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Global_17

Arena Conservation Communal conservancies: Namibia’s gift to the Earth Wildlife conservation in Namibia has seen animal populations increase and poaching decline, as ordinary people begin to take ownership of their environment. Communities are seeing fi nancial benefi ts, too, as tourism increases Chief Emeka Anyaoku Africa is plagued with stories of failed conservation, which means bad news for wildlife. Rhino and elephant populations are being decimated by unprecedented scales of poaching, while pristine wildlife habitat and forests continue to fragment in the face of rampant development and the race for natural resources. The conservation of Africa’s vast treasure of biodiversity and charismatic wildlife is fi ghting a losing battle in the trade-offs between short-term exploitation and long-term protection. Yet, in the wake of this depressing news, Namibia – a relatively young country in southern Africa – has received the prestigious WWF Gift to the Earth Award in recognition of the impressive nature conservation achievements of its communal conservancy movement over the past two decades. So why has conservation been so successful in Namibia – and what has Namibia done differently? Conservation in Namibia is essentially premised upon the wise and sustainable use of its natural resources, whether this is through responsible tourism or the harvesting of forest and natural plant products. In fact, Namibia was the fi rst country in Africa to link the welfare of its environment to sustainable development in its country constitution, with Article 95(l) providing that “the State shall actively promote and maintain the welfare of the people by adopting, inter alia, policies aimed at the… maintenance of ecosystems, essential ecological processes and biological diversity of Namibia and utilization of living natural resources on a sustainable basis for the benefi t of all Namibians, both present and future”. A further underpinning principle is the government’s belief that communities and landowners are a key part of the conservation equation, particularly regarding wildlife conservation. Namibia believes people living with wildlife should be empowered as responsible stewards and benefactors of the wildlife and its habitat. The Namibian government translated this principle into legislation in 1996 – amending its conservation laws to give communities that form communal conservancies, or community wildlife management units, the rights to manage wildlife and tourism resources directly. Such legal recognition has turned communities into relevant and recognised stakeholders in conservation efforts. Namibia’s government builds upon this participatory principle by applying an incentive-based approach to wildlife management. In order to secure the rights to wildlife or tourism resources, if they wish to do so, communities must form and register as a communal conservancy. This is a voluntary commitment towards conservation, and one which is closely linked to management and performance incentives. Good management leads to rebounding wildlife populations and associated increased benefi ts – so that people living with the wildlife have both the incentive and the responsibility to manage it well. Finally, Namibia has also been adept at applying smart partnerships in supporting conservation efforts. Non-governmental organisations like WWF provide complementary support to the government in conservation efforts, while the private sector plays a critical role in harnessing the value of markets across the world. Communities receive the technical support that allows conservancies to engage with businesses on equal terms, and as empowered managers and benefactors of their natural resources. Namibia’s principles and incentive-based approaches have resulted in widespread engagement of its citizens in conservation practices. A heightened sense of community ownership and par- 50 l www.global -br ief ing.org f i rst quar ter 2014 global


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