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New project seeks to support development of local community conservancies

New project seeks to support development of local community conservancies

The Sustainable Wildlife Management (SWM) Community Conservancy, the latest project under the SWM Programme umbrella, is a €3.5 million project which seeks to boost sustainable wildlife management in community conservancies in Namibia and Botswana.

Following the launch of the Namibian component of this project on 12 May, Namibia Economist spoke with Farayi (FAO Representative in Namibia), Hubert Boulet (SWM Programme Coordinator) and Jean-Claude Urvoy (SWM Programme Regional coordinator) to shed more light on this exciting new initiative.

Who is behind the SWM Programme?

Boulet: The SWM Programme is an international initiative to improve wildlife conservation and food security. The €50 million initiative is now implemented in 15 countries by a consortium of partners: the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The SWM Programme is an initiative of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) funded by the European Union (EU) and co-funded by the French Facility for the Global Environment (FFEM) and the Agence Française de Développement (AFD).

What was the driving force behind the SWM Programme?

Boulet: Millions of people depend on wild meat for food and income. Wild meat is an important source of protein, fat and micronutrients, particularly for indigenous peoples and rural communities in tropical and subtropical regions of Latin America, Africa and Asia. If hunting and fishing for wild meat is not managed at sustainable levels, then wildlife populations will decline and rural communities will suffer rising levels of food insecurity. The situation is becoming more critical as the demand for wild meat grows, particularly in urban areas where it is consumed as a luxury or by tradition. Consequently, recent studies estimate that 285 mammal species are threatened with extinction due to hunting for wild meat.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted the risks of zoonotic diseases associated with the trade in wildlife for human consumption. There is an urgent need to implement solutions that achieve both human development and wildlife conservation goals. Depending on the local circumstances, these may include managing hunting and fishing of more resilient species at sustainable levels, minimizing zoonotic disease risks along wild meat value chains, reducing demand for wild meat and developing alternative sources of food and income for rural communities. In many countries, there is also a need to revise and improve hunting and fishing laws and land tenure systems, which tend to be ambiguous and poorly enforced.

With this in mind, the SWM Programme was designed specifically to improve such synergies between livelihoods and biodiversity conservation.

How does the new SWM Community Conservancy Project fit into the overall SWM Programme?

Boulet: The SWM Community Conservancy Project aims to support and strengthen a network of community conservancies in Namibia and Botswana. It will contribute to enhancing the connectivity between wildlife migratory corridors in the Kavango-Zambezi (KaZa) landscape and improving the livelihoods of rural communities who share this landscape with wild animals.

The project was developed as part of the SWM Programme, an ambitious initiative implemented across 15 countries, where we use innovative, collaborative and scalable new approaches to conserve wild animals and protect ecosystems, which also improves the livelihoods of indigenous peoples and rural communities who depend on these resources.

How will this SWM Project benefit from Namibia’s experience in terms of community-led conservation?

Zimudzi: Namibia has a strong network of 86 community conservancies established in the late 1990’s, after a meeting of Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) support organisations led to greater commitments towards Namibia’s vision for the future of community conservation. Today, all these organisations collaborate under the umbrella of NACSO (the Namibian Association of CBRNM Support Organisations), including our technical partner for this project: the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Our project in Namibia focuses on the 13 community-based organisations present within the KaZa landscape, specifically those in the Kwandu and Khaudum-Ngamiland wildlife corridors, which connect North-East Namibia with Botswana. We will benefit from Namibia’s decades of experience with CBNRM to inspire other community conservancies with the same model across the KaZa landscape, particularly in other SWM Programme sites in Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Which interventions are you planning in Namibia?

Zimudzi: Together with WWF, we will continue to strengthen this network of conservancies to ensure benefits for both people and wildlife. We specifically aim to reduce pressure on wild species that are hunted at unsustainable levels. By working together with communities, we will identify suitable alternatives in terms of game meat (for instance, by selecting species that are more resilient to hunting or fishing) and domestic sources of protein from domestic livestock. We will support communities in setting up these alternative systems, both for their own consumption and for commercial purposes.

Additionally, we will provide support to further develop opportunities within other sectors (like wildlife tourism), to provide additional jobs and revenues for our partner communities, who have traditionally relied on rain-fed agriculture for their livelihoods. These additional sources of income will allow farming and herding households to be more resistant in the face of droughts and other severe climatic events; they will also help to foster other enterprises and boost local economic opportunities.

At the national level, we will also work to improve legal and institutional aspects around traditional hunting and fishing practices (for instance, customary laws and how they fit within national laws and wildlife regulations).

How will this initiative benefit communities living in the KaZa region?

Urvoy: This is the most crucial part of our project – sustainability can only be achieved when human well-being goes hand in hand with that of nature and biodiversity!

Stemming from this belief, we will work together with local communities and stakeholders to create the conditions for community-based sustainable wildlife management. We will ensure that their rights are fully upheld, particularly concerning youth, women and marginalised communities. We will work together at every step of the project, ensuring everybody fully understands which interventions are planned and how they will be carried out. Most importantly, their consent will be required before any new activity is implemented.

Amongst other things, our project aims to further secure the communities’ rights to the management of their land and natural resources, decrease the incidents and costs associated with human-wildlife conflict and increase economic activities linked with tourism and sustainable domestic and wild meat production. The fact that we work closely with communities also enables us to address other issues they may be facing in terms of natural resource management.

Finally, we will ensure that best practices from Namibian community conservancies are made publicly available and shared to benefit other conservancies in the KaZa region. Our hope is that the success of our approach will be eventually replicated in other areas of Southern Africa and benefit thousands of people living in similar conditions, contributing in the long-term to the well-being of communities and wildlife alike.

Albius Walubita, Chairperson of the Kwandu Conservancy and Chairperson of the Zambezi Conservancy Forum speaking at the launch of the Namibian component in Windhoek. (© FAO/Namibian Ministry of Forests, Environment and Tourism)

About The Author

Donald Matthys

Donald Matthys has been part of the media fraternity since 2015. He has been working at the Namibia Economist for the past three years mainly covering business, tourism and agriculture. Donald occasionally refers to himself as a theatre maker and has staged two theatre plays so far. Follow him on twitter at @zuleitmatthys