SPAN’s success spreads beyond Namibia

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Message from the Global Environment Facility (GEF)

Global biodiversity loss continues at a crisis rate. The number of species under threat does not cease to grow, while countless others linger, as yet not described by science and therefore wholly outside of the attention of conservation.

Succulent flowers ©Coleen Mannheimer

Succulent flowers ©Coleen Mannheimer

Meanwhile, the drivers of biodiversity loss – destruction of habitat, climate change, human pressure on natural resources, people-wildlife conflict, and invasive alien species – continue, essentially unabated. But against this dire background, not all is doom and gloom. Protected areas (PAs) have progressively become the frontline of efforts to address these pressures and are increasingly recognised as the cornerstone of biodiversity conservation where they have been effectively managed. Namibia is a case in question, arguably emerging as the linchpin of this frontline movement.

The GEF recognises the prime role of protected areas in safeguarding globally relevant biodiversity, and has invested a significant fraction of its biodiversity-related funding to strengthen the ecological and financial sustainability of protected area systems globally. The GEF is recognised today as the largest source of funding for protected areas worldwide, having invested $2.2 billion in 2 809 protected areas spanning 708 million ha. This investment has attracted an additional $5.55 billion in co-financing from other sources.

A landmark GEF-funded initiative in Namibia entitled Strengthening the Protected Area Network (SPAN) was one of the earliest system-wide protected-area projects supported by the facility as a departure from the earlier emphasis on single-site projects. The concept of SPAN was to focus on the entire protected-area system from institutional, on-the-ground implementation and financial sustainability perspectives. Equally important is that this project is intended to help unleash the economic potential embedded in Namibia’s biodiversity-rich protected areas, contributing to the country’s efforts to address poverty-reduction objectives and economic development as a whole.

Samson Mulonga of SPAN, Monique Barbut of the ˝EF and Vanessa Groenewald of SPAN at the Rio+20 conference in Brazil

Samson Mulonga of SPAN, Monique Barbut of the ˝EF and Vanessa Groenewald of SPAN at the Rio+20 conference in Brazil

We always took great pleasure in reading SPAN’s quarterly magazine Sandpaper. It was by far the most informative and useful newsletter amongst those associated with GEF-funded projects.

The SPAN project in Namibia evolved to become a flagship initiative for the country and for the GEF. It met or exceeded most of its stated targets to become a model and inspiration for a growing number of GEF-supported system-wide protected-areas investments. Amongst other innovations, SPAN was a pioneer in utilising the Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool (METT) for a full eight years (2004 to 2011), systematically tracking management effectiveness indicators of Namibia’s protected areas supported by the project. SPAN also conducted the early testing and became the basis for the development of the financial sustainability scorecard that has now become another key tool for the GEF elsewhere.

A example of the progress made through SPAN’s leadership provided by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism was the innovative economic valuation of the country’s protected areas system, which in turn sparked an increase in the investments by Government itself in the adequate management of these sites with a view to building a more robust tourism base that included a wildlife concession system as a new financial mechanism.

Sign board

Sign board

This has now significantly benefited rural communities and helped to reduce poverty. The project has developed a modern results-oriented park management planning system, and informed business and tourism development plans now being used in a country as far removed from the African reality as Mongolia. Furthermore, SPAN played a tangible role in the establishment of four new protected areas, bringing protection to over 90% of the Succulent Karoo biome, one of Namibia’s two global biodiversity hotspots.

We always took great pleasure in reading SPAN’s quarterly magazine Sandpaper. It was by far the most informative and useful newsletter amongst those associated with GEF-funded projects. The magazine had an additional quality in helping to value field staff whose work on the ground was recognised vibrantly, together with the richness of the patrimony they tended in the course of their routine activities.

Desert elephants

Desert elephants

SPAN’s successful experience is now spreading beyond Namibia. The GEF has showcased the project in a number of international fora, including during Conferences of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Furthermore, GEF’s account to the Rio+20 conference last June in Brazil, entitled From Rio to Rio – A 20-Year Journey to Green the World’s Economies, featured the SPAN project prominently among only 20 projects selected from 2 600 financed by the GEF since its inception. It was particularly rewarding for us to be accompanied by staff from the SPAN project during the launching of the Rio to Rio book, and to present fresh-off-the-printer copies to them personally.

We are delighted to see that the achievements of SPAN are now fully documented in this prestigious magazine that reaches such a wide audience. This will certainly assist Namibia in further spreading the lessons from SPAN to other stakeholders and partners, together with inspiring similar initiatives elsewhere. We look forward to a continued collaboration with the Namibian Government through other ongoing efforts such as the Protected Landscapes Conservation Areas Initiative (NAMPLACE), and the new protected-areas project that will be helping to strengthen the capacity of the system to address new management challenges.

We at the GEF would like to express our sincere thanks to everyone who helped make SPAN the success it is today. Vision, hard work, passion, and attention to partnerships and stakeholders are some of the ingredients that helped to build the stature this model holds today.


Gustavo AB da Fonseca

Head: Natural Resources,

Global Environment Facility

This message first appeared in the 2013 Conservation and the Environment in Namibia magazine. 
Photographs by Coleen Mannheimer, Pearl Coetzee and SPAN archives 
Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia is a high-quality glossy Namibia travel and lifestyle magazine tasked with promoting Namibia to the world. With riveting stories, first-hand encounters and magnificent photographs showcasing tourism, travel, nature, adventure and conservation, TNN is the ultimate and most comprehensive guide to exploring Namibia. Travel News Namibia is published in five different editions per year. These include four English- language editions and one German. Travel News Namibia is for sale in Namibia and South Africa.

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