Project LIFE - How conservancies came into being

Community-based natural resource management

Namibia won its independence very recently - in 1990 - and already the southern African nation has become a success story in many ways.
It has become a model for its promotion of "community-based natural resource management," a cumbersome term that simply means empowering local people to manage their own environment, wildlife and land.

Power in the real hands
In the 1970s and '80s, white commercial farmers in Namibia were making a lot of money from tourists and hunters by running private land "conservancies." After independence, Namibia's majority black population pushed the government to pass a law in 1996 allowing for similar, but publicly managed conservancies, run by local communities.

Profitable, yet sustainable
Since independence, WWF and development organizations like the U.S. Agency for International Development have helped local support organizations to assist the new conservancies to manage their natural resources in a sustainable - and profitable - way.

Generating employment opportunities
"People were suffering. We were seeing that people from outside were benefiting from the resources - tour operators and so forth - and we came to realize maybe we could also benefit from that," explains Bennie Roman, a member of the board of the Torra Conservancy. "Our main objective was conserving these resources and by so doing, start something that could create jobs."

To form a conservancy
...the local community must define the area's boundaries, register its members, develop a constitution and elect a governing committee. The Namibian government then recognizes them as a legal body with conditional ownership and rights over certain species of wildlife and other natural resources.

An opportunity to change mindsets
WWF saw the creation of these conservancies as an opportunity to enhance conservation and change the mindset that wildlife was government owned and therefore not valuable to individual Namibians.

"Poaching meat was the extent of tangible value of wildlife in the early 90s," explains Chris Weaver, who runs WWF's Namibia office.
A view of the Khoadi Haas Conservancy. / ©: WWF-Canon / Jan Vertefeuille
A view of the Khoadi Haas Conservancy.
© WWF-Canon / Jan Vertefeuille
Vitalis Florry, manager of the Torra Conservancy's game guides. / ©: WWF-Canon / Jan Vertefeuille
Vitalis Florry, manager of the Torra Conservancy's game guides.
© WWF-Canon / Jan Vertefeuille
Community Game Guard sponsors: WWF with EWT and Rossing, Namibia. rel=
Community Game Guard sponsors: WWF with EWT and Rossing, Namibia.
© WWF-Canon / John E.. Newby
Wildlife, a community resource
Now, wildlife is seen as a community resource to be protected and managed for the benefit of conservancy members. Any money made by the conservancy's activities, like guide services, tourist facilities or hunting, is distributed by the conservancy's members at an annual meeting or invested into community development projects.

Many conservancies choose to spend their money on compensation to farmers who lose livestock to predators, to open soup kitchens for the community's elderly, on donations to local schools and to create income-generation projects to employ community members.

"Before the conservancy, there was absolutely nothing, nothing, nothing for jobs," says Vitalis Florry, manager of the Torra Conservancy's game guides.

Tracking rare black rhinos
While leading a game drive recently to track rare black rhinos, one of the conservancy's newest business ventures, Vitalis explains how Torra Conservancy has diversified its businesses. As he stops at the camp of his crew of game guides to pick up one of staff, he points out a newly fenced area behind the camp.

That's where the conservancy has just planted its paprika and citrus fruits, which it hopes will generate big income as a cash crop - if the game guides can keep the elephants and other crop raiders from devouring them first.

"With the skills the conservancy members have acquired and new attitudes toward wildlife and natural resources management," Weaver says, "Namibia has become a model for other impoverished countries. These results will continue long after the LIFE program stops operating."


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