The successes and challenges of delivering benefits
Text Ed Humphrey and Andy Thomson and main photograph by Linda Baker
Namibia has the natural and cultural capital to become a world leader in profitable, high-yield, low-impact ecotourism, including in the valuable independent-traveller market. Namibia’s diverse landscapes, national parks, rich wildlife, diverse cultures and burgeoning system of conservancies provide a valuable foundation for success – but there are also shortcomings that must be addressed.
This article discusses the rise, the proven potential, and the challenges of sustaining the concession function of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET).
The establishment of the MET’s concession function was an exciting initiative aimed at providing significant economic, community-development and environmental benefits to Namibia. Formally established in 2007 through the foresight of the Namibian Cabinet, it is a unique function, since the benefits arising from such an innovative system can be extended to rural populations living in and around parks; to the tourism industry; to conservation initiatives and to the Namibian Government. Implementation of the policy was supported through the Strengthening the Protected Area Network (SPAN) project, the Integrated Community-based Ecosystem Management project (ICEMA) and the Bwabwata, Mudumu and Nkasa-Lupala (BMN) Parks Project. A great deal of progress has been made.
Prior to 2007, the Ministry had little capacity for handling concessions; there were approximately 22 existing operators generating approximately N$2 million per annum; there was no full-time staff charged with the work; no centralised filing system was maintained; and the collection of rentals was not closely monitored.
The new policy combined concession best practices from around the world, including tendering, awarding rights to communities, auctions and being able to deal with innovation and enterprise. Concessions in Namibia are used not only as a protection mechanism and tool to provide services for visitors in parks. They are also used as an economic development driver, empowering previously disadvantaged communities living in or around parks who otherwise would have to live with the negative aspects of wildlife.
The far-sighted goals of Namibia’s concession policy are to:
ü enhance and promote conservation
ü control and monitor commercial activities
ü increase the economic value of parks
ü promote economic empowerment of formerly disadvantaged Namibians
ü use concessions to promote sustainable development, poverty alleviation and creation of employment
ü support the development of capacity and skills, and
ü enable access to capital for Namibians.
Early successes include:
The foundation for a dynamic and exciting concessions system was established with the support of SPAN in partnership with other projects. Its potential to assist conservation, industry and communities has been proven. The burgeoning concession system has shown tremendous potential, contributing significantly to the development of parks, formally disadvantaged Namibians and the national economy.
Challenges of maintaining the system of awarding concessions
While much progress has been made, there were also challenges in maintaining a well-functioning system of awarding concessions.
Key challenges that underpin a concession system are the recruitment and retention of quality staff, efficient processes, and above all, fully transparent decision-making. The Ministry has experienced difficulty in recruiting and retaining concession unit staff, with skilled personnel rapidly recruited into higher-paid roles outside the Ministry. The loss of this expertise, delays in appointing new personnel, and the replication of training and capacity building means that progress was affected and institutional memory was lost. This in turn affected the entrenchment of procedures that are all important for maintaining a world-class concession-awarding system. Maintaining a skilled concession-awarding team is a critical challenge that requires significant engagement and long-term investment by the Ministry.
Another challenge is to create a vibrant and competitive industry that is not dominated by one or two companies, but by a large number of competitive and diverse small, medium and large enterprises. Transparent business practices, clear and efficient decision-making, investment in staff training, and capability building are needed. A fully developed concession system within a vibrant tourism industry should be able to contribute more than N$50 million per annum to conservation and should be able to deliver a considerable amount in tax income for the Namibian Government.
Concession systems in protected areas around the world have a vital role to play in sustainable conservation and in the development of viable rural economies. Namibia has one of the most farsighted and innovative concession policies anywhere in the world. The concession system has proved that it can work well. The question now is: can the Ministry capitalise on early successes by supporting, investing in, and sustaining a concession system that will take park-based tourism to another level?
An effective way for the Ministry to initiate this process would be to commission an independent review aimed at assessing the implementation of the policy with a view to strengthening key components of the concession system so as to boost performance.
This article was originally published in the 2013 Conservation and the Environment in Namibia magazine.