” address in 1999 and is commonly mentioned in Parliament. The new challenge is to integrate conservancies into all levels of planning at local, regional and national levels.

The national CBNRM movement has now moved from a series of pilot activities to a well-developed and cohesive programme which relies on a proven but flexible approach to conservancy development. Previously limited to certain geographic areas, the programme is spreading throughout Namibia, with much interest currently being shown by communities in southern Namibia.

The involvement of more communities is expected to result in a marked increase in the benefits earned by participating communities. For example, it is projected that by 2005 at least 25 communal area conservancies will be registered in Namibia, more than double the number that currently

exist, and that these conservancies will be managing a total area of more than nine million hectares. While programme income derived from CBNRM-related benefits reached a substantial N$2.4 million in 1999, the level of income benefits is expected to top N$7.5 million by 2005. This income will be earned and controlled directly by conservancies, and is expected to make a significant contribution towards improving rural living standards. Hundreds of local jobs will have been created within conservancies and allied enterprises. 

From a conservation point of view, greater focus will be placed on research into the importance of conservancies in protecting biomes and areas of significant biological importance. The programme will broaden its focus from mainly wildlife activities to include forestry, veld foods and fresh-water fish as further possibilities for income. This will entail research to determine the sustainability of using these resources.

At an institutional level, the MET is currently establishing a specialised CBNRM Unit, which will ensure greater input from the Ministry in assisting conservancies to become established and with technical support in the management of their areas.

An association of partner organisations has been created. The CBNRM Association of Namibia was launched officially last year, and will act as an umbrella organisation for the various institutions involved in CBNRM activities.

This article appeared in the 2001 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.


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