Namibia’s Communal Conservancy Tourism Sector – Achieving community benefits at scale

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Whales – Giants of the deep
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Collaborative game counting in conservancies – A key to sustainable use
July 15, 2012

By Keith Sproule, Tourism Business Advisor, WWF-Namibia and Helge Denker, NACSO/WWF in Namibia

Over the past two decades, Namibia has strived to achieve a balance between conservation and development, and between people and the environment. Progressive policies and willing partners have led to the establishment of communal conservancies and to an increase in wildlife populations. 

The tourism sector has played an important role in encouraging change. For its ongoing efforts, Namibia’s Communal Conservancy Tourism Sector has been selected as a Finalist in the Tourism For Tomorrow Awards organised by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). Since independence, Namibia has done more to give its rural communities a stake in the tourism industry than any other country in Africa, and possibly the world.

The Tourism For Tomorrow Awards programme is the most prominent international tourism-industry award scheme given out by the largest travel-and-tourism industry association. This year, Namibia is one of three finalists in the Community Benefits category. Being selected as a finalist is in itself great recognition of Namibia’s significant achievements. The winner will be announced at the WTTC Annual Gala Awards Ceremony in Beijing, which takes place from May 24–26. We believe Namibia stands a good chance to win.

Namibia’s award submission

Namibia was the first African country to incorporate protection of the environment into its constitution. The Government of Namibia has reinforced this by giving its communities the opportunity and rights to manage their wildlife through communal conservancies.

Some fast facts:

• There are 59 gazetted conservancies in Namibia, which cover just over 16% of the land area; another 20–25 are in various stages of formation;

• Conservancies embrace around 230 000 rural residents;

• One in eight Namibians or close to one in four rural-area residents lives within a conservancy;

• Since the registration of the first four conservancies in 1998, programme income and benefits have grown from less than N$600 000 in 1998 to N$41.9 million (US$5.7 million) in 2008; and

• The enabling environment for this increase has come from Government’s commitment to the devolution of rights over wildlife and resources. In the process communities are not only benefiting in ways previously un-imaginable, but the national tourism product is being redefined in more equitable and sustainable ways.

Communal Conservancy Tourism Sector

There are now 29 formal joint-venture (JV) lodges and campsites working in collaboration with their host conservancies within the Communal Conservancy Tourism Sector. In addition, there are four JVs operating in principle, with signed agreements pending, and another 11 ventures currently being negotiated with the conservancies.

Fast facts:

• The JVs in the communal conservancies represent 1 356 bed nights, 789 full-time jobs and over 250 seasonal positions;

• Private-sector tourism JV investment has exceeded N$145 million (US$19 million) since 1998;

• The number of JV lodge agreements has increased by 111% since 2005; and

• The contribution of JVs to livelihoods includes direct contractual cash payments to conservancies, salaries for employees, staff training, and related benefits such as payments of cash and in-kind contributions (equipment, donated services) to village development committees and local schools.

These are new or additional activities that give many households access to cash and other benefits they did not have before 1996, and that would not have been possible if Namibia’s innovative conservancy legislation had not been passed in that year.

Natural-resource management

Of the 59 registered conservancies, 33 are immediately adjacent to national parks or in key corridors between protected areas. Consequently, the wildlife-friendly land utilisation practised adjacent to and between parks is enhancing the viability of Namibia’s protected-area network. The recovery of prey species, combined with an increased tolerance of community members to predators, is facilitating the recovery of high-level predators such as lions on a landscape level in north-western Namibia.

More than anyone else, it is the members of the local communities who should be proud of what has been achieved. They worked hard over decades – starting long before the conservancy legislation was passed – to conserve wildlife and other resources. What started as a simple community game-guard system in the early 1980s has grown through ongoing commitment into the national programme it is today. Communities have laid the groundwork for the current success and continue to be custodians of a large percentage of the country’s natural heritage.

Government can be proud of the visionary legislation that devolved rights to rural Namibians and empowered communities to take control of their future. Through long-standing partnerships with local and international NGOs, the MET has channelled vital technical and financial support directly to conservancies. These partnerships have been consolidated under the umbrella of the Namibian Association of CBNRM Support Organisations (NACSO) and all partners can be proud of their input. Private-sector operators, who were brave and far-sighted enough to engage with local communities and invest on communal land when tourism development generally concentrated on private land, can be proud of their contribution. Tourism is an important partner in both conservation and rural development.

Clearly, success has been a team effort, an ideal constellation of capable and committed partners who joined forces at the right time to bring the Namibian CBNRM Programme to where it is today. This, however, is only the beginning. Much work remains to be done. May the stars of this constellation shine ever more brightly over Namibia as the balance between conservation and development, between people and the environment, is consolidated.

Namibia is the only country in the world…

• That is translocating large numbers of rare, endangered and high-value wildlife (including black rhino) out of national parks into open communal areas;

• Where both the range and the numbers of free-roaming black rhino outside national parks are increasing;

• Where the number of free-roaming ‘desert lions’ has increased fivefold since 1995, re-establishing former ranges across much of the communal areas of the north-west;

• Where the full devolution of rights to local communities has enabled them to retain 100% of the income generated from tourism and other wildlife use for local community development;

• Where the largest road-based game count in the world, the North-West Game Count, is conducted on an annual basis; and

• Which has over 16% of the country managed by communal conservancies, bringing the total area under some form of natural-resource management to around 40% (state-protected areas 16.5%, freehold conservancies and private reserves 6%, concessions and community forests 0.8%).

All of the above is contributing to what may well be ‘the greatest African wildlife recovery story ever told,’ . . . and Namibia is telling that story.

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


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