A group poses in front of a green painted office building.

Zimbabwe CAMPFIRE learns lessons from Namibian conservancies

Zimbabwe’s Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) was created in the 1980’s as an important conservation and rural development tool, particularly for the country’s wildlife-rich areas and semi-arid regions, which have very low agricultural potential.

Revitalising CAMPFIRE

About five years ago the programme was reviewed in order to revitalise it and adapt it to changing global trends and lessons learnt over time. The review exercise yielded four major recommendations, one of which addresses Community Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM), and all of which were adopted by Cabinet in September 2020. The CAMPFIRE programme has been identified as a key CBNRM component in Zimbabwe’s national development strategy.

Meanwhile, the Government of Zimbabwe, in partnership with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), is implementing a 6-year Global Environment Facility (GEF) co-funded project, commonly known as the Zambezi Valley Biodiversity Project (ZVBP). The project is supporting the establishment of six CAMPFIRE Wildlife Conservancies (CWCs) in Mbire (3), Hurungwe (2) and Muzarabani (1), with legal authority to manage and benefit from wildlife and other natural resources. 

CWCs are communal wildlife areas managed with a high level of community involvement for the intensive restoration of wildlife habitat, to increase wildlife populations and consequently improve benefits for local communities. Each CWC is managed by a legally established Trust with each board of Trustees elected from the community it represents. These bodies are different to CAMPFIRE blocks, which are managed by local Authorities known as Rural District Councils (RDC’s). CWC’s are thus an experiment with a more community-led approach to CBNRM within the overall CAMPFIRE programme.

The EU-funded Technical Assistance Support to Natural Resources Management (TANRM) in Zimbabwe aims to strengthen the CAMPFIRE structure and assist with drafting a new CBNRM Policy. As part of the overall goal to revise and improve CAMPFIRE and CBNRM in Zimbabwe, a 14-member delegation embarked on a Look and Learn Study Tour visit to communal conservancies in Namibia. Zimbabwe and Namibia have a long history of learning from one another, since Namibia’s original approach to CBNRM in the 1980’s and 90’s was informed by lessons from Zimbabwe’s older CAMPFIRE programme.

The delegation visited five communal conservancies in Namibia’s Zambezi region (erstwhile Caprivi Strip) from the 5th to the 11th of August 2023, co-funded by the GEF-6/UNDP Zambezi Valley Biodiversity Project and the European Union TANRM project. Delegation members included government officials from the Ministries of Environment, Climate & Wildlife and Local Government & Public Works, Rural District Councils, the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, and representatives from Zimbabwean communities, the CAMPFIRE Association and the funding partners. The main goal was to benchmark and learn from the CBNRM initiatives in Namibia that could be applied to Zimbabwe. 

The tour focused on five main thematic areas: governance structures; benefit sharing models; sustainable hunting; joint venture partnerships with the private sector; and human-wildlife conflict (HWC) management.

A group of delegates pose in a conference room.

Zimbabwean delegation with Zambezi Region Honorable Governor, L. Sampofu at his Council Offices.
© Jan Ivar Streyffert, 2023

Observations and highlights 

The delegation first made a courtesy call to the governor of the Zambezi Region, Lawrence Sampofu, who explained how sustainable utilisation of wildlife has transformed rural livelihoods in his area. Governor Sampofu highlighted some of the major benefits from CBNRM including rural electrification, employment and supply of potable piped water. Despite these achievements, the programme has also faced challenges, particularly poaching and human-wildlife conflict.

An overview of Namibia’s CBNRM programme was later presented by the non-governmental conservancy support organisations Integrated Rural Development & Nature Conservation (IRDNC) and Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF). These presentations provided the participants with the relevant background information before the field visits to five conservancies: Bamunu, Mashi, Sobbe, Sikunga and Salambala. 

Our main observations and lessons learned that would benefit CAMPFIRE involve 1) governance and shared responsibilities between community organisations and government institutions; 2) diversification of income streams and how to share the resulting benefits; 3) the role of the private sector and support organisations; and 4) overcoming challenges relating to human-wildlife conflict (HWC), poaching and habitat destruction. These lessons are summarised below.


1. Governance and the role of government

There are 15 registered Conservancies in Namibia’s Zambezi region and all rely mostly on conservation hunting and non-consumptive tourism (lodges & camp sites, viewing and photographing animals & birds, etc.) for income generation. Although conservancies are registered with Namibia’s Ministry of Environment, Forestry & Tourism (MEFT) that plays an important oversight role, the community representatives are at the helm of the wildlife management structures. 

Conservancy Management Committees (CMC’s) are elected from their respective communities and include area representatives for different parts of the community. Each conservancy also has permanently employed staff responsible for the day-to-day running of the conservancy (e.g. manager, book-keeper, game guards, etc.) and a permanent office. The CMC members have a three-year term of office and can only serve for two terms. General Meetings are held at set intervals and an Annual General Meeting is convened each year to report back to the members and when electing new committee members.

 Women occupy influential positions and actively participate in the day to day running of the conservancies. In the Zambezi Region women occupy 34% of the CMC positions. 

The governance structures in Namibian conservancies focus on representatives from the people living in that area, including women. In Zimbabwe, local government authorities have taken a leading role in CAMPFIRE blocks in terms of making decisions and taking on responsibilities. As we transition to the new conservancy structure, we need to develop new ways of communities and the government working together.


2. Income and benefit sharing

The entire revenue generated from conservation hunting and tourism accrues to the conservancy in Namibia. Conservation hunting generates most of the income to the conservancies. On average one million Namibian Dollars (US$ 67,000) is generated per conservancy during each hunting season. CBNRM is not only based on wildlife, however. For example, Sikunga Conservancy has diversified into establishing a fish reserve due to its proximity to the Zambezi River.

Half of the income generated is set aside as operational budget to cover daily running costs, i.e. staff salaries, HWC offsets and office running costs. The remaining 50% used to be disbursed among members as cash dividends. However, conservancies have now opted for developmental projects instead of cash, e.g. rural electrification; piped water supply for members; construction of school blocks and scholarships to the less privileged; and funeral cover for all members.

The CMC’s and staff conduct budget consultations with all members and propose a draft budget to the community for approval during the Annual General Meeting. Each conservancy has three main accounts: Income account, Operational account, and HWC Offset account. Each account has no less than two signatories. Conservancy accounts are audited to minimise financial mismanagement and promote transparency.

During the visit we learned the importance of implementing the CAMPFIRE Benefit Sharing Model and auditing the financial statements of all community organisations (including conservancies and CAMPFIRE blocks). In CAMPFIRE blocks the income from hunting is shared between Rural District Councils and communities, with the operational and administrative costs borne by the RDC’s. The Namibian model thus gives the communities greater responsibilities, but the percentage of income that goes towards community benefits is similar in both countries.


3. Support organisations and the private sector

The non-governmental support organisations and the MEFT staff provide advice for the CMCs on technical matters. While the CMC’s are fully responsible for the selection of joint venture partners (JVPs) such as hunting outfitters or lodge operators, the NGO’s and MEFT provide guidance during the selection process. Notably, the government does not interfere with the decisions made by the CMC.

The support organisations also build the capacity of CMC members through training on public speaking, business management and other key roles in management. Business corporate entities such as banks (Nedbank & First National Bank) fund some of the conservancies’ activities, showing the broad base of support that conservancies in Namibia enjoy.

Zimbabwean conservancies need to become a fully recognised land use option and means of wildlife conservation to attract greater support from government, civil society and the private sector. More capacity building is needed among our communities if they are to emulate the Namibian model.

A group of people at a meeting.

Meeting with Bamunu Conservancy Management Committee in plenary.
© Kevin Mfishani, 2023

4. Overcoming conservation challenges

Communities within conservancies bear the cost of living with wildlife as they suffer from various forms of human-wildlife conflict. HWC in conservancies includes crop damage, livestock predation, human injuries and fatalities. To ease the cost of living with wildlife, Namibia’s MEFT designed an offset system to compensate HWC victims. Offset claims are verified and approved before being processed and paid out to victims. Conservancies contribute 50% of the offset fund from their revenue and central government co-funds the other 50%. Offsets are not necessarily equivalent to the value of the loss incurred, but are meant to help victims deal with the loss. 

A range of HWC mitigation measures are also being implemented within conservancies to reduce the number of incidents by deterring elephants and other wildlife from crop fields and keeping livestock safe from predators. 

Encroachment of designated and marked wildlife corridors is one of the major challenges being faced by conservancies in the Zambezi Region. People moving into these areas cause habitat degradation by clearing land for crops and are more likely to experience HWC due to the prevalence of wildlife in these corridors. Wildlife corridors use up some communal land which communities rely on for subsistence farming. In spite of numerous awareness campaigns some members continue to farm within the corridors. 

The Wildlife Credits programme, which is managed by support organisations in partnership with the conservancies and with funds from the private sector, was developed to minimise this problem by paying conservancies when wildlife corridors are conserved and well maintained. This allows the free movement of wild animals through the corridors and incentivises community members to avoid these areas when planting crops.  

Incidents of subsistence and commercial poaching in conservancies within the Zambezi Region are prevalent. Poaching is mostly for meat and ivory and the most poached species include plains game (e.g. eland, kudu, gemsbok & wildebeest), buffaloes and elephants. The Zambezi Region has active anti-poaching units (APUs), which conduct routine patrols in hotspot areas and react to information about suspicious activities. APU’s are a joint operation comprising private safari operators, MEFT’s Department of National Parks, and the Namibia Defence Forces. Conservancy game guards assist the APUs by reporting information on suspicious activities taking place in their conservancies and identifying poaching hotspots.

Most incidents of poaching recorded in this region are of a trans-boundary nature, as poachers often come from Angola, Zambia and Botswana. The conservancies have since established trans-boundary forums to discuss conservation issues and how to jointly curb poaching with community-based organisations in other countries. 

The key lessons for the Zimbabwe delegation were regarding the HWC offset scheme. It does not rely entirely on the government, as the conservancies contribute to the scheme and manage it. It is thus more sustainable than other options where full compensation is paid by the government for all losses. The Wildlife Credits programme gave us food for thought in terms of incentivising good conservation behaviour. The anti-poaching efforts were highly collaborative and showed what could be done if all stakeholders played their role.


Recommendations for Zimbabwe

We learned that the role of the government in community conservation should be one of oversight rather than taking the lead and making all of the decisions. The CWC’s that have already been established will function as testing grounds for this new governance structure and institutional arrangement. To start, we will select one of the three CWC’s from the Mbire District as a pilot project.

The financial management and benefit sharing systems in Zimbabwe need to be reviewed to ensure that income earned from wildlife is channelled into community development projects that accurately reflect the needs and desires of each community. Some of this income could be used to offset HWC, which is also a major challenge in Zimbabwe. 

The private sector and non-governmental support organisations play important roles by advising and assisting conservancies with HWC mitigation, building capacity among conservancy management committees and staff, financing incentive schemes and anti-poaching. Zimbabwean communities would benefit greatly from such a network of partners that work alongside them and support their efforts.

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