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Conservancies emerge as a major force

“Conservancies” has become a buzzword in Namibia that is heard in venues as far removed as shiny high-level offices in Government to dusty gathering places of cattle herders in remote rural areas.

It seems that the frenzy surrounding conservancies has been fired primarily by stories of the financial benefits that they will bring to people living in areas with no alternative economic opportunities. Last year conservancies earned over N$1.4 million, while total benefits (financial and non-financial) are expected to top N$9 million by the end of 2002.

Not just economic benefits

However, people working with the Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) Programme, insist that it is not just economic benefits that are driving the programme. “Government has provided a framework that enables rural people to actively manage their resources. This is a significant change from the days of open access. It is for a variety of deeper social reasons that a lot of communities chose to go this way,” says Anna Davis, CBNRM Co-ordinator with the Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF). “It is not just for financial gain.”

She explains that rural people are taking charge of their lives in an organised, proactive way through the CBNRM programme. One of the main benefits that the conservancy establishment offers communities is the creation of a strong social structure, which provides a firm institutional base from which the community can manage their affairs.

Developing new skills

One way of measuring the success of conservancies is to look at the skills that have been developed to manage a conservancy. By means of training, emphasis is being placed on developing new skills to help people cope with managing a conservancy on behalf of a large membership. These include natural resource management (particularly wildlife) skills, financial management and accounting practices, staff management and organisational development, conflict resolution and planning, reporting and skills to deal with the private sector.

An important social benefit of conservancies that emanates from tourism and spin-off ventures is the creation of job opportunities in areas where rural communities have been losing their young people to cities for many years. Conservancies offer a choice to young people to become actively involved in their communities.

Wildlife returning

For most communities the benefit of conservancies is also seeing wildlife return to areas where it has been gone or on the decline for decades. The north west of Namibia is often used as an example of a region where people consciously and successfully started conserving wildlife 15 years before the 1996 legislation gave communal people rights over their natural resources and conservancies became popular. “In some areas it is not necessarily about earning a lot of money, but about taking the conservation of biodiversity seriously.”

This is especially true in the south where conservancies do not hold big financial promises and a lot of people see them as a way of returning wildlife to areas where game used to occur. Wildlife is also offering another option to communities that rely heavily on their livestock. In some areas conservancies have already started to benefit from their conservation goals as they gain approval for sustainable utilisation.

Impact on biodiversity

According to Davis the impact of a conservancy’s management on biodiversity is also used to measure their success. Monitoring the ecological viability of conservancies is being carried out to see what impact conservancies have on biodiversity and if there are any ecological benefits. Routine monitoring and studies will include a range of issues such as whether wildlife numbers are increasing and maintained, to the impact conservancies can make on biodiversity conservation.

Even if financial gains are not promoted as the only benefit of conservancies, it is clearly important when looking at the money and benefits that have been created. While many conservancies are still donor dependent, ten of the fifteen conservancies that have been registered have started to earn significant amounts of cash income. According to Davis, conservancies earned a total of N$1 433 340 in 2001 compared to N$484 886 in 2000.


In just a few years two conservancies have already gained self-sustaining levels through revenues from joint venture and trophy hunting agreements that have been signed with the private sector. The Torra and Uibasen conservancies, both in the Kunene Region, are currently operated completely independently from donor money. For instance, Torra is able to cover all its running costs of about N$130 000 per year. “They are effectively being run as businesses,” says Davis.

Two other conservancies, Salambala in Eastern Caprivi and Nyae Nyae in the Otjozondjupa Region, will be independent as from August this year, while ≠Khoadi //Hôas in the Kunene Region is slowly gaining independence from donor organisations through trophy hunting and recently taking over 35% of its running costs from donors.

Not all conservancies offer the same kind of financial benefits. Local tourism ventures range from high-earning joint-venture agreements to smaller-scale conservancy campsites, craft markets and traditional villages. “They are not all highly economically viable, big-scale, fast-moving conservancies.”

Lucrative opportunities

Until now trophy hunting and joint venture agreements have offered the most lucrative opportunities for conservancies. Torra, Mayuni and Uibasen have made significant earnings through their agreements with Wilderness Safaris (Damaraland Camp), Island Lodges Namibia (Susuwe Island Lodge) and Namibia Country Lodges (Twyfelfontein Country Lodge) respectively for lodges that are operated within their borders.

The conservancies that have trophy-hunting agreements with the private sector have also earned huge incomes. Five conservancies, Nyae Nyae, Torra, ≠Khoadi //Hôas, Salambala and Doro !Nawas, have received trophy-hunting quotas from Government and have operational contracts with trophy hunters. The five conservancies earned a total of N$734 372 from trophy hunting during 2001, while an estimated N$213 150 worth of non-financial benefits in the form of meat were returned to local conservancy members. In contrast, because of improved wildlife populations and recently increased official quotas approved by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), trophy hunting will exceed N$1 650 000 in 2002. This includes a lucrative N$900 000 deal in a trophy hunting agreement that Nyae Nyae recently signed.

Currently one more conservancy has a potential trophy-hunting contract in the pipeline, while another is in the process of signing a joint-venture agreement with the private sector. A further five joint-venture lodge developments are due to go out on tender to the private sector in the near future (Tsiseb, Sorris Sorris, ≠Khoadi //Hôas, Purros and Doro !Nawas).

Fifteen registered conservancies

It is clear that ultimately, whatever it was that convinced rural people to go the CBNRM way towards development, it is unmistakably popular. Since Government amended legislation in 1996 and the first four conservancies were established in 1998, there are now 15 registered conservancies. Together they manage a total of 4 million hectares of land. There are, furthermore, 35 conservancies currently emerging that incorporate an additional 6.5 million to 8.8 million hectares and more than 70 000 people.

The involvement of more communities is expected to result in a noticeable increase in the benefits earned for rural people. While total programme benefits (financial and non-financial) derived from CNBRM activities reached a substantial N$2.4 million in 1999, N$3.4 million in 2000 and N$6 135 395 in 2001, the level of benefits is expected to top N$9 million by the end of 2002. Hundreds of local jobs will have been created within conservancies and allied enterprises.

The CBNRM Programme is increasingly being considered as a major rural development strategy in Namibia and has been included in the National Development Plans. Recognition for the project was also achieved internationally in 1998 when the World Wildlife Fund for Nature honoured it with the prestigious Gift to the Earth Award, in recognition of the international contribution that conservancies are making to the earth.

A more recent sign of the growing importance of the CBNRM programme is the establishment of a special CBNRM Sub Division (CSD) within the Directorate of Parks and Wildlife in the MET. According to Davis this shows that the MET has reinforced its commitment to the formation of conservancies and CBNRM. “This has been a huge boost for CBNRM in Namibia.”

Rural people committed to protecting their wildlife

Six years ago landmark legislation was introduced that paved the way for the establishment of communal area conservancies.

This change in the Nature Conservation Ordinance 4 of 1975 gave rural Namibians living on communal land long-awaited legal rights and responsibilities over their natural resources, especially wildlife, and today enables people to gain meaningful benefits from the scheme.

According to Anna Davis of the  NNF, the Communal Area Conservancy Programme 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. An estimate based on a road-strip census conducted in 2001 indicates that springbok populations in the region exceed 74 000 animals.

Conservancies are one of the ways in which Namibians can benefit from natural resources. The CBNRM programme was initiated following independence to enhance the equality of life of rural Namibians while improving biodiversity in long-neglected areas. The national CBNRM movement has now moved from a series of pilot activities to a well-developed and cohesive programme that relies on a proven but flexible approach to conservancy development. Previously limited to certain geographical areas, the programme is spreading throughout Namibia.

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 conservancy legislation enables farmers living on state land to establish legally gazetted conservancies, giving them rights over resources, in particular wildlife. Before this can be done they have to fulfil a series of requirements laid down by Government. Once a conservancy has been gazetted, the focus shifts to land-use planning and the development of integrated natural-resource management.

Conservancies work 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. Strategies to address conflicts between people and wildlife are included in these plans. New, improved monitoring systems for wildlife and other resources are enabling conservancies to apply for wildlife-use quotas from the MET.


The Namibian Association of CBNRM Support Organisations (NACSO) is an association of government ministries and directorates, non-governmental organisations and the University of Namibia which voluntarily constituted themselves to collaborate closely when practising, promoting and supporting community-based management of natural resources in Namibia. NACSO was established in September 1999 when its constitution was formally adopted. “The aim of NACSO is to promote, support and further the development of community-based approaches to the wise and sustainable management of natural resources, thereby striving to advance rural development and livelihoods, to promote biodiversity conservation and to empower communities through capacity building and good governance, to determine their own long-term destinies.”

Activities that the Association undertakes include: 

• strengthening the institutional capacities of conservancies through training and ongoing support;

• promoting partnerships between communities, Government, NGOs and the Private Sector around CBNRM;

• promoting sustainable natural resource management practices at local level;

• promoting sustainable income-generating initiatives at community and individual levels;

• keeping  track of national CBNRM programme developments and impact; and

• raising funds to support the CBNRM sector and make recommendations as to how such funds will be used.

The founding principle of the Association is to operate in a facilitative, collaborative, supportive and synergistic capacity, and not to dictate the activities of any particular organisation, but to respect the rights of individual member organisations within the spirit of the association, and to pursue their own fund-raising and programme activities. Its members are the Directorate of Parks and Wildlife Management (Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET)); Directorate of Environmental Affairs, MET; Directorate of Tourism, MET; Directorate of Forestry, MET; Directorate of Scientific Services, MET; Legal Assistance Centre (LAC); Namibia Community Based Tourism Association (NACOBTA); Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC); Nyae Nyae Development Foundation of Namibia (NNDFN); Namibia Non-Governmental Organisations Forum (NANGOF); Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF); Rural People’s Institute for Social Empowerment (RISE); Rössing Foundation; Multipurpose Research and Consulting Centre – University of Namibia (MRCC-UNAM); Namibia Development Trust (NDT); Desert Research Foundation of Namibia (DRFN); and Centre for Research Information Action in Africa – Southern Africa Development and Consulting (CRIAA – SA-DC).

This article appeared in the 2002 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.



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