Rapt conference attendees

Community conservationists in five countries meet in Zambia to share knowledge and learn from each other

Community conservation efforts in Southern Africa started in the 1980s and have since taken slightly different paths towards including rural communities in the wildlife economy and nature conservation. Over the years there have been some exchange visits and other events to increase communication among the community conservation stakeholders in these countries, but such opportunities remain rare. 

To provide such a platform, the second bi-annual conference for community conservation in the Kavango-Zambezi (KAZA) Trans-frontier Conservation Area (Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Angola) was held on 17-21 July 2023 in the Simahala Conservancy, Zambia. The conference theme was: “Transfrontier conservation: Embracing the community conservancy model for inclusive biodiversity conservation and improved local livelihoods”. This is the first time the conference was held in Zambia (the first took place in Namibia), which provided an important opportunity to showcase the conservancy concept in this country.

Around 380 participants from governments, communities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and the private sector from the five countries attended the conference. They came to share their knowledge and experiences relating to sustainable development, biodiversity conservation, and good governance practices. The Permanent Secretary for Zambia’s Western Province Mr Simomo Akapelwa officially opened the conference, welcomed the delegates, and commended the hosts Simahala Conservancy and the Peace Parks Foundation as their key partner.

In his opening address Mr Akapelwa reflected on a saying in the Bemba language that applied to this conference. “Umwana Ushenda atasha nina uk naya” means that a child who never visits other places will believe that only his mother knows how to cook. In the same way, if communities remain isolated from each other they will believe that there is only one way to manage their natural resources and miss out on learning opportunities such as those provided during the conference.

A man in a suit speaking into a microphone.

Mr Simomo Akapelwa, the Permanent Secretary for Zambia’s Western Province.

As Zambia’s first and only communal conservancy, Simahala Conservancy was an ideal host for this event in Zambia, as they could share their experiences with establishing and running their conservancy and compare their progress with others in Namibia that have been in operation for more than 20 years. Simahala was modelled on the communal conservancies in Namibia where communities enjoy extensive rights and responsibilities relating to sustainable use and wildlife management, thus generating substantial economic returns whilst successfully conserving their natural resources.

With assistance from the Peace Parks Foundation, Simahala was established in 2012 and formally registered as a Trust in 2019. The word “Simahala” means “coming together”, which aptly describes how conservancies are established. A field visit for conference delegates in the conservancy showcased their progress and the natural resources in this area. The conference also provided opportunities to learn more from Namibia’s conservancy programme, including their support NGOs, and share new ideas on the way forward for communities in all five countries.

Community conservation has the potential to benefit wildlife and create buffer zones around national parks but they also create opportunities for sustainable development in rural areas. This dual role of conservancies was reflected in the major topics addressed during the conference: human-wildlife conflict management, increasing benefits derived from wildlife and sharing those benefits equitably, improving governance structures in community-based organisations, and methods for monitoring and managing natural resources. 

The conservancy concept differs from Game Management Areas (GMAs) in Zambia, in that communities lead the process of establishing their own conservancies and have more rights and responsibilities over their natural resources than those associated with GMAs that are established by the government. As yet, conservancies do not have a dedicated policy or legal framework in Zambia that promotes their establishment, making Simahala a pioneering effort and case study for policy makers to consider. The information shared from Namibian attendees provided further evidence of the potential for conservancies to manage natural resources and derive greater benefits for their respective communities.

This conference was an excellent opportunity to introduce the Community Leaders Network of Southern Africa (CLN) to communities in the region. Dr Rodgers Lubilo, the current chair of CLN who hails from Zambia, explained the purpose of CLN to “amplify the voices of local communities through participation and influencing policy negotiations, development and implementation processes.” He further stated that CLN strives “to ensure informed decision-making national, regional and international levels that reflect the needs and rights of local communities to manage and benefit from their natural resources.”

Front view of a man speaking into a microphone.

Dr Rodgers Lubilo, the current chair of the Community Leaders Network.

The conference produced several recommendations for implementing a successful conservancy model, summarised here:

  1. Stakeholder Engagement: Conservancies require close collaboration among various stakeholders to function properly. These include community members, government institutions, NGOs, private sector, indigenous organisations, and scientists. These stakeholders need platforms that encourage open dialogue, participation, and involvement in decision-making processes.
  2. Enabling legislation: The conference called upon the Zambian government to consider development a new conservancy policy, and later legislation to recognise the existence of conservancies in Zambia.
  3. Monitoring for adaptive management: Conservancies need a robust system for monitoring the health and biodiversity of their area. The same can be said for monitoring finances and governance metrics. Effective monitoring systems allow conservancies to adapt to changing conditions or improve performance in key areas over time.
  4. Habitat restoration: Some areas within conservancies will require habitat restoration and/or wildlife reintroductions to become productive and attract investment from the private sector. Conservancies should therefore look to implement projects that restore degraded ecosystems, reforest deforested regions and reintroduce native wildlife where needed.
  5. Alternative Livelihoods: One of the key roles of conservancies is to support the development of alternative livelihood opportunities for their members. Conservancies can promote local participation in the photographic and hunting industries to increase local value capture (e.g. by offering diverse activities for tourists, processing skins and meat). They can also promote skills transfer from the private sector to community members. Looking beyond tourism, conservancies can invest in sustainable agriculture and other environmentally friendly economic sectors to provide business opportunities for their members.

The KAZA Conference hosted by Simahala Conservancy in 2023 was a resounding success. Stakeholders from diverse backgrounds shared their ideas, experiences, and expertise in the pursuit of their community conservation goals. The event fostered meaningful connections and laid the ground for future collaborative projects. As attendees return to their respective roles, the knowledge gained during the conference will contribute significantly to their broader mission to advance wildlife conservation and sustainable development through community conservation.

Six people posing in front of the UN emblem.

CLN sees opportunities at the United Nations Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues

As the Chairperson of Community Leaders Network of Southern Africa, I participated in the recent 22nd Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) held in New York, USA. It was a real eye opener for me, as I started to appreciate the challenges, abuse and human rights infringements that over 6.7 million indigenous peoples around the world have had to endure. 

Indigenous people include the Khoisan communities of South Africa, the San people of both Botswana and Namibia and the Maasai people of Tanzania, who live in Southern Africa and are therefore part of CLN’s constituency. 

Although as Africans we consider ourselves to be indigenous to Africa, the UN Declaration on the Rights of indigenous peoples has set certain characteristics that distinguish between what is considered indigenous and local communities. The governments in Southern Africa define the people groups that fit the UN’s definition of indigenous as ‘marginalised communities’. 

Close up of delegates inside the hall.

Reflections from the UNPFII conference 

The issues of indigenous peoples are well entrenched in the UN system and is backed by an internationally recognised global movement. Thus far, CLN has mainly focused on the rights and roles of local communities but has not paid much attention or advocated for the respect of indigenous peoples and their rights within our region. If CLN can adopt and create a portfolio for indigenous people within our structure, it will create an opportunity to become an active member of the global indigenous people’s movement. 

Thus, we will better advocate for the rights of both indigenous peoples and local communities. CLN would do well to fight for and recognise the struggles of indigenous peoples in the same way that we advocate for local communities to benefit from the sustainable use of our natural resources.

The way forward for CLN

CLN should position itself as a regional voice not just for the rights of local communities but those of self-defined indigenous peoples found in Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, and South Africa. 

We should immediately consider employing an IPLC officer to coordinate the issues of indigenous peoples and to explore opportunities for our participation on related platforms. CLN should consider convening a regional IPLC conference to bring together the IPLC communities, governments, civil society organisations, and all interested parties to deliberate on and advance the rights of indigenous peoples.

CLN should consider registering itself with the UNPFII while continuing to support our local communities and community-based natural resource management programmes. CLN should become a regional champion to engage SADC and our respective governments on issues that affect both indigenous peoples and local communities.

By Dr. Rodgers Lubilo


Flags outside the UN building.

Note: CLN appreciates and recognizes the role that Jamma International played in sponsoring the participation of the CLN Chairperson and representatives of indigenous peoples from our membership.

I woman with a basket on her head walks along a tarred road.

Improving Governance of Community Wildlife Management Areas in a key Wildlife Corridor in Tanzania

Community Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) in Tanzania are lands designated for wildlife conservation and managed by rural communities. Every five years, the villages associated with particular WMAs elect leaders to run their Community-Based Organisation (CBO) that is recognised by government as an Authorised Association mandated to manage their WMAs. Well-managed WMAs should achieve the twin goals of wildlife conservation and generating socio-economic benefits for community members.

Five community WMAs – Chingoli, Kimbanda, Kisungule, Mbarang’andu and Nalika – are located in the Ruvuma region. These WMAs are located within the Niassa-Selous Trans-frontier Conservation Area (TFCA) between Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania and Niassa National Reserve in Mozambique. 

Together, these five WMAs cover over 8,100 square kilometres, where over 75,000 people live alongside wildlife within a wildlife corridor that is critically important for the ecological functioning of the TFCA. This is one of the longest wildlife corridors used by savannah elephants in Africa.

A very green field bounded by woodland.

Providing support for community WMAs

Despite the conservation importance of this area, these WMAs have not yet been developed to the point where they are financially successful, socially valued and provide long-term environmental protection. The Community Wildlife Management Areas Consortium (CWMAC) has therefore partnered with the Honeyguide Foundation in a European Union-funded project to assist these communities with reaching these goals.

Our joint project has five core goals:

  1. Introduce professional management and good governance practices at the WMA level; 
  2. Develop sustainable nature-based enterprises and long-term partnerships to provide the necessary funding for the WMA to cover their operational costs and provide community services; 
  3. Develop programmes that will provide valuable social services to the WMA communities to improve their livelihoods; 
  4. Introduce regular and transparent communications between the WMA and its stakeholders using various communications media following a strategic communications plan; 
  5. Develop strategic and cost-effective environmental protection initiatives to protect and conserve the WMA’s natural resources. 

Selemani Omary Paswele, Secretary of the Chingoli WMA, welcomed the initiative, saying: “The Honeyguide Foundation’s work resembles the bird called “Ndegule” (a local name for honeyguide bird) whose function is to show an animal or human where honey is. Honeyguide have come to show us the way; when they see that we are ready and capable of managing our areas they will leave and we will continue by ourselves.”

A group of around 60 people smiling at the camera.

Assessing the current governance of community WMAs

The first step in this project was to assess the current governance of the five target WMAs in the Ruvuma region. CWMAC and Honeyguide conducted this assessment using methodology called “Site-level assessment on governance and equity” (SAGE). The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) developed SAGE in 2019 for the purpose of assessing governance of protected and conserved areas and was therefore ideal for our purposes.

Using SAGE involves a stakeholder-led, self-assessment process to assess the quality of governance and equity using a framework of ten principles of effective and equitable governance. In each WMA, we conducted a stakeholder analysis, prepared a site profile, and finally held a two-day assessment workshop with stakeholders. 

This was the first time all of the key stakeholders involved in each of the five WMAs were brought together to discuss such matters. The final outcome of the SAGE process informs planning, strategy, reporting, and policy development at the system, national, and global levels. 

As Alfred William Rugarula, an officer in the Tanzania Forest Service, stated: “The SAGE training has been really participatory, because all key actors have been involved – something which is rare – so am suggesting that we should keep on collaborating like this, and those who participated should be good ambassadors back home.” 

The two-day workshops held in each of the five target WMAs were attended by: 

  • 15 representatives of the WMA Authorised Association and its board of trustees;
  • 5 Management and Village Game Scout representatives (staff working in the WMA); 
  • 5 Government representatives;
  • 20 local community members who are not involved in the management of the WMA (10 men, 10 women);
  • 5 representatives of investors and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) operating in the area. 

During the workshop, five stakeholder groups used the SAGE questionnaire to score the WMA on each of the 10 SAGE principles of good governance. Each group had to provide a rationale for their scores, and later discuss reasons for differences in scoring with the other groups. They explored whether consensus could be reached for each score and identified actions to improve governance and equity. 

A group of participants looking towards the camera and lecturer in an open-sided room.

Challenges and recommended actions

This process highlighted common challenges faced by all five of the WMAs, which will need to be addressed in future. The lowest scores achieved related to the managing the negative impacts of wildlife conservation, especially those related to human-wildlife conflict. Another weak point was the lack of coordination and collaboration among different stakeholders. The WMA management and leadership have low technical capacity to achieve such coordination. 

On the positive side, respect for actors scored highly, showing that human rights are respected and that there is fair recognition of all involved. The principle of benefit sharing was either not assessed or prioritised lowest, most likely because these WMAs have not generated socio-economic benefits yet due to the lack of investors.

Several actions were recommended in multiple WMAs: 

  1. Introduce community awareness and education programmes to understand the value of wildlife and other natural resources for improving their livelihoods; 
  2. Demarcate WMA boundaries clearly to minimise encroachment; 
  3. Finalise new general management plans to enhance proper management of the area; 
  4. Improve collaboration between WMA’s and NGO partners, investors and local government; 
  5. Develop and strengthen communication systems to keep WMA stakeholders informed;
  6. Access finances for equipment to support the smooth implementation of activities in the WMA including human-wildlife conflict mitigation; 
  7. Reinstate or start WMA meetings, regular patrols of the areas, and training on good governance practices for WMA leadership and management.

One of the workshop participants, Kulwa Laluka Mboje, a livestock-keeper from Mbatamila village reflected: “I’m happy that I got the chance to participate in this training, because it will help us when we go back to village, as a lot of citizens do not have this knowledge and they participate in destructive activities due to lack of knowledge. The community needs to know that encroaching in conserved areas either by burning charcoal or farming destroys the forest, and livestock-keepers grazing inside conserved areas also leads to destruction”. 

Next steps

CWMAC and the Honeyguide Foundation are already taking the next steps in line with the recommendations given during the workshops. We have set dates for governance capacity building and trainings, allocated funds to support recruitment of management staff and equipment purchases, and started developing WMA guidance manuals. These manuals will be big step towards attaining the desired future of community WMAs in the Ruvuma landscape. 

It is our hope that this partnership and collaboration will expand to reach more WMAs in future and that each of the target WMAs starts to generate benefits for their members. With the right governance in place, WMAs will be able to engage investors in hunting and photographic tourism. The presence of camps and lodges will provide opportunities for local entrepreneurs to sell their crafts and other goods and services. We want to ensure that these communities reap the rewards of deciding to set some of their land aside for conservation through the benefits generated for both current and future generations. 

By: Community Wildlife Management Areas Consortium of Tanzania
Giraffe and handshake logo of the CWMAC.

Let Africans Decide – An Open Letter to UK Based Celebrities

A group of more than 50 community leaders, representing millions of people across southern Africa, have urged UK-based celebrities to stop using their influence to undermine the human rights of impoverished people and which will jeopardise wildlife conservation in the region. Watch the video.