by Helge Denker, NACSO/WWF in Namibia
A sparsely populated desert country in Southern Africa as a world leader in community-based conservation? Unlikely? Well, people from the Great Plains of the United States to the steppes of Mongolia, the forests of Cambodia and the mountains of Nepal are looking to Namibia to learn why the CBNRM is showing real successes here when community-based natural-resource management is often bogged down with challenges elsewhere.
Visitors who experience the wonders of Namibia tend to fall in love with the country. It’s easy to list reasons: the wildlife of the Etosha National Park, the dunes at Sossusvlei, the rock art of the Twyfelfontein World Heritage Site, the Fish River Canyon, the Skeleton Coast… Yet there’s much more to this country than its obvious attractions and accessible beauty. Lasting bonds follow when travellers delve deeper and discover the largely untold story of people, places and wildlife in the remote rural areas of Namibia where a new balance between conservation and development is being established. Rural people in the communal areas of Namibia are committing themselves to a holistic approach to using their land and its resources.
Community-based natural resource management may be a rather vague and abstract concept for many. What does it mean in practice? The concept is actually very simple. It is about rural communities using the natural resour-ces in their area for their own bene-fit on a sustainable basis, especially by integrating natural resource use with agriculture and other land uses. But for that to happen, conducive environments and suitable organisational structures need to be in place.
Namibia has managed to put these things in place through the enabling policy framework of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and the Directorate of Forestry within the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry; through an effective network of support organisations under the Namibian Association of CBNRM support organisations (NACSO); through increasing private-sector partnerships and, most importantly, through viable community-based management structures known as conservancies and community forests. All the different, yet inter-dependent stakeholders have joined forces to contribute to the success of the national CBNRM programme.
Every country and even every region has its own unique dynamics and challenges. One might be tempted to think that what works in an arid system with few people will not work in a densely populated, high-rainfall area. There is undoubtedly some truth to this, and there are also big differences in different parts of Namibia. Fact is, the differences lie more in the detail. Approaches and activities vary from area to area, influenced by the unique features of each environment. Yet there are overarching principles that create the foundation for successful community-based natural-resource management. These include the enabling legal framework and suitable technical and financial support. But perhaps first and foremost are the principles of community ownership, community benefits and community empowerment. The Namibian programme is leading the way in facilitating these critical principles.
A high-level delegation from Mongolia, led by the Vice Minister of the Ministry of Nature, Environment and Tourism, and including a number of parliamentarians and other high-ranking officials, visited Namibia in early February 2010 – the most recent in a long list of international exchanges. This group was most interested in the Namibian CBNRM policy framework that has created the enabling environment for our success. They were also keenly interested in the management of tourism and trophy-hunting activities, and how these are achieved within one conservancy through effective zoning and communication.
And yes, even the United States has come to learn from us. Delegations from the Great Plains have visited Namibia several times, each consisting of a different constellation of stakeholders who can apply the lessons learnt in different ways to induce change back home. People from the Great Plains are most interested in how tourism and hunting income can provide the incentives for landowners to diversify activities beyond exclusive agriculture to include wildlife management, both on private and communal land.
People on other study tours, including a group from Cambodia, have come to learn about our effective natural-resource monitoring, with specific focus on the famous Event Book System. And most countries in Southern Africa have participated in some form of exchange with Namibia, looking at various aspects of improving community-based-natural-resource-management practices in the sub-region.
None of the exchanges has been a one-sided case of Namibia teaching and others learning. It is a sharing of experiences and Namibia learns from each visit. Other Southern African countries, especially, have taught Namibia a lot. Neighbouring countries laid the original groundwork on which Namibia’s current successes are at least partly based. The pendulum of learning and teaching continues to swing. The Namibian programme, while it has shown great progress, still faces many obstacles and needs to adapt and grow and learn in an ongoing process of development.
The people working within the Namibian programme tend to be so busy addressing the challenges the programme still faces, or that they as organisations and individuals still face, that they don’t find the time to look up and see the bigger picture. Bogged down and often frustrated by setbacks or slow progress, few realise how much has actually been achieved here in Namibia.
People from other countries and continents, aware of the community-based-natural-resource-management status in their area, are often amazed by Namibia’s successes: the visionary policy environment that has led to the registration of 59 communal conservancies and 13 community forests, the steep growth curve of direct benefits, the community empowerment and human development taking place, the rebounding wildlife populations, the return of large predators and endangered species, and the rapid growth of the communal conservancy tourism sector.
Tallying up all the individual milestones and small victories brings a sudden realisation of both the overall achievements and the future potential of these amazing places with their dedicated people and charismatic wildlife. We have achieved a lot. We have achieved it by working together – and we still have a lot of work to do.
This article appeared in the 2010/11 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.