Community Forests and Conservancies – Promising partnerships – a tale of integration

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July 15, 2012

by Rolf Sprung, German Development Cooperation


“Quiet! I think we’re getting close,” whispers the 16-year-old San boy to his companion. The two of them have been tracking an elephant herd since early in the morning. Now, when the sun is about to set, brightening the colours of the bushveld, they catch the first glimpse of a young elephant bull browsing at a mixed stand of Combretum and silver terminalia trees.

Most likely this bull is one of the outer ‘sentries’ protecting the cows and their calves from stalking predators and other threats. But here the animals have nothing to fear. The two young boys are merely practising their hunting skills, trying to get as close as possible by following their grandfathers’ advice to always approach against the wind.

We are in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy community-forest area east of Tsumkwe. This particular spot is part of the wildlife sanctuary, a core area with dense stands of trees and shrubs. Harmonised wildlife and forest-management plans include provisions to ensure that wild animals in this area are not hunted or disturbed by forest use. The wildlife sanctuary has also been earmarked as a focal area for fire protection and management so as to protect forests and woodlands as game habitats. This ‘protection’ ensures that wild animals find refuge to cater for their offspring, which helps to maintain healthy and diverse game populations as key tourist attractions to local and international visitors.

In other zones, however, selected animals and forests can be used for commercial purposes such as trophy hunting, devil’s-claw harvesting or firewood marketing, providing a substantial annual income in a remote area with low agricultural potential and low infrastructural development.

This is just one example of the integrated natural-resource management the Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF) is promoting across Namibia in coordination with partners such as the German Development Cooperation (GIZ). It illustrates the mutual benefits that can be derived from combining conservancies and community forests in the same area and highlights their contribution to the diversification and improvement of local livelihoods.

Current achievements

Although community forests have not yet gained the same widespread recognition and support as conservancies, they provide legal backing, offer additional income and employment opportunities, and help to secure traditional utilisation rights for local people. Furthermore, they strengthen the powers of communal management bodies to regulate and control not only the use of forests but also the management of natural vegetation on farms and rangelands.

Realising these opportunities, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry work in partnership with local NGOs such as the NNF, Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation, World Wildlife Fund Namibia and the Nyae Nyae Development Foundation, assisted by international donors such as FAO, World Bank and the German Development Bank (KfW) to put integrated ecosystem management into practice.

This is not an easy task, however, given the different policies, legal frameworks and institutional setups that need to be harmonised. Yet promising progress has been made with the assistance of the NNF, which has facilitated integrative approaches since 2007 through assigned facilitators of the GIZ.

Raising local awareness

An important first step in this regard was to raise awareness concerning the benefits of integrated resource management and to ensure proper participation of local communities, traditional leaders and other stakeholders in the process. In this context, the NNF encouraged the establishment of local stakeholder working groups and organised regional workshops to discuss legal and technical issues.

In close cooperation with the Legal Assistance Centre in Windhoek, legal provisions for membership and benefit-sharing arrangements were clarified and guidelines for joint constitutions were developed to promote unified management structures. As a result, in many overlapping areas including Nyae Nyae, forest and wildlife resources are now managed by the same management committee. This reduces management costs, mitigates conflicts of interest and facilitates external support by NGOs and the private sector.

The NNF’s current support focus is on integrated management planning and joint forest and wildlife monitoring systems. In this regard, the first field tests of an extended ‘event book’ monitoring system targeting both wildlife and forest resources show promising results.

Once introduced on a larger scale, resource-monitoring systems implemented by communal forest and game guards will allow for the adaptation of management activities according to actual resource conditions. The observed impact of wild fires, for example, will then lead to adapted fire-management strategies or amended harvesting quotas.

The way forward

The effective management of conservancies and community forests requires an array of skills and mindsets: managers not only need a comprehensive understanding of ecological aspects, but have to be accountants, entrepreneurs and community developers all at the same time. This can be achieved only to a certain degree and many management committees have already become overburdened with the ever-growing demands of managing highly complex and dynamic environments in social, economic and ecological terms.

Long-term commitment to sustainable resource management can only be ensured when its benefits become tangible to a majority of community members and competitive towards alternative land-use options.

The Namibian Government will therefore continue to play a crucial role in harmonising and refining legal and institutional frameworks that promote integrative approaches and attract private entrepreneurs to enter into joint ventures with local communities.

NGOs such as the NNF and the private sector will play an equally crucial role in supporting local communities with business development, financial management and conflict resolution.

Last but not least, new innovative financing mechanisms that increase the benefits to be shared among community members, promote employment and help bridge the years for emerging conservancies and community forests to become self-sustained have to be developed.

This article appeared in the 2012 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.

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