Conservation and some claims

Published : Sep 14, 2002 00:00 IST

Namibia's Community-Based Natural Resource Management programme, claimed to be southern Africa's most progressive people-centred conservation initiative, retains the prevailing inequality and injustice.

THE Kunene region in northwestern Namibia is characterised by a diverse landscape, spectacular wildlife of large mammals, and relatively low human population densities. The area is thus the focus of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and donor support for the emergence of communal conservancies under the Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) programme, internationally acclaimed as southern Africa's most progressive, people-centred conservation initiative. There are already three registered conservancies - Torra, Khoadi Hoas and Sesfontein - in the region and three more - Orupembe, Doro Nawas and Puros - are in the making. According to the Directorate of Environmental Affairs, Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), so far 38,500 square kilometres of land has been 'conserved' all over the country through the gazetting of 14 communal area conservancies. At least 30 other conservancies are in various stages of development.

In the Torra conservancy in the southern Kunene region, amidst publicity marked by posters, display boards and graffiti, the official publicist, Kunda Baker, informs us how a number of benefits have already accrued to the participating communities. In 1998, the conservancy concluded an agreement with a photographic safari company for the development of an upmarket tourist lodge on its land. As part of a profit-sharing arrangement, the conservancy has received more than N$100,000 ($16,000) from the lodge development. The conservancy committee is involved in overall policymaking for the lodge and local people enjoy preference in employment. They are trained for management as well as menial jobs. Community game guards and women resource monitors receive wages. The hunting of surplus game has provided meat worth thousands of dollars.

In other areas, other benefits have accrued to the communities. For example, the women of Caprivi earned money from the sale of thatching grass. The Nyae Nyae community in northeastern Namibia concluded a trophy hunting agreement worth N$175,000 ($30,000) over two years in late 1997.

How 'new' is this new conservation effort, which claims to address the issue of communal rights, equity and rural development? How decentralised and people-centred is this conservation practice, compared with the centralised, bureaucratic, alienating one of the past? Is the new conservation effort a case of new wine in old bottle, retaining the existing inequality and disempowerement, with a more acceptable face? Is this a programme to shift the cost of conservation to an already poor and dispossessed community? Is there a convergence of the conservation and developmental interests of a community, or does the concern to save a particular flora or fauna override all other interests? This writer tried to grapple with these questions and found a new face of conservation that disguises the inequality and injustice under the shadow of a mega donor agency, an NGO, and the state.

The CBNRM programme is a partnership between the government, the donor organisations, the NGOs and communities. The Namibian government has gone ahead with it whole-heartedly. Thus, while officially launching the scheme in September 1998, President Sam Nujoma could claim that the conservancy programme was one of the most innovative ones, as it aimed to alleviate rural poverty while empowering local communities to make their own decisions about wildlife. He stated, "Not only are conservancies a gift to our people, they are also a gift to the people of the earth." The donor, USAID (the U.S. Agency for International Development)provided $14 million between 1993 and 2000. A further $12 million has been approved for the period between 1999 and 2004. In southern Africa, USAID funds CBNRM programmes in Botswana (Natural Resources Management Programme, or NRMP), Zimbabwe (Communal Area Management Programme for Indigenous Resources, or CAMPFIRE) and Zambia (Administrative Management Design, or ADMADE). There are several NGOs but above all it is the WWF that plays a key role, even spending extra dollars for the programme.

A simple guide to the communal area conservancy makes interesting reading. A conservancy consists of a group of commercial farms or areas of communal land on which the owners of neighbouring land or members of the community have pooled resources for the purpose of conserving and making wildlife sustainable. Conservancies are operated and managed by members through a conservancy committee. Conservancy members benefit financially from wildlife and tourism, through a range of activities. A new piece of legislation enables conservancies to use, manage and benefit from wildlife on communal land, propose recommendations for quotas for wildlife utilisation, decide on the form of utilisation, enter into agreements with private companies, and establish tourism facilities within their areas. Registered conservancies will be given ownership huntable game. The MET and the NGO will be involved in the various stages of project implementation.

However, the troubled past of wildlife conservation in the region has a bearing on the present programme. In South Africa, the conservancies were evolved in the 1970s to benefit white settler farmers by giving them exclusive rights over wildlife, largely through the employment of game guards to check "poaching" by black African "neighbours". In Namibia, the European settler farmers have been given the right to utilise animal wildlife on their farms, individually and collectively. The freehold private land was considered central to the salvation of wildlife. However, the country's homelands and the vast resources of animal wildlife there had never been taken care of in the government's policy pronouncement. The wildlife losses in the 1970s and 1980s were massive, owing to hunting, poaching, droughts and conflicts between various interest groups. "Many external factors were responsible for wildlife losses. But it was the local people who were made primarily responsible for protecting wildlife. With the participation of local farmers and organisations, a network of paid male 'community game guards' was created. And this has been described as participation and empowerment of local people," says L. Lau, a writer on environmental issues in Namibia.

Teofilus Nghitila, Project Director, Directorate of Environmental Affairs, MET, says that with independence came a radically new conservation policy that extended rights on communal land to rural communities. The Nature Conservation Amendment Act of 1996, which has replaced the Nature Conservation Ordinance of 1975, gives them the proprietorship of wildlife on communal land and the concessionary rights over commercial tourism on such land. However, the proprietorship and the concessionary rights are limited in many ways, and many claims of the new conservation policy sound hollow. "The proprietorship is not total ownership. Overall, the Central government holds the legal responsibility for the nation's wildlife. In some conservancies, such as the Salambala Conservancy in the Caprivi region, the quotas for hunting are worked out and awarded by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism," states Nghitila while responding to queries.

COMMUNITY game guards are still at the centre of the new programme. They have many major functions in both the protected areas and the private conservancies, which include wildlife monitoring, policing, checking, poaching and generating and providing information. They have virtually become the primary link between the community and the formal conservation authority, through the mediation of NGOs and donors. The WWF has suggested that community game guards should be provided with weapons for self-defence. A.W. Mosimane, a researcher, suggests in his paper, 'Community-Basesd Natural Resource Management in East Caprivi: A Case Study of the Choi Community', that 'community-based conservation' has actually ushered in intensified policing of animal wildlife in communal areas. Even more serious are the potential implications of what amounts to arming civil society in the name of wildlife conservation.

Community-based conservation and tourism are considered to be the best means to achieve sustainable livelihood. Javier Arreaza Miranda, WWF spokesperson, argues that revenue from consumptive and non-consumptive uses of wildlife enhances and diversifies sources of income. With increasing income, the community also develops a vested interest in conserving game animals.

In a report submitted to the Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation and the WWF, J. Durbin and others give a somewhat different account of this. According to them, the actual and projected per capita incomes are low in all cases, though these figures are drawn from regions that have substantial wildlife resources, and where a handful of conservancies have been the recipients of several years of NGO support and funding. Sian Sullivan, an academic, explains in concrete terms that the highest recent annual per capita income for members of a conservancy appears to be approximately N$254 or 25 (with the addition of wages to community members employed by lodge developments within the conservancy), with the next highest at N$85 or 8.50. A comparison with the monthly old-age pension of N$160 received from the state provides an idea of the relative annual contribution this will make to household incomes in the Namibian context.

Thus, we could hear Naba, a villager in the Kunene region, asking bitterly: "Where is the income in the conservancy? Whatever income we have comes only through employment in tourism lodges and hunting contracts. We have now some more economic activities in the area and sometimes we get some wage income from these as well."

Villagers in the region also hint at the uneven distribution of income. "There are a few five-star conservancies. Several areas in the country, for example north-central Namibia, have little animal wildlife or 'wild' landscapes. They have, thus, no opportunities to develop wildlife-based tourism," says Shiute, a schoolteacher in Caprivi. It is also mentioned in the conservancy areas that now it has been left to the local people to take care of the management of wildlife resources and in the process the government has withdrawn from its basic responsibilities. Why should the policing of people's activities in relation to wildlife, the funding of community institutions designed to manage wildlife, and the day-to-day experience of living with large and dangerous mammals be left to the locals? Why should the schools and health centres be asked to establish themselves from the income earned from the conservancy?

In order to give a precise meaning to participation, representation and equality in the formation of conservancies, the MET introduced several noteworthy regulations to accompany the Nature Conservation Amendment Act, 1996. They are: the conservancy committee should be elected democratically; they should hold regular meetings and record the proceedings; no one should be excluded on the grounds of ethnicity and gender; and the rights of members of the conservancies should be defined clearly. It is also stated that the decision to form a communal area conservancy should be arrived at through the widest possible process of consultation and participation. The spokesperson of the Directorate of Environmental Affairs claims that for the first time in post-Independent Namibia, socio-ecological surveys have been started in order to initiate a dialogue with the local residents. In this process the main problems and their solutions could be identified. However, the Nyae Nyae conservancy in the Okavango flooded savannahs of northeastern Namibia is a Global 200 site of great biological wealth. Here the local communities built five new water points for wildlife in order to keep elephants away from their villages. They also took part in the translocation of 50 hartebeest and 28 Oryx antelopes to replenish the area's depleted stocks. A private game lodge has promised to Nyae Nyae several hundred more animals. Accounts from the local people suggest that the so-called participatory process is only enabling the community to participate at the level of implementation, without any say in programme design or planning.

Sian Sullivan also makes a detailed observation. In 1994 a two-week socio-ecological survey of southern Kunene was conducted to introduce the idea of establishing locally managed conservancies in rural communities. One of the initial meetings of the survey took place in Sesfontein, a relatively large settlement. Shortly after that, San Sullivan, who interviewed people from 20 per cent of the households in the settlement, found that no adult had attended the public meeting. In fact, the vast majority did not even know that the meeting had taken place and certainly did not realise that they had a right to attend and contribute to the discussion. The survey was primarily of the Damara-speaking people, the major language group in an area also shared by Herero-speakers and some Nama and Owambo people.

WHAT about the women in conservancy areas? What is their role in the community-based conservation effort?

It is a well-known fact that historically southern Africa's wildlife conservation projects have not only centred on a limited number of large mammals but developed as symbols of white southern African masculine identity. There are only men, either as hunters or as conservators, and women are just decorative 'pieces' to support the men's efforts.

The CBNRM programme lays special emphasis on the participation of women. It also talks of employing women as 'community resource monitors' to exploit better natural resource management opportunities and to facilitate the flow of information regarding resource management issues. However, during the socio-ecological survey in southern Kunene in 1994, no Damara or Herero women were allowed to attend the meeting. They were just seated outside the venue, even though the stated purpose of the meeting was to give better representation and participation to different sections of society. A report, 'Gender as a Factor in Community-Based Natural Resource Management: A Case Study of Nongozi, Linashulu, Lizauli and Sachona Villages in East Caprivi - Namibia', prepared by N. Nabane and submitted to the WWF-LIFE programme in 1995, concludes how over the issue of establishing a community camp site at Linashulu village, the male decision-making power got consolidated and the voices of women were marginalised. Thus, we find women not knowing much about conservancy or not interested to speak on the issue, whereas previously they were willing to share their views on various aspects of resource use and their traditional rights.

There is no denying the fact that the government, the donor agencies and the NGOs are collectively concerned about the losses of wildlife. They would like the local people to benefit from the conservation of wildlife. However, their prescriptions are also clear: the local people should continue to live with dangerous wildlife on their land; the number of this dangerous wildlife should be increased in their area; the donor and the NGOs should take the lead in wildlife conservation on behalf of the community; the revenue from conservancy and conservation efforts should continue to create more conservancy; and the institutions and initiatives should be based on business agreements for private safari, tourists and wealthy wildlife enthusiasts.

Sian Sullivan says: "Is it really reasonable to expect that a structurally entrenched rural poor should continue to service the fantasies of African wilderness projected by predominantly expatriate environmentalists, conservationists, tourists and trophy hunters, or that a communalising discourse equating rural development and 'empowerment' with wildlife preservation and foreign tourism will be 'sustainable', given both the constraints it imposes on individual aspiration and the dissatisfaction it produces in people who feel excluded? It seems that 'sustainable development' and 'community-based conservation' work only if it is assumed that large proportions of the world's population will be content with remaining poor."

While leaving southern Kunene, one wonders how new the new is if the core is still policing, law enforcement and exclusion? What difference does it make whether it is done by an NGO or an international donor, in place of the government machinery?

Mukul Sharma is Director, Heinrich Boll Foundation, Delhi.

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