Forest cover in Namibia was once much greater than it is now. With population growth requiring timber for building traditional houses, and the rapid commercial exploitation of species such as Zambezi Teak and Kiaat, forest reserves were in severe danger of depletion. With climate change an increasing concern in Namibia, as well as the rest of the world, the maintainance of forest cover is of particular importance.
Namibia’s forest areas are part of southern Africa’s Miombo Woodlands. They are not dense forests, but aggregations of woodlands and bush. They are ecologically important for carbon storage, for their capacity to retain soil and prevent erosion, and for the wealth of biodiversity (flora and fauna) they contain or are host to. Forests are also an economic resource containing timber and other plants. African Teak is a high value timber used in carving. Other forest products include devil’s claw, a tuber with medicinal qualities.
In the year 2020, the Directorate of Forestry was incorporated within the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT), which was previously the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET). This decision allows Namibian plant resource management to be more closely integrated with our conservation of other natural resources. The Directorate’s mandate was expanded considerably in 2008 to include the entire country and to integrate newly established community forests into the overall programme. These community forests are in ten regions spread across the north of Namibia (Zambezi, Kavango East and West, Ohangwena, Omusati, Oshikoto, Oshana, Otjozondjupa, Kunene and Omaheke) and have become an essential and integral part of the CBNRM programme. There are currently 43 registered and emerging community forests in Namibia, covering around 8% of the country. However, many of these forests overlap communal conservancies, in many cases by 100%, so the forest area outside of conservancies contributes only 0.4% of Namibia’s land area.
Community forest management is guided by the principles of sustainable management, not to deplete, but to maintain and improve the resource base, and of sharing benefits among all local residents. Hence, community forests empower local people to take responsibility and to become actively involved in forest management, thereby increasing the value and benefits of forest resources to local people. Community forests differ from conservancies in one fundamental respect: all residents within a community forest are members of the forest, and have member’s rights, whereas not all residents of conservancies are members.
A principal source of income from community forests is the commercial extraction of Namibian hardwoods. The Directorate of Forestry calculates an ‘annual allowable offtake’, based on an inventory of timber resources, which is binding for a 5-10 year period. Community members themselves conduct the inventory, as they know their areas intimately. Technical guidance is given by the National Forestry Inventory (NFI) Department, which analyses the data and compiles inventory reports. These then form the key components of the management plan.
The principle of an inventory mirrors the annual game counts carried out in communal conservancy areas in the north-west and north-east, data which are analysed before quotas are set for the sustainable use of game. The WWF coordinates an annual vegetation survey in selected conservancy areas, and all of these community based monitoring activities provide information which is collated into the Namibian CONINFO data base.
Trees also bear fruits which are of nutritional and economic value. Marula, ximenia, mopane and commiphora all produce oils useful for food or as skin lotions. Protecting these resources by their sustainable utilisation is the key role for communal forests.
Forest committees have rights over their resources, and issue permits for their utilisation based upon annual monitoring. They also control grazing by livestock in forest areas which are a valuable fodder resource in times of drought. Grazing permits may be issued, subject to the sustainability of graze and browse in forest areas.