‘Local government cannot manage requirements’
Frank Steffen - "It has become time to take a fresh look at the CBNRM (Community-based Natural Resource Management) model and at the same time make potential improvements." That is the opinion of the two environmental experts, Izak Smit and Ingrid (Inki) Mandt of the conservation initiative, Desert Lions Human Relations Aid (DeLHRA). What was borne out of good intentions no longer serves the changed circumstances after almost 26 years, they say.
These environmentalists propose the establishment of so-called “Africa Parks”, which have become relevant for a number of years as a turnaround-strategy in Africa: “In order to optimise Wildlife and Tourism areas these have to be identified and clear boundaries defined to begin with. It should then be gazetted as such, whether as concession area or proclaimed protected area. Either way it must emerge with a status properly protected by legislation and through law enforcement. Farming, general use and hunting areas – the latter clearly not bordering the protected areas – should be clearly zoned with clear distinction from the protected areas."
The CBNRM was created in the early 1990s when issues such as climate change and desertification were not relevant. In the meantime, neither the nomadic lifestyle with its traditional animal husbandry nor the subsistence farming of days gone by is still a sustainable option. The sustainable model of commercial farming which supports a modern existence is no longer possible in this ecologically sensitive area.
The population's sources of income should be diversified – traditional, destructive animal husbandry should not be pursued any longer. The CBNRM model provides for the sustainable use of land, which includes the consumption of natural resources, including hunting. The mixture of farming, hunting, wildlife care and tourism represents a non-sustainable solution as far as DeLHRA is concerned. Sustainability becomes an afterthought once droughts, like the one experienced during the past seven years, almost forces people to make use of grazing areas that were initially reserved for game in their search for "emergency pasture" for their domestic animals.
The Ovahimba population disregarded the CBNRM rules in this regard and in the process deprived the game of the area – the natural prey of lions – of the opportunity to survive. The rivers Huaruseb, Hoanib and Huab developed into "linear farms" and the game either died or moved away from the area – if it was not shot by poachers in the first place. The stronger, remaining antelope, which were so important for the survival of the herds over the long term, thus disappeared.
Game gives way to cattle
Mandt and Smit wonder why game has to give way to agriculture, while the latter has already proven itself to be an unsustainable solution. This displacement now endangers tourism because the sights of the area – previously abundant game as well as the desert-adapted lions and elephants – are now becoming extinct.
Smit is the chairman of the DeLHRA Foundation, which particularly cares for the desert-adapted lions of the Namibian northwest. He and Mandt agree that the transformation of the tightly structured nature conservation department from the time before the country's independence, progressed to a point, where many experienced and well-trained nature conservation officers were engaged by the local communities which were exploring sustainable models, specifically the self-administered conservation area principle now known as conservancies.
The Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT) has increasingly outsourced its requirements due to a lack of capacity and resources. This marked the beginning of the “era of NGOs”, claim the two DeLHRA representatives. That led to the emergence of new types of organisations which would typically be something similar to the environmental aid organization IRDNC (Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation), which was the brainchild of the well-known environmentalist Garth Owen-Smith. This in turn led to the creation of the umbrella organization NACSO (Namibian Association of CBNRM Support Organisations).
Animal kingdom is dying out
The title of the book by Owen-Smith, "An arid Eden", no longer applies – the former animal kingdom is dying out. This is the result of a system that on the one hand allows non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to help local communities with the care and maintenance of game, but on the other hand denies them the right to co-determination. They are dependent on the goodwill of the MEFT. The refusal or issue of a work permit or a research permit allowed the MEFT to over time form an exclusive club made up of selected members.
The result is that researchers, environmentalists and organizations literally defend their "territories" and do not allow any new entrants or alternative ideas. Work processes have developed strictly in line with the business interests and agendas of individuals. Thus, NGOs have typically received permits for research while they actually represent tourism interests. The steady flow of income has become more important than research or environmental protection per se.