Diversifying the economic base in conservancies – Benefits from bushes

Namibia Desert lions – Return of the King
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Namibia Desert lions – Return of the King
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July 15, 2012

by Karen Nott, Co-ordinator, Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC)

First-time visitors to the Kunene Region sometimes leave the area wishing they could sell all their belongings and enjoy the freedom of a semi-nomadic lifestyle. Whilst the existence of the Himba communities in the region may seem idyllic, their lifestyle presents many challenges. 

Their wealth and security lie in their herds of cattle, goats and sheep. During times of drought, their livelihoods are severely threatened. Namibia’s Community-based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) programme is not so much aimed at changing people’s livelihoods, but rather at supporting them to diversify their livelihood strategies. This has been achieved by developing enterprises based on tourism and wildlife resources, and more recently by focusing on opportunities presented by indigenous plant resources.

Questionnaire surveys

Of the 35 conservancies it supports, the non-governmental organisation Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC) is working with five conservancies (Puros, Marienfluss, Orupembe, Sanitatas and Okondjombo) to develop an enterprise based on the harvesting of the resin of the omumbiri tree, Commiphora wildii. When this work was initiated about five years ago, one of the earliest activities undertaken was to interview women in these conservancies and document their traditional knowledge relating to the Commiphora spp, and to determine whether they were interested in developing plant-based enterprises. This was done using participatory rural appraisal (PRA) techniques and questionnaire surveys.

The questionnaire survey found no evidence of trade with omumbiri resin, although small quantities were given as gifts to family members living in areas without the resource. All except one of the women interviewed (about 150) indicated that they would want to be involved in a plant-based enterprise. Discussions around why they would want to earn money from harvesting omumbiri resin always came back to the fact that women wanted money to pay for health care and buy food during the driest time of the year (just before the onset of the rains, which is also the time when the trees produce the resin). None of the five conservancies has a clinic and people travel for up to seven hours to towns such as Sesfontein or Opuwo for medical help. The vulnerability of these communities was highlighted by the number of people affected by the recent measles epidemic.

Currently the third season of commercial harvesting of omumbiri resin is underway. Harvesters are paid on delivery of the resin to the conservancy office. This process is made possible by the revolving plant fund, which is managed by the IRDNC. During the 2007/2008 harvest season N$250 520 was paid to 235 harvesters, while in the 2008/2009 harvest season N$304 270 was paid to 275 harvesters, with over 1 000 estimated beneficiaries (immediate family members). The conservancy management committees were paid N$ 25 050 as a management fee.

Keen interest

Monitoring results support much of the information collected during the initial phases of this development. Post-harvest- monitoring indicates that the resin is harvested using sustainable harvesting methods and that elephants cause the most damage to omumbiri trees.

In conclusion, two quotations from harvesters:

“When are we going to finish with this building work? I want to go and harvest omumbiri. When I am working here on the building site, I don’t know what is happening to my cattle or where they are. When I am harvesting omumbiri, I can watch my cattle at the same time.”

Govan Tjipombo (a young man from the Puros Conservancy), who was working on a conservancy building project.

“Since the omumbiri has started, we don’t need to borrow food from our neighbours. If we are hungry today, we can go and harvest and get money and tonight we can buy food.”

Hepute Kapukire (aged 90, Marienfluss Conservancy)

  2007/2008 2007/2008
Food 35% 27%
Saving (for health care) 34% 31%
Clothing and household 13% 12%
Schooling 9% 10%
Buying livestock 6% 13%
Other 3% 7%

This article appeared in the 2010/11 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.


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