The Future of Co-Management – Conservation must harmonise with social needs

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By Colgar Sikopo, Deputy Director (North): Directorate of Parks and Wildlife Management (DPWM), MET

and Midori Paxton, Project Co-ordinator for the UNDP/GEF-funded Strengthening the Protected Area Network (SPAN) Project of the MET

Game capture training

In the modest Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) photo archive under the Caprivi section, you find a series of photographs of MET staff and community representatives in discussion in Caprivi on the socioecological survey along the Kwando River in 1991. The survey was one of the first of its kind whereby the MET directly engaged with local communities to obtain their views.

In a file entitled ‘co-management’ in the MET, there is a draft policy entitled Parks and Neighbours and a draft cabinet submission document on this policy in 1997. The objective of the policy was ‘to link Namibian protected areas with neighbouring people and to share protected areas with resident communities.’ However, at that time, it never met ministerial approval.

“In those days, the MET needed to convince people both within the Ministry and outside that people’s involvement in park management was beneficial to both park management and to the communities,” says the Ministry’s CBNRM and co-management specialist, Brian Jones. “But over the past five years, the Ministry has been demonstrating the benefits by implementing what was intended in the original policy.”

International trends

What exactly is co-management? According to the World Conservation Union (IUCN), co-management of government-designated protected areas is ‘where decision-making power, responsibility and accountability are shared between governmental agencies and other stakeholders, in particular indigenous peoples and local and mobile communities that depend on that area culturally and/or for their livelihoods.”

Internationally, the approaches to protected-area management have shifted dra-mati-cally from the traditional ‘protectionist’ approach to a ‘people-inclusive’ approach in the past two decades. During the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio, the link between conservation and development was recognised. It was stressed that conservation has to harmonise with social needs. In the same year at the 4th World Congress on National Parks and Protected Areas held in Venezuela, the delegates emphasised that ‘social, cultural, economic and political issues are not peripheral to protected areas, but are central to them’. It called for community participation and equality in decision-making processes in park management. The 5th World Parks Congress held in Durban in 2003 called for a commitment to ‘innovation in protected area management, including adaptive, collaborative and co-management strategies’.

The Government of Namibia is increasingly realising that co-management is an important tool for improving conservation activities in protected areas and for ensuring that benefits from parks accrue to local people. This is also reflected in Cabinet directives issued about proclamation of parks in recent years. In the Cabinet decisions dealing with proclamation of parks such as the Bwabwata National Park (BNP), Sperrgebiet National Park (SNP), and Kunene Park (existing three Government Tourism Concession Areas – Palmwag, Etendeka and Hobatere), a collaborative approach with residents and neighbours, and in the case of the SNP, with a wider range of stakeholders including the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) and mining companies, is explicitly mentioned. Furthermore, the MET is in the process of finalising the Policy on Protected Areas, Neighbours and Resident People, which sets a framework for a collaborative park management approach for the draft Parks and Wildlife Management Bill.

As one of the first steps in implementing the co-management approach, the MET proclaimed the BNP in November 2007. The park extends over the Caprivi and Kavango regions in northern Namibia and includes around 5 500 residents, merging the former Mahango Game Park and Caprivi Game Park and adding the wildlife-rich Kwando Triangle. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been drafted between the MET and the resident community association, to clarify roles and responsibilities of the communities and ensure that tangible benefits will accrue to them from parks.

In light of the improved opportunities available to communities, further consultation must now take place regarding the best approach for zoning, managing and developing the park, in the national interest and for the benefit of the local residents. A Technical Committee (TC) for park management, comprising all stakeholders, is to be established imminently to oversee the consultation process and to guide the MET, Regional Councils and Traditional Authorities on management of the park. During this consultation, all options in these areas will be explored with residents and neighbours, as well as other line ministries and partner organisations. During this process, the MET will negotiate specific benefit opportunities for park residents and neighbours that are in line with an agreed park-management plan.

In the south west of the Kavango Region, the Mangetti Game Camp (MGC), as it is called today, may not be known to all readers. The MGC is a conservation area with no legal conservation status. The Camp was fenced off in 1973 and 1974 with the aim of generating cash income through game farming, trophy hunting, live game sales and other utilisation practices. The revenue was supposed to go to the then Administration of the Kavango.

With independence, the MET accepted full responsibility for the management of the MGC in close collaboration with the Ukwangali Traditional Authority (TA) on whose traditional land the Mangetti is situated, as well as with the Kavango Regional Council (RC) for regional development. After further consultation between the involved parties and other relevant stakeholders, it was decided that the area be managed as a contractual park between the MET, Ukwangali TA and the Kavango RC. An MoU was developed for signature by the MET, Ukwangali TA and the Kavango RC. .

Specific objectives of the MoU include the establishment of a joint management board, and development of mechanisms and strategies for local communities and the TA and RC to participate meaningfully in, and benefit tangibly from, the contractual park through tourism activities. In addition to this, the Ukwangali TA has aspirations to operate tourism camping sites and possibly develop a middle-market accommodation facility in the Mangetti. The MET has also acquired funding from the EU Rural Poverty Reduction Programme for management infrastructure development for the MGC.

Co-management beyond boundaries

As indicated clearly in the draft Policy on Protected Areas, Neighbours and Resident People, the MET is also working on co-management outside the boundaries of the parks in the form of compatible land-use practices (so-called support zones) to avoid human-wildlife conflict and manage wildlife sustainably. This approach is also followed where communal conservancies border on protected areas, or where they link protected areas. One such example is the Mudumu North Complex (MNC) bordering the BNP on the eastern side. The MNC is a forum established in 2005 for joint management of wildlife resources, and its management committee comprises representatives from the MET, Kwando, Mayuni, Sobbe and Mashi conservancies, TAs, community forests, and other line ministries. The NGO Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC) acts as the secretariat.

The management committee meets, discusses and implements issues of game reintroductions in the area, human wildlife conflict, fire control and management, wildlife crime prevention and law enforcement, community benefits from wildlife and tourism of the area in general. The MET Warden for the Mudumu National Park chairs the forum. Other similar complexes in progress include the Mudumu South Complex also in the Caprivi Region, Khaudum North Complex and Mahango North Complex in the Kavango Region.

Linking Etosha and the Skeleton Coast Park

Another notable endeavour towards establishing a co-managed protected area is an ongoing intensive consultation process with local stakeholders to establish the Kunene People’s Park. In June 2006, the Minister of Environment and Tourism held an information meeting at Hobatere to communicate to local stakeholders about the Cabinet decision to proclaim the three Government tourism concession areas, stressing that this would be a park with ‘an entirely new way of managing a protected area, in full consultation with other stakeholders and with the economic interests of local people’. The Minister then established a TC consisting of representatives from the MET, Kunene RC, affected TAs, six neighbouring conservancies, two locally operating NGOs and current tourism concessionaires. The TC has already met seven times and is currently finalising an overall agreement that will govern this future park, which, along with the communal conservancies in the area, will provide a viable corridor between the Etosha National and Skeleton Coast parks. This example manifests itself as a genuine effort of all the stakeholders involved to jointly plan and create a truly co-managed park.

“With true co-management of a national park, the MET and communities have to be in the same car, driving towards a common destination and making joint decisions on the way,” one natural resource management specialist said. “If the two parties are in different vehicles travelling in parallel, they only wave at each other as and when it suits them and that is not real co-management.”

In all the examples mentioned, the MET seeks the former scenario rather than the latter. We normally advise people, though, to go in convoy when travelling through rough terrain so as not to become stuck on the way, which could lead to fatal consequences. So, perhaps the best way to be effective and sustainable would be to form a jointly planned and organised convoy!

This article appeared in the 2008/9 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.


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