On the cold and windy morning of 15 July 2020, at Sikunga Conservancy, the Zambezi Conservancy Biannual meeting commenced under one of the big trees outside the conservancy office. The meetings which are planned by the Ministry of Environment Forestry and Tourism, IRDNC and the conservancies, bring together various stakeholders such as conservancies, ministries, traditional authorities and NGOs with the aim of sharing ideas, resolving cross cutting issues, and recommendations from the meetings are used in policies i.e. recommendations from previous biannual meetings on Human Wildlife Conflict (HWC) issues that were incorporated into the HWC policy. The main aim of these meetings is for the conservancy voices to be heard but is also an opportunity for members to travel to new places, meet new people and learn from each other.
Sikunga Conservancy was the 56th conservancy to be gazetted in 2009. The conservancy bordered by the mighty Zambezi river. The office is situated near Isize village where this year’s Zambezi Communal Conservancy Biannual planning and feedback meeting took place.
The biannual was initially planned to take place at Simahala in Zambia but due to COVID 19 and travel restrictions this could not happen. At the conservancy office where people were camping, health measures for COVID 19 were taken into consideration with Tippy taps at each entrance, all participants wore masks, and sanitizers were readily available. The Regional Councillor for the Kabbe North constituency, Honourable Peter Mwala, heartily welcomed the participants to the area. The presence of the councillors showed their support to the conservancies and the CBNRM programme. Hon Mwala acknowledged the achievements of the conservancies and the success of the programme. He emphasised the importance of coordination between the conservancy and the regional council in order to avoid duplication of projects, “united we stand, divided we fall,” said the councillor.
Present at the meeting were conservancy chairpersons, managers, field officers, enterprise offices, bookkeepers and game guards. The 15 conservancies in Zambezi region and the Kyaramacan Association presented on the past six months achievements and challenges, and financial reports, as well as plans for the next six months. From the presentations, despite the negative effects of COVID 19 globally and on the region, which affected some of their activities, the conservancies continued with their conservation work throughout the various levels of the State of Emergency, while implementing good hygiene practices. The conservancies indicated that they have adjusted to the situation and raised awareness about COVID 19 and conducted cleaning campaigns in their areas.
The creditable leadership of conservancy chairpersons and managers is visible from the benefit projects that they have in their areas. Conservancies not only focus on conservation work but also on development in their areas. During the past six months, the conservancy achievements are commendable. Most conservancies assisted their members with scholarship funds which ranged from high school to university, and some funds were used to assist with the completion of school buildings. Numerous boreholes were drilled in various villages within conservancies to supply water to households. A few conservancies started with electrification projects which are to be completed soon.
Challenges that arose among most of the conservancies were the delay in HWC pay-outs, illegal settlement of individuals in designated wildlife core areas, contractual agreement issues, and the negative effects of COVID 19. All conservancies were financially affected by the pandemic but that would not stop them from fulfilling their conservation duties. Protection of wildlife and habitat is still the core of conservation, therefore the casual patrols in all conservancies were either maintained or increased and joint anti-poaching patrols carried out as well.
Financial reports given by bookkeepers were up to par, although conservancies acknowledged that their books need to be audited before final reports could be submitted. Due to good financial management, some conservancies were using money from their reserves to continue with their work and pay staff, especially game guards as they waited for the grants from the Conservation Relief Recovery Resilience Facility.
As human resources and skills continue to grow in conservancies, many have reported that they engage through learning and sharing exchange visits and there are future plans for more of these to strengthen each other as conservancies. There are six emerging conservancies in Zambezi and for new conservancies to arise is because of the benefits and good conservation efforts seen from their neighbouring conservancies.
Conservancies appreciated the support of the Ministry and support NGOs with regards to their business plans and conservation work. The chairperson of Kabulabula conservancy who spoke on behalf of the conservancies said, “we will not disappoint.”
The representatives of the different Traditional Authorities (TAs) who were present said they learnt a lot about the work conservancies were doing and will take up the challenges that they heard at the meeting to their respective TAs. The spokesperson was pleased to see many jobs generated from the programme and especially the number of females who had leadership positions in the conservancies.
The organisers and the conservancies were applauded by Ronny Dempers, Director of Namibia Development Trust, for a successful biannual, consistency of these meetings throughout the years, and for the well-structured discussions. The conservancies were well engaged and even though they are facing challenges it is evident that they are working together to strengthen the CBNRM programme. The future looks hopeful as long as they grab every opportunity that they have to make the best of the situation.