by Rolf-D Sprung, German Development Service (DED)
More than 30 women and men swarm through the forest, collecting branches and trunk pieces scattered over the ground from recent wild fires. A woman, assisted by her 20-year-old son, offloads an armful of wood at a nearby bush road where three men are sawing and hacking the dead wood into smaller pieces. Other women fill plastic bags with the wood cuts and pile them up at the roadside, ready to be loaded onto trucks for transport to Cape Town for sale as firewood.
We are in the Mkata Community Forest in the West Tsumkwe District, an area of about 87 000 ha that forms part of the Najaqna Conservancy. With the community forest gazetted in 2006, the San Community of Mkata has been empowered to control, manage and benefit from the sustainable use of forest resources. Based on a contract with a private entrepreneur – a local commercial farmer – the Mkata Community will generate an annual income of about N$110 000 from the harvesting of dead wood alone. The money will be used according to a benefit-distribution plan that makes provisions for appropriate wages for the communal labourers involved in the operation and for community development investments such as the repair of village water points.
Other products that have been marketed at Mkata are sawn timber and devil’s claw. To rehabilitate certain areas in the community forest that have been degraded by wild fires, the community members engage in the direct seeding of Acacia erioloba (camel-thorn) trees and are applying controlled burning to fire-prone areas.
As part of Namibia’s Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM)- Programme, community forests provide local communities with rights to manage forest resources. As stipulated in the Forest Act, these rights include the use of wood and non-wood products for commercial purposes; the issuing of forest-use permits at community level; and the management of grazing areas. Forest management plans based on participatory resource assessments and regular resource monitoring determine types and quantities- of products that can be utilised without destroying the resource base and with consideration to daily subsistence needs. Product harvesting, processing and marketing can either be outsourced through the issuing of permits by the forest management body, undertaken by community members themselves, or organised in the form of contract-based joint ventures. As such, community forestry provides not only additional income but also employment opportunities and technical skills.
Multi-purpose land-use systems
Because of Namibia’s predominantly dry climatic conditions, dense tropical forests are rare in the country. They are usually found only in comparatively small areas along riverbanks or in remote locations in the northern regions. Most common are the so-called dry forests – open forests with trees dispersed among a patchwork of shrubs and grasses. Transitions to woodlands and shrub and tree savannahs are usually gradual, so that a clear distinction between forest and non-forest areas is often difficult if not impossible to define.
The open nature of dry forests makes them accessible to grazing cattle, crop farming and settlements. Consequently, community forests usually incorporate various types of land use, and forest management has to address the different functions of forest resources as integral components of these land-use systems. For example, grazing areas- may be improved by de-bushing and selective thinning operations that open up grasslands and promote fruit and fodder trees, whereas the protection of wildlife habitats through zoning and improved fire management may take priority in areas adjacent to national parks or in conservancy core areas.
These multi-purpose functions of community forests have been recognised in the Namibian Forest Act where specific provisions are made for the integration of non-forest land use, which includes the zoning and management of rangelands, and provides scope for the introduction of integrated land-use management in general.
In community forests the focus is on the management of natural vegetation, whereas communal conservancies promote the community-based management of wildlife and the development of tourism. While both strategies follow the same principles of empowering local communities to manage natural resources and to share related benefits, the different resource types lead to specific technical requirements with regard to management scale, resource assessments and management planning.
In Namibia, conservancies and community forests are implemented by different ministries and are based on different policies and legal frameworks. Consequently, while forest and wildlife resources require different technical approaches, the integration of community-based forest and wildlife management is not so much a question of technical compatibility as one of effective institutional co-operation and harmonisation of related policies and legal frameworks.
Community forests in conservancy areas- not only provide additional employment and income opportunities, but also protect game habitats and landscapes to sustain income from tourism. In such areas, the co-operation of conservancy and community-forest support organisations, unified management structures and joint-management plans reduce costs and mitigate resource-use conflicts.
In areas next to national parks, community forests can provide for buffer zones that help separate game habitats from livestock areas to reduce the risk of spreading diseases and human-wildlife conflicts. Furthermore, the zoning of land use in community forests can secure game-migration corridors. This makes community forests supportive components of wildlife management systems on a larger scale, such as for the Kavango-Zambezi (KAZA) trans-boundary wildlife conservation area.
The success of community forestry depends on the long-term commitment of communities, traditional leaders and political decision-makers to sustainable forest management. Only if community-based forest management is recognised as a valuable contribution to rural development and a healthy environment, will people be motivated to participate in the long run. This requires the generation of benefits, which are distributed on a fair and equitable basis, and the strict adherence to agreed management plans, rules and regulations. The Namibian Government will therefore continue playing an important role, not only as facilitator but also as a supervisor of community-forestry activities.
The management of community forests requires not only technical know-how, but also various skills with regard to business development, community participation and conflict resolution. Where management bodies lack the capacity to deal with such tasks, they need to be supported.
As the Namibian Government on its own has neither the capacity nor the mandate to manage community forests on behalf of the people, a supportive stakeholder network has to be established. Important service providers in this regard are civil society and the private sector. Both need to be further attracted to support community forests in the long term by forming profitable joint-venture agreements that include proper compensation for services.
The Directorate of Forestry (DoF) under the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF) implements community forestry in co-operation with the German Development Service (DED) and the German Development Bank (KfW). To develop community forests as integrated land and resource-use systems, the co-operation and co-ordination with a variety of stakeholders are core objectives of the Community Forestry in Namibia (CFN) programme.
This article appeared in the 2010/11 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.