Communal conservancies are self-governing, democratic entities, run by their members, with fixed boundaries that are agreed with adjacent conservancies, communities or land owners. Conservancies are recognised by the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT), but not governed by the Ministry, which does, however, have powers to de-register a conservancy if it fails to comply with conservation regulation. Communal conservancies are obliged to have game management plans, to conduct annual general meetings, and to prepare financial reports. They are managed under committees elected by their members.
In 1998 the first four communal conservancies were gazetted by the MEFT: Nyae Nyae in the east of Namibia, in former ‘Bushmanland’; Salambala, in the riverine north east, on the border to Bostwana; ≠Khoadi-//Hôas, straddling the border between Kunene north and south in the arid north west; and to the south of it, Torra, spreading westwards towards the Skeleton Coast.
These pioneer conservancies established the model for economic survival and growth in harsh rural settings. As legal entities with wildlife utilisation plans, they were allowed to hunt. Before independence, residents on communal land who hunted game were treated as poachers. Hunting on conservancy land is governed by quotas, set by the MEFT, on the basis of annual game counts carried out by the Ministry and conservancies, with assistance from NACSO’s Natural Resource Management Working Group. Broadly, hunting falls into two areas: trophy hunting, which brings income to pay for game guards and anti-poaching activities, and meat harvesting, which provides a valuable dietary supplement.
For those conservancies with tourism potential, the right to establish tourism enterprises was realised through joint ventures with the private sector, which could bring capital and experience. As wildlife numbers grew and were sustained by conservation measures, lodges found a sure footing in some conservancies, bringing income and creating employment.
Based upon this successful model, other communities have come together to form conservancies, and at present there are 86 registered by the MEFT, covering around 20.2% of the country. However, not all conservancies have the potential to earn strong incomes from trophy hunting or tourism. Many are on marginal land with little wildlife, but with a strong conservation value to Namibia.
There are currently 42 joint venture lodges in Namibian conservancies, and in some of those conservancies, tourism is becoming the key source of income, replacing trophy hunting. The two activities are strictly separated by zoning conservancies into different and use areas, including agriculture. Although tourism and hunting provide important income diversification, farming is still the main source of livelihoods for most conservancy members. However, with the growing effects of climate change, access to alternative income streams will become increasingly important.