Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation: marking milestones

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DRFN: The biggest natural laboratory in the oldest desert in the world
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By Margaret Jacobsohn

The IRDNC – Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation – evolved out of a pioneering partnership with community leaders in the Kunene Region in the 1980s. The common goal of a committed few was to stop the poaching of desert-dwelling elephant and black rhino as well as that of the other species in this remote, marginalised area. Since then much has changed.

Subsistence and commercial poaching in Kunene was stopped by the community-based approach, wildlife numbers soared and in 1996 the Namibian Government amended legislation to allow communal area dwellers to form conservancies and thereby gain the same rights over wildlife and tourism that freehold farmers have enjoyed since the 1970s. IRDNC’s role thus changed to one of providing technical support to communities to develop conservancies and assisting registered conservancies to full self-sufficiency.

True to its goal of improving the lives of rural people and securing a place for wild animals to live outside national parks. The IRDNC has continued to evolve and expand with the needs of the country and its wildlife. It is now the largest field-based conservation and development organisation in Namibia, working with more than 40 registered and emerging conservancies in Kunene and Caprivi. These milestones achieved by the IRDNC in 2004 reflect the maturity and commitment of this important organisation.

Civil society develops

As communal-area conservancies mature, civil society is developing, with people becoming aware not only of their rights and responsibilities as conservancy members but also as citizens of Namibia. Despite the expected teething problems of young institutions, older conservancies are making successful transitions from one committee to another, feedback to members is improving and members are starting to hold committees accountable. Conservancies are taking the lead in development and provide a democratic local forum with which government, the tourism sector and NGOs can interact.

Lessons learnt

The future of community conservation in Namibia depends on mitigating farming losses caused by problem animals as wildlife numbers increase and populations expand back into areas where they were previously poached and their numbers depleted. The pilot year of the Human-Animal Conservancy Compensation Scheme provided many lessons, as a result of its on-the-ground test in five conservancies. Overall, the scheme showed that with sufficient early technical support, conservancies are able to manage a fair and transparent ‘self-insurance’ system to balance the losses of individual farmers against the collective income/gains of their conservancy. It also showed that by improving stock management, farmers are able to reduce their losses to predators. The next pilot – HACSIS – phases ‘self-insurance’ with conservancies, paying 50% of claims from their own income.

Conservancies up and running

Nine conservancy management frameworks were initiated, eight in Caprivi and one in Kunene. The challenge in 2005 is for these conservancies to put the frameworks into operation. The frameworks are a robust and practical tool to help conservancies manage natural resources, staff, office, vehicles, finances, equipment, information and communication with members and outside partners. This challenge – for rural people with little institutional management experience to take on running an effective and efficient democratic organisation – is one of the biggest facing the national conservancy movement. Co-ordinated support is needed from all parties involved.

Managing grazing

Progress towards addressing causes of land degradation was made in three pilot conservancies. After study tours to farms in South Africa and Zimbabwe, the conservancies reached consensus on what needs to be done to reverse massive perennial grass and topsoil losses. Planned grazing trials started in 2005.

Excellence and incentives

Collaboration between the MET and support partners resulted in the two new Caprivi conservancy-owned and -managed campsites in the proposed Bwabata National Park along the Kwando River in West Caprivi becoming examples of excellence in community-based tourism. The initiative also contributed to securing a trans-boundary wildlife corridor in a critical area, and has given these conservancies a strong stake in seeing the national park thrive. Both campsites made a profit in their first full year of operation, during which eight new jobs were created.

Skills upgraded

Upgrading women’s skills in public speaking is one of the most important and practical ways of helping to address gender imbalances in conservancy decision-making. Accordingly, IRDNC developed a two-day public-speaking skills workshop.

Following its resounding success with the first 40-plus participants from four Kunene conservancies, a workshop manual was written so that this training event can be replicated by partners.

Hunting tested

A new type of hunting was tested in a conservancy. ‘Premium’ hunting targets hunters who want the experience without the high expense of paying for trophy animals or super-luxury camping. The MET provided a permit for the trial and a Swedish hunter shot a small number of game species from the conservancy quota. Premium hunting will assist income generation in conservancies with low, non-consumptive tourism potential.

CBNRM course completed

The first 11 Namibian students to take the Polytechnic’s new Community-Based Natural Resource Management course graduated successfully. Developed by CBNRM practitioners, including senior IRDNC staff, the course is the first of its kind in the region and enables students to obtain an accredited CBNRM qualification.

Conservancy mapping

Caprivi staff pioneered participatory conservancy mapping with conservancy members. The approach combines maximum grassroots participation with satellite imagery (orthophotos). Data includes cropping and seasonal grazing areas; indigenous resources (e.g. reeds, papyrus, water lilies, bulbs, construction poles); wildlife movement and sightings (species, potential water points and crossing points into neighbouring conservancies or national parks); villages, wells; and existing and potential tourism sites and attractions.

Integrating experience

As the largest field-based CBNRM practitioner in Namibia, IRDNC has a special responsibility to share field experience with partners and politicians, nationally and with neighbouring countries.

This was achieved by developing and contributing to conservancy-training modules for national use; integrating CBNRM experience into the curricula of training institutions in Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa and Botswana; piloting and field testing CBNRM and CBT initiatives through undertaking and hosting a number of national, regional and international exchange visits; and facilitating an understanding of CBNRM in regional planning forums.

IRDNC Caprivi also field-tested the CBNRM approach to HIV/Aids mitigation, whereby communities themselves identify solutions and action.

It’s a team effort

Garth Owen-Smith and Dr Margaret Jacobsohn, directors of the Namibian NGO and Trust, IRDNC (Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation), are two Namibians with more than 50 years’ conservation and development experience between them. Virtually all their work has been field-based, pioneering the practical application of community-based natural resource management.

Much of their field experience and knowledge has been shared in their extensive list of scientific and non-scientific publications and Margie’s popular book, The Himba: Nomads of Namibia, now in its third print.

The two have notched up the following international, regional and Namibian conservation awards:

2003 – Co-winners of the Conservation Award – Cheetah Conservation Fund

1998 – Each received a Knight of the Order of the Golden Ark Award, Netherlands

1994 – Each received a Global 500 Award, United Nations Environmental Programme

1993 – Co-winners of the Grassroots Environmental Prize for Africa, Goldman

Foundation, USA

1992 – Owen-Smith named as the Southern African Rhino and Elephant Foundation’s

Conservationist of the Year

Garth and Margie are quick to point out that much of the credit for their various awards must go to the IRDNC’s skilled and committed staff in Kunene and Caprivi where the organisation works with more than 40 communal area conservancies.

They say it is gratifying to see that the next generation of passionate CBNRM workers are starting to win awards: in 2001 Bennie Roman, an IRDNC Kunene field co-ordinator, was the first black Namibian to win the Conservationist of the Year Award from the Namibian Professional Hunting Association; in 2000 Janet Matota, a field co-ordinator in Caprivi, was co-winner of the NNF’s first Conservationist of the Year award.

“It is also great that the Torra Conservancy – the first of the conservancies receiving technical support from IRDNC to become fully financially independent – is winning its own awards. And its pioneering joint-venture lodge, Damaraland Camp, with Wilderness Safaris – facilitated by IRDNC, with support from the Legal Assistance Centre and the MET’s Directorate of Environmental Affairs – has also won several international tourism prizes,” Margie points out.

“Awards single out individuals and are highly motivating. But we would also like to pay tribute to our remarkable IRDNC team, many of whom have put years of their lives into making CBNRM work on the ground. They include Bennie Roman, Colin Nott, Beavan Munali, Janet Matota, Anna Davis, Richard Diggle, John K Kasaona, Karen Nott, Anton Esterhuizen and Daisy Nheta. And then there are all our NACSO and government partners.”

“A few of us may have received special recognition, but it’s all of us who have put Namibia on the world’s conservation and development map.”

This article appeared in the 2005/6 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.


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