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Q&A compiled by Jana-Mari Smith
The Tourism Supporting Conservation (TOSCO) Trust recently announced an initiative that is geared towards assisting communal conservancies financially through a voluntary conservation contribution fund.
The fund was created as a means to acknowledge and contribute to human wildlife conflict within communal conservancies, especially those who often face challenges from living close to some of Namibia’s most iconic wildlife – the elephant and lions.
TOSCO announced that the voluntary contribution of N$50 per guest per day who visit these communal lands in search of iconic wildlife and landscapes. In addition, conservancies will be paid N$50 per guest per night for wild camping.
“The contributions are paid to TOSCO from where they will be passed on to the specific conservancies to mitigate human/ wildlife conflict. The conservation contribution applies to areas used by tourism where the cost of living with wildlife is particularly high and is not adequately balanced by benefits from tourism: The Huab, Hoanib and Hoarusib Rivers in the Puros, Sesfontein and Torra Conservancies.”
In light of this landmark fund, Travel News Namibia asked TOSCO to tell us a little bit more about this groundbreaking initiative from the private sector.
Briefly sketch the background to why this voluntary contribution fund was established?
The idea for the voluntary conservation contribution has been around since TOSCO Trust was founded in 2011. This was just after the Huarusib lion pride was poisoned close to Purros.
At that time, a handful of safari operators realized that they had a responsibility: They, the tourism industry, needed to support the conservancies in protecting the iconic desert adapted lions, elephants, rhinos, and other wildlife and they needed to contribute to covering the costs these animals cause for the local communities.
The people in the conservancies carry the costs of protecting the wildlife that tourists come to enjoy. If lions kill a cow it can take years for the communal farmer to get a compensation, if ever. And that compensation does usually not cover the value of the cow.
But many locals derive no direct benefit from the income lions or elephants produce through tourism.
For example, the farmers in Tomakas, where Rosh and the Terrace Male were shot, only see the tourist 4x4s driving past. Thus, the farmers have a low tolerance towards the lions. Let’s not forget, that this is communal farmland, not a national park.
On private farmland there are no free-roaming lions and also elephants are usually not tolerated. And for a national park you have to pay an entrance fee, but conservancies can be visited for free. However, conservation is mostly a matter of cost and benefit, not only in the conservancies.
Before launching the voluntary conservation contribution we have consulted various stakeholders like WWF, IRDNC, the conservancies, and of course, the tourism businesses associated with TOSCO. We have also liaised with MET. All have been very welcoming of the idea and have given valuable advice.
It is important to note that it is a voluntary contribution, not an official fee of any kind. It is a private initiative of a tourism community that wants to give back to conservation in Namibia’s communal conservancies.
Has the first contribution been paid over yet? Currently, three conservancies in the north-west will be supported. Do you hope to increase the number of conservancies to benefit from the fund?
The contribution has only been launched end of September 2014. We will work on a three-monthly basis, i.e. the members of the TOSCO community will report every three months how many tourists they took to these areas. The conservation contribution can be quoted on bookings received as from now, thus we expect the first significant contributions with the start of the tourism season 2015. For scheduled safaris, which are sold more than a year in advance, there will be significant contributions from 2016.
We have started the test phase with the Purros, Sesfontein and Torra conservancies because these are areas of outstanding natural beauty which are heavily frequented by tourists. But they also have a high occurrence of human/ wildlife conflicts with no adequate benefits from tourism.
We might look at implementing it in other conservancies as well at a later stage. We currently support other conservancies through the TOSCO trust fund by implementing programmes to mitigate human/ wildlife conflict. For example, in the Zambezi region, TOSCO has supported Lize Hanssen in her research to reduce conflicts with carnivores in the conservancies around Bwabwata National Park.
Tell us about TOSCO membership?
TOSCO Trust has currently 28 business sponsors and a number of individuals. We hope to grow this number in the future. TOSCO is still a young organization, run only by volunteers. A list of the businesses associated with TOSCO can be seen on our website www.tosco.org.
The feedback from our sponsors was very positive and also the other stakeholders have welcomed it.
Please elaborate a little on the statement issued that “Safari operators and self-drive tourists generally contribute very little …” & also “the conservation contribution applies to areas used by tourism where the cost of living with wildlife is particularly high and is not adequately balanced by benefits from tourism”. Please comment on this.
Namibia’s conservancies are indeed a success story. However, we do not live in a perfect world. Conservation costs money. And most conservancies cannot cover their costs yet, even though there is progress.
There are management problems, political issues and greed in some places, but these occur in organisations anywhere in the world, whether in companies or governments.
Gail Potgieter, conservationist working in the conservancies for Namibia Nature Foundation, has recently written that “Photographic tourism has the potential to provide income for conservation, but it often does not live up to this expectation.”
Namibia’s conservation icon, Garth Owen-Smith, has said something similar. Thus we are looking for ways to increase contributions from tourism, without slaughtering the golden goose.
The figures published by NACSO (Namibian Conservancy Support Organisations) show that most conservancies derive most of their income from hunting for meat or trophy, not from photographic tourism.
Safari operators and self-drive tourists often contribute little because they generally make no payments towards conservation and buy very little from the local people.
Let’s take for example the Hoanib. Many tourists drive through the river, enjoying the wildlife and the stunning landscape. But if they do not stay at a lodge or community campsite, but camp wild, what benefits are there for the local people? Usually, the tourists buy little locally. Self-drive or organized safaris very often bring all their provisions along.
On the other hand, human/ wildlife conflict there is high. For example elephants venture out of the river towards small villages. These elephants might have been harassed by vehicles and are easily agitated. They are a potential threat to the lives of the locals and often destroy water points. But from the tourists who come to see the elephants the villagers see little else than 4x4s passing by.
We do not say that tourism shall be milked to generate an easy living for people in conservancies. We are suggesting a fair contribution towards the costs of conservation on a completely voluntary basis.
Please give an outline on how the contribution fund will be managed in practice?
The priority for using these funds will be to cover costs for mitigating human/ wildlife conflict. But other uses are possible, depending on the conservancies’ needs. TOSCO merely acts as a facilitator for the conservancies by collecting the contributions and passing them on for the agreed purpose.
The contributions will be managed through an honour system. The members of the TOSCO community will send a report on the number of guests who have visited the areas every three months. TOSCO will keep the statistics and pass them on to the conservancies. We want to be very transparent about this fund and share information with all stakeholders.
It is hard to predict at the moment how high the contribution will be but of course we hope that the amount will be significant. The more companies join, the higher the contribution will be, of course.
The response from the conservancy members?
The conservancies are very much in favour of the contribution. In the design phase we have worked very closely with organisations like WWF and IRDNC who do a lot of work with the local communities.
Tourism is not the solution for conservation. But it can make a difference.
We think that tourism companies who join the conservation contribution will be commended for it by their clients. We are convinced that most tourists are very open towards giving back and contributing to the costs of conservation if they know that the funds are managed transparently and used effectively for conservation.
So far, we have only had very positive feedback, also from overseas. We are even in discussions to set up a system for self-drive guests to contribute from overseas. The comments made for example on the Namibia Forum are very encouraging. Most commentators said they would be pleased to pay the contribution.
If you leave more than footprints when traveling, you can also help increase benefits of local people from tourism. Leave nothing but footprints on the environment, but leave your time and money at local businesses.
This will increase local income directly and will make a better Namibia experience for you. Traveling in Namibia is about experiencing what Namibia has to offer.
Buy Namibian as much as you can: Namibian food, Namibian crafts (make sure they were not produced in Asia), use local services, guides, support small local businesses and conservation organisations. Prefer places that source as much as possible locally. For more ideas on how to ensure your footprint counts, check www.tosco.org.
Namibia has achieved a lot for conservation. Not all is perfect, not in the conservancies, not in the national parks and not on private land. But Namibia does many things really well. After all, Namibia is one of the last countries in the world with free-roaming lions, elephants and rhinos!
This is a unique treasure and something to be proud of. Whereas elsewhere in the world, lion numbers are dwindling, even in national parks, Namibia’s desert adapted lions live among people, not inside a national park and their number is still growing. We can all contribute towards protecting this treasure and to making Namibia’s successful conservancy programme better through tourism.