The awarding of the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC) Markhor Award for outstanding conservation performance to the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism (NMET), and the Namibian Association of CBNRM Support Organisations (NACSO) has highlighted and recognised the crucial role that community empowerment and participation plays in making progress towards a sustainable model of development.
It is somewhat ironic that the announcement of this award was made at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development – otherwise known as Rio+20.
As the delegates, government negotiators, civil society representatives and the world’s media return from that expensive exercise in futility with deflated hopes and depleted pockets, it is becoming increasingly clear that placing the hopes of humanity on costly international, multilateral jamborees is a kind of madness – the definition of which is doing the same thing time after time and genuinely expecting a different outcome.
Instead, it is at local, national and regional levels that the search for solutions to our unsustainable growth and development models will have to be found if the planetary resources which sustain life, such as clean air, water and biodiversity, are to survive.
The Namibian conservancy model, which was the basis of the award, provides just such a model.
The concept of ‘sustainable development’ is usually broadly defined as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. Taken from the World Commission on Environment and Development Commission (known as the Brundtland Commission) report Our Common Future, this definition of sustainable development seeks to place the needs of the poor at the centre of conservation. In effect, it requires that governments and policymakers balance economic, social and environmental objectives and factors.
This definition is further bolstered by the Addis Ababa Principles and Guidelines for the Sustainable Use of Biological Diversity, which sets out a number of principles in this regard. The Namibian conservancy movement is closely aligned with these, and in particular with the following:
Principle 2: Recognizing the need for a governing framework consistent with international national laws, local users of biodiversity components should be sufficiently empowered and supported by rights to be responsible and accountable for resource use.
Principle 12: The needs of indigenous and local communities who live with and are affected by the use and conservation of biological diversity, along with their contributions to its conservation and sustainable use, should be reflected in the equitable distribution of the benefits from the use of the resources.
In the motivation for the nomination of the Namibian conservancy movement, which OSISA endorsed, the successes of this community-centred approach to conservation is clearly stated and these alignments identified.
As the motivation for the nomination spells out, the Namibian conservancy model has been implemented on a massive scale. For example, “registered conservancies cover a total of 14.98 million hectares, which is the equivalent of 18.2% of Namibia’s surface area, and encompasses more than 240,000 community members, or roughly one out of every eight Namibian citizens.”
The benefits to communities and conservation efforts are dramatic:
- Namibia as a country now boasts the largest black rhino and cheetah populations in the world, while it is believed to be the only country in Africa where lion and giraffe populations are expanding in terms of both numbers and range. Communal conservancies are either significant or driving contributors to these conservation successes;
- Recovering wildlife populations in communal areas have, in turn, paved the way for photographic tourism, with more than 30 joint venture tourism lodges and 24 community campsites functioning in communal conservancies in 2011. Such non-consumptive enterprises have proven to be strong, complementary additions to sustainable use options, with sustainable use generating the majority of cash income to conservancies and tourism operations providing the greater employment benefits to conservancy members;
- During 2010, Namibia’s CBNRM Programme generated at total of N$45.8 million or the equivalent of US$6 million in benefits – of which N$39.5 million (US$5.2 million) was produced by conservancies, largely from tourism and sustainable use of wildlife;
- From 1998-2010, conservancies have produced direct benefits to conservancy members amounting to N$179.3 million (US$23.81 million).
By devolving decision making to local and indigenous communities, the conservancy model demonstrates that policies which seek to include rather than exclude the poor in decision making and stewardship over resources have a track record of delivering truly sustainable development for the people who should be at the centre of government policy.
In the words of the Brundtland Commission: “The essential needs of vast numbers of people in developing countries for food, clothing, shelter, jobs are not being met, and beyond their basic needs these people have legitimate aspirations for an improved quality of life. A world in which poverty and inequity are endemic will always be prone to ecological and other crises. Sustainable development requires meeting the basic needs of all and extending to all the opportunity to satisfy their aspirations for a better life.”