At a meeting in Rundu on 26 April, the Kavango and Zambezi Conservancy Associations took strong issue with some of the allegations by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Natural Resources, reported in New Era dated 21 April, criticising Namibia’s policy of human-wildlife conflict and the wages paid by conservancies. The associations stated that points made by the Standing Committee were unfounded and incorrect.
The associations were meeting to discuss the varying states of development of conservancies in the north east of Namibia. Although Zambezi Region has 16 conservancies, with some receiving strong income from tourism and conservation hunting, other conservancies receive less income, but carry the same costs: especially game guard salaries and the loss of crops and livestock to wildlife.
“Human-wildlife conflict is not just the government’s problem or the conservancies’ problem, it is the problem of all of us to solve”, stated one conservancy chairperson. It was there before independence, but with the creation of conservancies the issue has been addressed by government and communities together.
Conservancies have called for increases to the offsets paid by the Ministry to farmers for losses, and for compensation for injuries and deaths. Conservancy chairpersons were at a loss to understand the suggestion by the Standing Committee that conservancies should themselves pay compensation from their income.
That is exactly what they do, they stated. Conservancies add to the Ministry’s offset allowance of N$60,000, which is paid to conservancies in need of assistance. Salambala added N$100,000 last year, and Bamunu N$60,000. Even Muduva Nyangana in Kavango, which has a much lower income, put aside N$10,000 for compensation.
Most chairpersons at the meeting in Rundu were surprised by the findings of the Standing Committee, as they personally had not been consulted, and had heard that the parliamentarians had interviewed conservancy members at random. While they fully support the right of parliamentarians to speak to anyone, they would welcome any opportunity to present the facts about conservation in their areas, particularly to parliament in a well-considered report.
The benefits accruing from wildlife are considerable, they stated, giving examples of community development paid for from conservation hunting and tourism, made possible only by wildlife in conservancies.
Kwandu Conservancy has just bought 5 electricity transformers at a cost of N$600,000, which will bring power to 1,947 households. In addition it is building six permanent structures for Khutas (local courts) and is laying pipelines to pump water to 6,000 people. Zambezi conservancies contribute significantly to traditional authority income.
Six other Zambezi conservancies are providing similar benefits, and the Kavango conservancies, which have lower incomes, are providing water pumps, zinc roofing for schools, and community gardens.
The Standing Committee criticised “starvation wages” of N$500 and N$650 a month paid to conservancy management. This, stated the conservancy chairpersons, is a complete misunderstanding of the facts. The lowest game guard salary in Zambezi is N$1,300, and the highest N$2,200.
Even in Kavango, where conservancy income is lower, George Mukoya pays its ten game guards N$1,600 each. Higher wages for fewer guards would lead only to problems, stated meeting participants, as there would be fewer game guards patrolling and preventing poaching.
Committee members are re-imbursed for travel costs in sitting allowances amounting to N$650 in Kasika, and this may have been the figure the Standing Committee was referring to. It was pointed out that committee members were taking small allowances, in order not to take money from salaries and community development projects.
The Standing Committee’s recommendation to fence conservancies was met with surprise by conservancy chairpersons, because fencing of communal land is illegal in Namibia.
A meeting of 16 conservancies in Kunene Region on the same day indicated the need to respond to what they called “the damaging comments by the Parliamentary Committee, which reflected a deliberate attempt to undermine the achievements of the CBNRM programme and its contributions to community development”. They pointed out that “low salaries” paid to staff reflected the commitment of rural communities to protect wildlife, even if there is not sufficient income to pay more.
Although they agreed with the Standing Committee that human-wildlife conflict is a major issue, they also agreed with the northeastern conservancies that they should wait for the results of the on-going review of Human Wildlife Policy by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.
In Kavango and Zambezi Regions, the conservancy associations will be advocating improved human-wildlife mitigation measures to the Ministry. Although the costs of wildlife to all conservancies are considerable, they stated, the benefits are growing as a result of legislation and support from government.