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Sustainable natural resource management in Namibia: Successful community-based wildlife conservation

Research reports

Written by Neil Bird

This case study illustrates Namibia's progress in wildlife conservation. The story describes the nature of the progress, analysis of the factors that have contributed to progress and lessons for policy makers.

Before independence in 1990, wildlife populations in Namibia’s communal areas were plummeting as a result of extensive poaching during prolonged military occupation. By applying lessons from neighbouring countries’ attempts at community-based natural resource management (CBNRM), and through its own earlier successes in devolving wildlife management to commercial landholders, the context was set for a national CBNRM programme after independence. In 1996, Namibia passed the Nature Conservation Act, giving rights over wildlife and tourism to local communities that formed management bodies called conservancies. This move allowed communities to benefit from wildlife on communal land by working with private companies to create a tourism market.

By 2007, 50 conservancies had been established, and today people see wildlife as an economic asset to be managed. This is in stark contrast with 20 years ago, when hostility towards wildlife was prevalent among communities, as this was a state-controlled asset from which local people received no benefits. Namibia is now an acknowledged pioneer in the sustainable management of wildlife through CBNRM. This positive shift has occurred through community empowerment on a large scale, supported by cutting-edge legislation that links environmental management with economic opportunity.

Jessica Brown, Neil Bird