Pressure from international animal charity organisations to ban trophy hunting in Namibia and a reduction in donor funding are among major challenges threatening the existence of conservancies in the country.
The flow of traditional donor funding towards supporting conservancy programmes has almost dried up following the reclassification of Namibia to an upper middle-income country in 2013.
Namibian Association of Community-Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM) Support Organisations (NACSO) Director, Maxi Louis, spoke to the Windhoek Observer about the importance of trophy hunting and the impact of reduced development assistance for conservation.
NACSO works closely with the professional hunters’ association (NAPHA) and communities that have joint venture partnerships that are regulated, controlled and mutually beneficial for the communities and the hunters and their clients. In a few very remote conservancies, hunting is the only steady source of income and jobs for the people living there.
“Banning trophy hunting will have a significant negative impact on the income levels of conservancies in Namibia,” the NACSO director said.
For decades a few, but vociferous international groups have protested against any kind of professional hunting often using negative misinformation about hunting or animal populations to batter the sector in Namibia and worldwide.
But, the anti-hunting movement is split with many of the more reputable conservation NGOs (like World Wildlife Fund, Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation and others) supporting regulated, licensed, professional hunting for the benefit of communities and to assist in achieving conservation goals.
The Cabinet of Namibia has repeatedly affirmed this country’s full support of precise and regulated professional hunting.
Regarding the reduced levels of donor support for communal conservancies, Louis said this has already resulted in fewer human and financial resources going towards supporting conservancies that are in the process of becoming viable institutions.
This has in turn forced NACSO to prioritise their list of needed programmes and projects thus compromising on many activities that would otherwise help create more viable conservancies.
“We had to revisit our strategy, in the wake of not having enough resources. What we have done is to prioritise areas we can support because we just do not have the critical capacities to support all the 82 conservancies,” Louis said.
In some instances, the organisation has had to group conservancies into clusters in order to accommodate and cater for everyone.
Louis, however, emphasised that although the conservancies are facing challenges, they are not falling apart.
“There are some conservancies which we do not support financially anymore; they are able to continue from their own resources and are doing quite well. Conservancies are not crumbling; we actually see them growing,” she said, adding that it can take over 10 years for a conservancy to become viable.
According to Louis, there are about 30 conservancies that are viable, meaning they have a very good governance structure, a good foundation (in terms of managing their resources whether it is natural resources including wildlife resources) and some level of income.
Louis’ comments comes at a time when conservancies are under scrutiny after a damning report released by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Natural Resources, which highlighted the need for the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) to review the CBNRM programme because some conservancy members complained that their communities were not benefiting as much as the ministry and NGOs had previously indicated.
NACSO, founded in the mid-1990s is a consortium of nine civil society organisations that work together to support, promote and strengthen community based natural resource management.
Communal conservancies are self-governing, democratic entities, run by their members, with fixed boundaries that are agreed with adjacent conservancies, communities or land owners. They are managed under committees elected by members.
In 1998, the first four communal conservancies were gazetted by MET. These are the NyaeNyae in the east of Namibia, in former ‘Bushmanland’; Salambala, in the riverine north east, on the border to Bostwana; ≠Khoadi-//Hôas, straddling the border between Kunene north and south in the arid north west; and to the south of it, Torra, spreading westwards towards the Skeleton Coast.
These pioneer conservancies became the model for economic survival and growth in harsh rural settings.
As legal entities, those conservancies with MET approved wildlife utilisation plans, are allowed to hunt game on the land they oversee.
Hunting on state land allocated to communal conservancies is governed by quotas, set by the MET, on the basis of annual game counts carried out by the ministry and conservancies, with assistance from NACSO’s Natural Resource Management Working Group.
Broadly speaking, hunting falls into two areas: trophy hunting, which brings income to pay for game guards and anti-poaching activities, and meat harvesting, which provides a valuable dietary supplement for conservancy members.