“The atmosphere of openness is just impressive”, said Vicky Lee Wallgren, Director of Forests and Wildlife from WWF Sweden, at a debriefing meeting in Windhoek, after returning from a week-long field visit to some of the conservancies in Namibia’s Kunene region: Torra, Doro! nawas, Uibasen and Ehi-Rovipuka.
Accompanied by seven other colleagues from WWF in Namibia, NACSO and WWF US and Norway, the purpose of the visit was to learn about the Community Based Natural Resources Management programme (CBNRM) in Namibia, and particularly more about conservancy operations on the ground and understand conservancy governance structures, including activities involving women and youth.
NACSO, as a coalition of conservation NGOs, most of which are field based, has been supporting this initiative since its inception. Rural communal communities in Namibia have nurtured a programme that has now become a household name, recognised internationally. With 3 more conservancies gazetted last year in the north-east, there are now 86 conservancies in Namibia, which constitute of half of the land under conservation.
Although CBNRM is based on the management of natural resources, it also entails diversified local economic development and the growth of a strong civil society. WWF Sweden is currently supporting governance in conservancies through the SIDA (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency) project, with the underlining theme “strengthening institutional capacity and governance of Namibian conservancies to enable natural resource management”, which aims to strengthen governance in conservancies, and to ensure that benefits from natural resources are equitably shared among conservancy members.
In Ehi-Rovipuka conservancy, the visitors met with a women’s group called “Women in Conservation”, a newly formed group whose aim is to engage women in conservancy related matters. “As you can see, there is only one woman amongst our committee members, we also want our voices heard in decision making processes” said Tjavarekua Tjijahura, who is also the group leader. She hopes that the movement could expand to other conservancies, in order to strengthen women’s involvement in conservancy related matters, including more women serving on management committees.
The visitors from Europe and the USA noted that there are massive opportunities in conservancies, which still need to be explored, such as getting more youth and women involvement in mainstream conservation, encouraging learning and sharing within and between conservancies, and engaging with traditional authorities to move CBNRM forward.
There is also great potential for marketing local people and culture. “How much does Namibia use conservancies as a selling point for tourism?” Was the question that Vicky Lee Wallgren from Sweden asked, as she noted that during her stay in some of the joint venture lodges, which are in partnership with conservancies, there was little information about their relationship with conservancies.
Despite the successes seen by visitors, there are also challenges. “Conservancies are evolving against the available resources, which is a big threat”, says Vicky. There is a lack of resources and capacity to give enough support to all the conservancies. As the programme grows and the number of conservancies continues to expand without matching technical support, it has become a challenge not only to conservancies, but also to the support organisations.
Every conservancy is unique in its own way and comes with its own challenges. There are some conservancies that may not have economic potential, but “they still play an important role in conservation” said Maxi Louis, Director of NACSO.
Sharing information has become a tradition at NACSO and a way of learning from visitors. “This was definitely a learning experience for me”, said Vicky.