Every six months the Caprivi communal conservancies get together to discuss future plans, which include tourism and the joint venture lodges run in partnership between conservancies and private enterprise; lodges that provide jobs to guides, cooks and other staff.
Over the last ten years of conservancy development in Caprivi, there has been lots to discuss. The process was initially led by Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC), an NGO offering support to conservancies. But these days the conservancies are taking over more and more of the day to day running of their own operations.
Think farming: a conservancy is rather like a farm that has decided to diversify away from livestock and crops, to include businesses like trophy hunting and tourism, and to do this the conservancy has to invest in game guards and to protect wildlife – which in turn attracts the tourists.
A conservancy has to be a well managed business. There needs to be enough income to pay the staff, and more left over to distribute in benefits to conservancy members. Training in good governance has been provided by the IRDNC in the area for a decade, and now the Millenium Clallenge Account (MCA) has added financial assistance from the USA, particularly for financial and business training.
July's bi-annual meeting was held in Kwandu Conservancy, which like several other Caprivi conservancies lies on an international border. Just north of Kwandu lies the Imosho district of Zambia, and representatives of the Imosho Village Action Groups had made the walk down to Kwandu to participate in the meeting.
International participation is of growing importance because Caprivi lies at the heart of KAZA, the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area. Countries like Zambia are keen to learn from the experience of Namibian conservancies. But it's a two way traffic: Imosho has developed impressive techniques for detering elephants from attacking maize crops – the so called 'chilli bombs' that give off a pungenst aroma that elephants can't stand.
From further afield, representatives from Botswana's Chobe Enclave attended, and were able to add their experience of tourism and trophy hunting conservation management. Increasingly, conservancies work together in Namibia and with their partners across the Zambian and Botswanan borders.
Inside Caprivi, cooperation takes place between the communal conservancies and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) that runs the national parks. Joint management areas like the Muyuni North Complex point the way forward. The complex includes three communal conservancies and two national parks. As far as the wildlife is concerned, a conservancy is as good as a park: both areas provide protection from poaching.
The question for conservancy members is what benefits the conservancy will bring, which is what the bi-annual meetings are all about. The Kwandu meeting identified real needs that conservancies have as small business. Each conservancy present had to make a presentation on their finances – a sort of peer review – leading to a discussion on the challenges of financial management, which helped to identify knowledge gaps and training needs. These needs will be analysed by the MCA's Conservancy Development Support Service Unit, in order to improve training and make it more relevant.
Other presentations included the business possibilities of Devil's Claw, which is sustainably harvested in Namibia as an organic crop, and sold to pharmaceutical companies overseas, and the increasingly popular Elephant Energy, a social enterprise offering solar powered lighting to rural households.
For the conservancies who took part in the meeting, planning is the key to the future: more qualified guides, better trained finance officers, improved cooperation with the MET at home and colleagues across the borders to deter poaching and control fires and fisheries. There's always a lot to discuss, and a sense of progress to mull over as the camp fire burns low at the end of the evening.