“We are all animals,” declared Minister of Foreign Affairs Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, to rapturous applause at the Adventure Travel World Summit in Swakopmund, and as ex-Minister of Environment and Tourism she went on to say that humans and wildlife have to live together. The land, Namibia, is a fixed size, but both human and wildlife populations are expanding.
Tourism to Namibia is also expanding, and is the fastest growing sector of the economy. Delegates from the tourism industry worldwide were engrossed by the Minister’s speech, which she gave without notes and from the heart. In her last post, she said, she used to make peace between humans and wildlife competing for the same space – the Ministry provided start-up funds for conservancies to compensate farmers for stock and crop losses to wildlife – but at Foreign Affairs she makes peace between nations, and a SADC negotiation had sadly kept her from the opening of the Summit.
She had asked another SADC Minister how many lions there were in his country. “Two,” was the reply, “and six elephants.” It was a great source of pride to Nandi-Ndaitwah that in Kunene the lion population has grown from around 20 in 1997 to over 150 today. Inevitably this brings problems for farmers, but as Dr ‘Flip’ Stander had pointed out in a presentation before the Minister spoke, lion-viewing tourism in Puros has grown by 62%, bringing new sources of income to the community.
This was the first point the Minister wanted to make to tourism delegates at the summit. Living with wildlife comes at a cost, and the benefits have to outweigh that cost. Namibia’s ecology is fragile, but if tourism is responsible – sustainable - visitors can bring income to rural communities without damaging the environment.
Namibia’s policy of sustainable rural development is based around communal conservancies. Turning again to international affairs, the Minister noted that the Nagoya Protocol signed exactly, to the day, three years ago in Japan, committed governments to conserve at least 16% of land area. Namibia had already exceeded that in 1998 with 18%. By 2006 it was 36% (phew!, said a member of the audience) and now the mix of state protected areas, communal conservancies and other conservation areas stands at over 43% of the country: nearly half. Soon, declared Nandi-Ndaitwah, the whole coast will be a national park.
Tourism is clearly bringing benefits to rural areas. There are 44 joint venture lodges, said the Minister, owned and run in partnership between conservancies and the private sector. But then she turned to her second theme, with an impassioned plea for tour operators to understand the value of trophy hunting to conservation in Namibia.
“Some people have a problem with hunting,” she said, “but I have to be open – people have to understand that hunting is part of our conservation programme.” The opening speaker of the Namibian session at the Summit, John Kasaona, had told the audience that he was the son of a poacher. But thanks to the conservancy movement wildlife had value. Trophy hunting and tourism had brought income based on wildlife to conservancies, and rural people now saw a value in wildlife and protected it. The poachers had turned gamekeepers declared Kasaona, who now heads a major conservation NGO, Integrated Rural Development and Rural Conservation.
The Minister referred to conservationists like Kasaona, and pointed out that hunting, tourism and conservation are all parts of an integrated programme. “The CITES quota for trophy hunted elephants was 90, based on a population of 7,000. Now there are over 20,000 elephants in Namibia,” elephants that bring tourism. “No more hunting – no more conservation,” said Nandi-Ndaitwah, and perhaps to her surprise drew strong applause from the tourism delegates who had all understood.
“You have to take away the message that the sustainable utilization of wildlife is essential,” declared the Minister, addressing the delegates directly: “Adventure Tourism needs to make conservation its priority.”