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Rural poverty addressed through sustainable development

Sem Shikongo (Photograph Contributed)One of the main challenges when the country became independent 22 years ago, was finding ways in which to manage wildlife resources as the number of game drastically declined in the 1980s.
The then government granted commercial farmers rights over wildlife however, these rights were not extended to rural communities which were in conflict with animals such as elephants, lions, hippos and crocodiles as these animals damaged their crops and livestock.
In 1996, the Nature Conservation Act of 1975 was amended to legally establish conservancies and so Namibia’s community-based natural resources management programme came to live.
Where as there were no communal conservancies before independence, there are 77 currently and according to Sem Shikongo, director of tourism at the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the number will continue to rise.
The conservancies take responsibility for the natural resources within their boundaries by monitoring numbers and preventing poaching. In turn, they earn an income from tourism activities such as trophy hunting.
According to Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC), residents of communal areas or state land now have consumptive and non-consumptive rights over wildlife in return for responsible management of these resources.
Communal conservancies are member-defined, multiple-use areas which the residents themselves zone for a variety of uses such as farming and tourism.
The first four conservancies were gazetted in 1998. Last year, that number rose to 64 with more than 20 emerging. Registered conservancies now cover more than 135 000 square kilometres; over 16% of the country. In 2011, about 240 000 people lived within communal conservancies, the IRDNC says.
The community-based natural resources management programme contributed an estimated N$266 million to the country’s economy, while benefits to rural people amounted to about N$42 million.
Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, Minister of Environment and Tourism, has expressed her support for  CBNRM programme, stating that natural resources are the main drivers of rural economic growth and development when their full potential is unlocked through modern, market based conservation approaches.
“Natural resources form the basis of rural economies, because people in rural areas depend on natural resource use for their survival, be it through wildlife management and tourism, indigenous plant use, fisheries, agriculture, mining or a combination of these and other activities. The sustainable use of soils and water, wild animals and plants is thus at the heart of the Community Based Natural Resource Management programme, because the wise, integrated use of these resources enables rural people to diversify their livelihoods and improve their socio-economic status while ensuring biodiversity conservation,” Nandi-Ndaitwah said at the  launch of the
Sikunga conservancy, last year.
Namibia’s community-based natural resources management programme has been hailed across the world with countries such as Botswana trying to emulate the country’s example.

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