When Garth Owen-Smith started his journey as an Agricultural Officer in Namibia, then Southwest Africa’s rugged and remote harsh desert of Kaokoveld more than 50 years ago, little did he know that fast forward, his first steps would turn into a world-renowned programme, today is known as Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM).
His early work with local communities in the Kaokoveld in the mid-1980s demonstrated that involving local farmers in conserving wildlife was the key to maintaining wildlife on Namibia’s communal land. At that time, wildlife was the property of the state and nature conservation was the domain of government.
Garth and his partner Dr Margaret (Margie) Jacobsohn’s efforts in conservation have been recognized nationally and internationally. Among the numerous distinguished awards bestowed them are the 1993 Goldman Grassroots Environmental Prize for Africa, the 1994 United Nations Global Environmental 500 Award, the 1997 Netherlands Knights of the Order of the Golden Ark Award, 2003 Cheetah Conservationist of the Year Award and the 2015 Prince William Lifetime Conservation Award from the Tusk Foundation.
Although he is known by many names, “the father of CBNRM, a pioneer and a hero, a great African conservation visionary”, honouring him for what he truly is would never sum up to his lifelong dedications. There is one indisputable pillar that even today, is still the pivot that supports the entire conservation effort. It is the community game guard. To give recognition to the selfless people who work at the grassroots level to protect nature and wildlife, a group of conservationists have come together to launch the Grassroots Owen-Smith Community Ranger awards (GOSCARs).
The awards intents to annually recognise top three top-performing men and women who work – and walk – in the field including the conservancy game guards, conservancy lion or rhino rangers, fish guards or community resource monitor. These are the people the late Garth Owen-Smith would want to be honoured in his name as they represent the original concept with which Namibia’s internationally recognized CBNRM programme started.
The annual GOSCARs will serve to remind us of all that this is the front line of community-based conservation. Without community fieldworkers, there would be no community-based conservation in Namibia – no communal conservancies, no communal forests, and no communal fish reserves – and a lot less wildlife. The winner’s conservancy and, if appropriate, their traditional authority will also get a small award, recognising that it is the people who live with wildlife and other valuable natural resources who hold the future of conservation in their hands.
The aim is to promote community-based natural resource management by going back to its roots – recognising the men and women at the front line as well as acknowledging responsible conservancies and related community-based organisations which are accountable to their members and fulfil their purpose.
Specific criteria to be listed on the nomination form include effective monitoring of wildlife and other valuable natural resources, excellent communication with community members and conservancy committees, human-wildlife conflict mitigation and conservation outreach within communities.
The completed nomination form, including a brief motivation, should be sent or hand-delivered to the Namibian Chamber of Environment. Nomination forms can be downloaded from the NCE website at www.n-c-e.org while hard copies can be obtained at NACSO partner’s offices including IRDNC offices in Opuwo, Wereldsend, Katima Mulilo and Windhoek.
As we recognise community rangers in honour of Garth Owen-Smith, read more about his intriguing early work here.