Two of the biggest obstacles to effective conservation schemes in Southern Africa are the high rates of rural poverty and the lack of a system of laws providing property rights to vast sections of the population. Since the mid-1990s, the Namibian government has sought to incorporate into the conservation effort communities with no legal claims to the land by devolving to them usage and resource rights. The result, the community-based natural resource management programs or CBNRMs, has proven a somewhat successful response to plummeting wildlife numbers on public land.(1) The Natural Conservation Amendment of 1996 provided a framework for the allotment of land and the creation of a volunteer communal governing body tasked with overseeing the development of the conservancy and ensuring that revenues from wildlife be equitably distributed.(2)
Studies from other countries suggest failure to provide more secure property rights to local communities has been problematic. In Tanzania, a study by Igoe and Croucher found that the primary failure of the wildlife management area program was the refusal of the government to transfer land rights to and subsequent financial benefits to the local populations.(3) Similarly, Kenya’s “policy of strict public ownership of wildlife with no private user rights,”(4) means that communities see no direct benefit from wildlife, only the havoc wrought by elephants on their crops. A strict ban on hunting and ownership of wildlife proved ineffective at halting declines in wildlife populations.(5) With legal claim to land, Namibians were provided with an incentive to prevent poaching and protect their common resource.
Both wildlife and communities stand to benefit. Initial capital investment from the government treasury and partnerships with private sector actors has led to the establishment of more than fifty conservancies in Namibia, many of which have become financially self-sufficient. The conservancies’ ecotourism profits are largely reinvested in the community for projects ranging from well digging to education. The involvement of communities across large areas facilitates the scaling-up of conservation efforts. In their study of Namibia, De Jager and Barnes show empirically that private landowners who group together to form large-scale conservancies can achieve greater financial returns through non-extractive industries than if they were to remain as small-scale ranchers. Boudreaux and Nelson report “that in 2006 CBNRM generated over N$93 million (nearly US$14 million) for private-sector stakeholders and approximately N$185 (US$27.6 million) for the broader Namibian economy.”(6) To date, 50% of elephant range-land in Namibia has been incorporated into the conservancy network, leading to a marked increase in their population. Between 2001 and 2008 in the Caprivi region alone, elephant numbers increased from about 100 to over 1,000. Much of this success is attributed to CBNRMs.(7) CBNRMs provide a valuable buffer zone for national parks, greatly expanding the protected areas for highly migratory species such as the savannah elephant. They can also provide increased monitoring from the local communities to supplement thinly spread park rangers. A decline in the profitability of cattle ranching and an increase in community empowerment has provided an environment conducive to profitable wildlife management.
Large scale conservancies and communal management programs are instituted with the intent of benefiting the local communities by aligning the goals of wildlife conservation with poverty reduction. All too often, however, “they are plagued by elite capture, misuse of money, and low levels of participation.”(8) Igoe and Croucher’s study of Tanzania show that communities are often alienated from the planning of wildlife management programs and they see few of the financial benefits from growth in ecotourism.(9) It is important that resource rights and the financial benefits remain with local communities even as these projects are scaled up. As Child et al. state, it is important that these programs be “scaled down to the level of single-village communities and processes of participatory democracy be strictly followed.” Funding for these projects is also often scarce and can not be provided by the state alone.
As of yet, there are no comprehensive studies on whether conservancies are benefitting biodiversity nation-wide in Namibia. Further research is needed to establish whether or not this model is viable across the region and on a large scale.
(1) Boudreaux Karol & Nelson Fred, “Community Conservation in Namibia: Empowering the Poor with Property Rights,” Economic Affairs Vol. 31 No. 2 (2011): 17 – 24.
(3) Igoe Jim & Croucher Beth, “Conservation, Commerce, and Communities: The Story of Community-Based Wildlife Management Areas in Tanzania’s Northern Tourist Circuit” Conservation and Society, Vol. 5 No. 4 (2007): 534–561.
(4) Kinnaird, Margaret & O’Brien, Timothy, “Effects of Private-Land Use, Livestock Management, and Human Tolerance on Diversity, Distribution, and Abundance of Large African Mammals,” Conservation Biology Vol. 26 No. 2 (2012): 260 – 274.
(5) Muir-Leresche Kay & Nelson Robert, “Private Property Rights to Wildlife: The Southern African Experiment,” Competitive Enterprise Institute (2000).
(6) Boudreaux & Nelson (2011): 18
(8) Child Brian A., Musengezi Jessica, Parent Gregory D., Child Graham, “The Economics and Institutional Economics of Wildlife on Private Land in Africa,” Pastoralism: Research, Policy and Practice 2012, 2:18 http://www.pastoralismjournal.com/content/2/1/18.
(9) Igoe Jim & Croucher Beth. “Conservation, Commerce, and Communities: The Story of Community- Based Wildlife Management Areas in Tanzania’s Northern Tourist Circuit,” Conservation and Society, Vol. 5 No. 4 (2007): 534–561.