By Brian Jones
Before Namibia’s independence there was a tense situation in the Caprivi Region. This had nothing to do with politics, but everything to do with conservation. Wildlife numbers were declining and the conservation authorities were cracking down on poaching. Local people were resentful of the hard-line actions being taken and even laid an ambush for conservation officials.
Just more than 20 years later, conservation officials and local people sit down together and plan how game will be reintroduced into Caprivi, work out a schedule for an annual game count, and plan for joint anti-poaching patrols between government game rangers and conservancy game guards.
There are now many examples of such collaboration, or what conservationists call ‘collaborative management’ between the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) and residents or neighbours of protected areas. According to the World Conservation Union, IUCN, collaborative management is where decision-making power, responsibility and accountability for protected-area management are shared between government agencies and other stakeholders, in particular indigenous peoples and local communities.
Collaborative management approaches to conservation emerged as park management staff realised that parks were not isolated from surrounding communities and land uses. People and livestock were sometimes encroaching on the parks, and wildlife was leaving protected areas and causing problems for neighbours.
The emergence of communal area conservancies under MET legislation greatly facilitated the development of collaborative management. The conservancies provided MET park staff with legal and representative organisations that they could work with. In addition, the conservancies also had a conservation agenda. In Caprivi, for example, MET staff from the Bwabwata, Mudumu, and Mamili national parks began to collaborate with conservancies and community forests in a wide range of management activities in what are now known as the Mudumu North and the Mudumu South complexes.
In the Bwabwata National Park the park residents, mostly Khwe San, formed their own community institution, the Kyaramacan Association (KA), which in partnership with the MET manages the designated multiple-use area within the park where people live. The KA employs male community game guards which carry out anti-poaching patrols and monitor wildlife. It also employs female community resource monitors who monitor the use of other natural resources and promote the use of sustainable harvesting techniques.
The KA shares the income from a hunting concession with MET and in 2011 earned N$1.9 million from the concession. The MET has also awarded the KA a tourism-lodge concession within the park, which is expected to earn the KA around N$500 000 annually. The lodge that will be developed is expected to employ 15 to 20 people, of which most will be Khwe. The KA is exploring other concession opportunities in the park.
Two MET projects, UNDP/GEF financed SPAN, and the Bwabwata, Mudumu, Mamili (BMM) Parks project funded by the German Development Bank (KfW) provided resources to help the MET formalise the emerging collaborative management approaches. BMM has helped MET Caprivi park staff cement their relationships with the neighbouring conservancies.
BMM support to the development of park management and tourism plans has also helped to lay a foundation for the further award of tourism concessions in the parks to neighbouring communities. A technical advisory committee has been established in Bwabwata, which provides the platform for discussion of collaborative management issues between the KA and the park staff and other stakeholders.
SPAN and BMM provided support to the MET in the development of the ground-breaking Concessions Policy of 2007, which enables the Minister of Environment and Tourism to allocate tourism concessions in Protected Areas directly to local communities affected by these areas.
SPAN resources were also used by the MET to support the development of a National Policy on Protected Areas, Neighbours and Resident People. This policy provides guidelines on the involvement of neighbours and resident people in protected-area management. It states: “Where it is in the interests of improved conservation and promotion of national development goals, the Government will engage and work closely with protected area residents and/or neighbours or other relevant stakeholders, giving particular attention to promoting their socioeconomic development and their involvement in the planning and development of the protected areas.”
The main strategies for achieving this approach include engagement with neighbours and/or residents of protected areas in various collaborative management activities, promoting socioeconomic development for neighbouring communities, zoning of protected areas and adjacent areas for different uses, liaison and communication, management of protected areas across larger landscapes (including transfrontier conservation) and specific measures for involvement of people residing in protected areas.
The MET further used SPAN resources to assist in consultation with local communities regarding the establishment of a national park comprising the Palmwag, Etendeka and Hobatere tourism concessions in Kunene Region. The aim was to create a link between the Etosha National Park and the Skeleton Coast Park. The Cabinet called on the MET to initiate an intensive consultative management and development-planning process for the park. A technical committee consisting of members of traditional authorities, conservancy representatives, MET staff, a representative of the Regional Council, NGO representatives and the private-sector concession holders. The task of the committee was to make recommendations to the Minister about the proclamation of the park.
Supported by SPAN, the technical committee made considerable progress in developing a new concept, the Kunene People’s Park, which would be established based on a contract between community leaders and the Government. In this way the legal status of the land would not be changed. Progress was also made in developing a system for joint management of the park between the communities and the MET and the drafting of a management plan for the park. At the same time agreement was reached on the awarding of tourism concessions to neighbouring conservancies. The approach was built on the South African model of contractual parks. However, a final agreement was never reached on the modalities for development of such a park.
Support from the SPAN and BMM projects has helped to lay the foundation for achieving one of the goals of the National Policy on Protected Areas, Neighbours and Resident People – promoting ecosystem management across larger landscapes. Building on the work of the MET through SPAN and BMM, a new MET project, the Namibian Protected Landscape Conservation Area Initiative (NAM-PLACE) has been established. NAM-PLACE, like SPAN, is funded by the GEF and administered through UNDP in Namibia. The project supports the establishment of five Protected Landscape Conservation Areas (PLCAs) through collaborative management arrangements between existing state-run protected areas and various community and private landholders.
The PLCAs being supported are the Mudumu Landscape in Caprivi based on the existing Mudumu North and South Complexes, the Greater Waterberg Landscape (including the Waterberg Plateau Park), the Greater Sossusvlei-Namib Landscape (which links private game reserves with the Namib-Naukluft Park), the Greater Fish River Canyon Landscape (which links private game reserves with the /Ai-/Ais Hot Springs Park) and the Windhoek Green Belt Landscape (which brings together several freehold farms and the Daan Viljoen Game Park).
Landscape Associations are being formed in each of these areas, which include MET park staff, land holders, and other local stakeholders. These associations will coordinate conservation and development activities within the landscapes.
Cooperation between the MET, local communities and landholders of neighbouring parks has come a long way since the days when ambushes were laid for conservation officials in the Caprivi. However, there are still challenges. Some of the issues still need to be resolved regarding collaborative management of the tourism concessions in the Kunene Region that would have been part of the proposed Kunene People’s Park.
The MET has been working on resolving issues raised by the removal of the Hai||om San people from the Etosha National Park before independence. The Ministry has so far purchased farms close to Etosha for the resettlement of the Hai||om, and awarded them with a tourism concession based around visits to a waterhole that has cultural and spiritual significance to many of the Hai||om people. This gesture has been welcomed by the Hai||om as providing them with a link back to their traditional land.
This article was originally published in the 2013 Conservation and the Environment in Namibia magazine.