Namibian

News – National | 2021-12-21

by Werner Menges

Theofilus Nghitila

A NEW report in which Namibia’s community-based nature conservation programme is being criticised as a failure that is misrepresented as a success has raised the hackles of the Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Tourism, and organisations involved in the country’s wildlife conservancies.

The report, titled ‘Investigation: The Efficacy of Namibia’s Wildlife Conservation Model as it Relates to African Elephants’, dated November 2021, is unscientific and “a highly unethical and misleading piece of animal rights propaganda”, the ministry says.

Also reacting to the report, conservancy representatives yesterday said they would not be bullied into abandoning their conservation approach, which is tied to the sustainable use of natural resources.

Researchers Adam Cruise and Izzy Sasada, who compiled the report, carried out work in Namibia without work or research permits, and did not obtain proper consent from people being quoted in their report, the ministry’s executive director, Theofilus Nghitila, claims in a statement issued on Friday.

“The methodology of the social ‘research’ presented in this report is questionable, as nothing is said of the total interview sample size, how interviewees were selected, or what kind of questions they were asked,” Nghitila says in the statement.

“Omissions of this nature are used to hide interviewer bias and unethical interview procedures. The snippets of interviews are clearly cherry-picked to support their bias against the sustainable use of wildlife, which plays an important role in Namibian conservation,” he says.

In two statements issued by representatives of conservancies in the Kunene, Kavango, Zambezi and Otjozondjupa regions yesterday, the report and its authors are also being attacked, accused of having misled people whom they interviewed, and of misrepresenting what was said to them.

Six conservancy representatives say in the one statement they are being unfairly judged and punished “for the sole reason that we defend our right to the sustainable use of wildlife”.

They also say they are condemning the two researchers’ methods and the outcome of their report. According to them, community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) “is a critical mechanism for linking nature conservation with rural livelihoods and development needs”.

They add: “We therefore resent the deliberate use of the challenges we face – including widespread poverty, terrible drought conditions and human-wildlife conflict – as a means of dismissing our conservation efforts.”

‘FAILURE’

In their report, Cruise and Sasada concluded that Namibia’s CBNRM programme, which is supposed to be based on the sustainable use of natural resources like wildlife, has not been a success at grassroots level. Supposed benefits from the CBNRM programme are not reaching impoverished communities in areas where conservancies are operating, and wildlife numbers have been decreasing, rather than growing, under the programme, they state.

They say a two-month investigation which they carried out in Namibia showed “the perceived success of wildlife conservation and concomitant economic benefits for previously disadvantaged rural communities in Namibia is found to be grossly misrepresented”.

They also say they found that in many areas, especially the dry Kunene region, wildlife populations of many species are declining, with elephant, oryx, Hartmann’s mountain zebra, and lion numbers the most negatively affected among large mammals, “as a result of drought, trophy hunting, own-use hunting, conservation mismanagement and human-wildlife incidents”.

According to Cruise and Sasada, communities throughout Namibia’s northern parts, and especially within the 29 CBNRM conservancies which they say they visited to carry out their research, “remain impoverished to the same extent, and in some cases more so, than during South African apartheid rule prior to independence”.

They further say many communities, consisting of minority ethnic groups, are oppressed and exploited by the central government dominated by the Aawambo ethnic group.

One of the conclusions they reached, is that the entire elephant population in the Kunene region, where there are extremely low numbers of breeding bulls, could be on the verge of collapse.

“In terms of CBNRM areas providing a sound model for preserving wildlife, this seems to have failed,” they state.

“In terms of economic and social benefits for human communities within the CBNRM areas investigated, this too appears to have failed. Water supply, medical and education provisions and employment opportunities are miniscule. Corruption and poverty are rampant.”

Cruise and Sasada conclude their report with the statement: “Thus, far from being a success story, Namibia’s much-touted wildlife conservation model, and its adherence to sustainable utilisation of wildlife through community-based management has, in fact, achieved the opposite of what is commonly presented. Overall wildlife numbers are declining, and elephant populations in the Kunene region are collapsing, while rural communities within the CBNRMs are as impoverished as ever, in many cases, more so.”

RUBBISHED

In their statement, representatives of conservancies in the Kunene, Kavango, Zambezi, and Otjozondjupa regions accused Cruise and Sasada of having used “trickery and deceit” to obtain interviews.

The conservancy representatives say the CBNRM programme is “a critical mechanism for linking nature conservation with rural livelihoods and development needs”.

They further say their first-hand experience has shown it is not easy to balance the current, urgent needs of their communities with their desire to protect wildlife, which often include dangerous or destructive animals.

“Many of the social problems highlighted in their report are beyond the scope of communal conservancies, or beyond our ability to control,” they state.

“Nonetheless, as community-based institutions, we have an important role to play in bringing our members’ concerns to the attention of the government and other stakeholders. While we cannot eliminate all social problems on our own, we aim to use the limited budgets we have to create tangible benefits for our communities.”

Cruise and Sasada, they also say, dismiss the benefits communities are deriving from CBNRM, but do not offer an alternative or better forms of income that could be used for the benefit of communities.

In a separate statement by the ≠Khoadi //Hôas Conservancy in the Kunene region, it is noted that the region has experienced a decade of below-average rainfall, resulting in wildlife migrating to other areas.

The conservancy cannot control external factors like drought or the Covid-19 pandemic, which has also had an impact on its income from tourism, but the two authors blame communal conservancies for problems created by such external forces, the conservancy says.

“This is simply unjust,” it states.