Every River Has Its People: Making a difference where it counts

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By Ginger Mauney

In 1994, in response to increased pressures on the Okavango River, the basin countries – Angola, Botswana and Namibia – signed an agreement forming the Okavango River Basin Commission (OKACOM). The agreement committed these countries to managing the Okavango River basin with equity, sustainability and openness. It also required them to develop an integrated basin management plan. Out of this initiative came the Every River Has Its People (ERP) project.

In February 2006, Dr Chris Brown, Executive Director of the Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF), the organisation responsible for the ERP project, said in a speech highlighting the ERP’s community-based developments in the Kavango Region: “The most important issues in the basin are those concerning the improvement of the people’s livelihoods and quality of life. If people are not in a position to look after themselves properly, they will not be in a position to look after their resources and to manage these resources sustainably.”

Now in its sixth and final year, the Every River Has Its People project and its vast array of collaborators and stakeholders from all sides of the river have accomplished a great deal. From crocodiles and craft development to tourism and wildlife, the ERP is contributing directly to improving the lives of the people living in the basin.

Opening new options in tourism

With tourism vital to the nation’s economy and to future development in the Kavango Region, Mwazi Mwazi, the NNF’s National Co-ordinator for the ERP, noted, “The creation of the Kavango Regional Tourism Forum and its focus on establishing a Kavango tourism route linking community-based campsites to commercial routes in all the ERP countries has been an important development.” Working with Open Africa, a not-for-gain institution with expertise in community-driven tourism development, the ERP has launched and, through the Kavango Regional Council, is actively marketing a Kavango Tourism Route.

Mwazi added, “We have established a community-based campsite, Mbamba, in the Joseph Mbabangandu Conservancy, and an agreement was recently signed between the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and the Traditional Authority of the two conservancies immediately north of Khaudum, the George Mukoya and Muduva Nyangana conservancies, to allow local communities to rebuild the Khaudum and Sikereti campsites in the Khaudum Game Park. Through the ERP we are helping the communities to find funding to help bring these campsites up to standard.”

The craft component

With crafts proven to contribute to poverty reduction, social upliftment and improved health status, the craft component of the ERP, under leadership of Charlie Paxton in Rundu, has been vital to the project’s overall success.

As Dr Brown noted: “Craft groups have been established and supported in all five traditional authority areas of the Kavango. A craft-purchasing mechanism – Mpande Craft – has been established mainly to support the emerging craft producers, while quality crafts are marketed mainly through Mud Hut Trading. In the past 18 months craft producers, primarily women, have earned about N$150 000 from craft sales, and this figure is expected to exceed N$250 000 in 2006.”

The ‘branding’ of Okavango crafts is seen as the key to the growth of this sector. Exhibitions in Windhoek and Maun in Botswana should help towards brand recognition.

Most importantly, Mwazi added, “Through the craft component we’ve been able to reach women with important health messages, giving them information about water-borne diseases, malaria, nutrition and HIV/Aids. In whatever metamorphosis the ERP undergoes, HIV/Aids and gender issues will be emphasised in any follow-on projects.”

Using wildlife wisely

From its inception, the ERP has worked closely with line ministries such as the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, an approach that has been of paramount importance. This collaborative attitude has paid off in many ways. For example, exclusive wildlife zones have been established by conservancies bordering the Khaudum Game Park with an eye towards developing new water points and ultimately introducing more game species.

Also, through this relationship with the MET, the George Mukoya and Muduva Nyangana conservancies have been successful in acquiring hunting quotas which they can offer to professional hunters on a tender basis and ultimately gain much-needed income. What’s more, the Joseph Mbabangandu Conservancy has applied to the MET for permission to introduce twenty common impala to their ‘wildlife and tourism’ zone along the river.

The ERP has also focused on protecting and using certain elements of the Kavango River’s biodiversity sustainably. In this region, crocodiles are synonymous with the rivers. Results from the ERP’s crocodile population survey prompted CITES to down-list Namibia’s crocodile population, thus allowing for more useful management approaches such as trophy hunting, ranching, harvesting of animals from the wild and the sale of skins. A three-year study has been initiated by the ERP to explore these economic options, to continue monitoring the population and to look at ways of reducing conflicts between people and crocodiles.

Growth on the ground

Working with the relevant line ministries, the ERP has established the following:

• a minimum tillage cropping initiative and chilli-pepper planting programme under the Agriculture section;

• community forests, including trans-boundary forests, and fire management under the Forestry banner; and

• fish farming and the establishment of a fish pond under the Fishing section.

Into the future

Mwazi noted that the ERP has been an outstanding forum for exchanging information and ideas with our neighbouring countries. He added, “The ERP has been a great learning experience for all of us. Namibia has the lead in Community-based Natural Resource Monitoring development and Botswana is keen to learn more from us in this field, while we’ve been able to learn about tourism development from Botswana. In Angola, we’ve focused on environmental education and the craft component has also been very active there.”

As far as the ERP has come, more can still be done. The development of a regional and basin-wide land-use plan is a priority for 2006. The ERP has recognised the importance of partnerships between the private sector and communities in the basin.

Mwazi stressed, “The programme has been successful. We’ve made all our original objectives, and in tangible ways we’ve improved the lives of people living in the region.”

After just six years, the achievements of the Every River Has Its People project should be applauded. This will hopefully be continued far into the future.

The Namibia Nature Foundation wishes to thank SIDA for supporting the Every River Has Its People project generously since its inception.

This article appeared in the 2006/7 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.


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