At the official launch of the Communal Area Conservancy Programme by His Excellency the President of Namibia, Dr Sam Nujoma, WWF representative Chris Weaver stated that the programme was a principal factor in bridging long-term differences between local people and conservationists that would bring enormous contributions to wildlife conservation and local communities alike.
Mr Weaver said that although local people had once lived in harmony with wildlife and had managed their natural resources sustainably, colonial laws largely prohibited rural people from managing and benefiting from wildlife. Without this incentive, he said, rural people viewed wildlife as a nuisance and Namibia's wildlife populations dropped dramatically as a consequence under colonial regulations.
With ground-breaking legislation gazetted in 1996, Namibia's Conservancy Programme opens the way for communal area farmers to manage, protect and benefit from wildlife and other natural resources. The programme boosts rural economies, encourages empowerment of local communities and addresses rural poverty by providing alternative forms of land-use such as wildlife management for community-based nature tourism.
As a first step in the implementation of the programme, President Nujoma presented four new communally-run conservancies with certificates of registration. These land-units together cover around 1,000,000 hectares of critical wildlife habitat. The Nyae-Nyae, Salambala, Torra and Khoadi Hoas conservancies hold many well-known charismatic species like elephants, buffaloes, rhinos, and sable and roan antelopes.
They are only the first in what WWF and the Namibian government hope will be a large network of communally-managed conservation areas. At this time, a further 16 communities have indicated that they intend to register conservancies in the near future.
Much has been achieved in the environmental field since 1990 when Namibia gained independence, said President Nujoma at a ceremony held at a game reserve just outside Windhoek. Mr Nujoma pointed out that the creation of these conservancies followed the community participation principles of Agenda 21, the document adopted at the Earth Summit in 1992, which he himself had attended. Not only are Conservancies a Gift to our people, they are also a gift to the people of the Earth, he said. The four declared conservancies are all in areas of significant biological value and are contained in 3 of the 238 priority regions for conservation identified by WWF in its Global 200 scheme. In recognition of this significant contribution to conservation, Dr Kathryn Fuller, President of the WWF-US, presented His Excellency a Gift to the Earth certificate on behalf of the organization.
Gifts to the Earth are an integral part of WWF's Living Planet Campaign. These are actions recognized by the organization to be of high long-term value for the conservation of natural ecosystems and resources. An official certificate is awarded to the person(s) or institution(s) making the Gift.
Unlike traditional game reserves and national parks, conservancies allow local residents to continue economic activities such as livestock and cattle farming. Residents also gain the right to add wildlife use and tourism to existing economic activities.
Namibia's tourism industry has grown significantly since independence but previously benefited a few large companies. Now rural people stand to receive benefits from this industry, explained Mr Weaver.
In addition, the scheme allows for local communities to decide themselves in which ways money raised by activities such as game hunting and ecotourism is to be used. Income generated could be used for development purposes such as the building of clinics, schools, water pumps, or to re-stock wildlife populations.
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