Windhoek-The Kavango and Zambezi conservancy associations have become the first conservancies to openly criticise the report by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Natural Resources, which has turned the country’s long-standing national policy on human-wildlife conflict on its head.
The conservancies stated that points made by the parliamentary standing committee were “unfounded and incorrect” and expressed surprise at the findings in the report, saying they were never consulted by the committee for their input. They had only heard that parliamentarians had interviewed conservancy members at random.
“While they fully support the right of parliamentarians to speak to anyone, they would welcome an opportunity to present the facts about conservation in their areas, particularly to parliament in a well-considered report,” said the response statement by Steve Felton on behalf of the conservancy associations in Kavango and Zambezi.
The response was penned after a meeting of chairpersons of conservancy associations from the Kavango and Zambezi regions in Rundu on April 26.
The parliamentary committee report has drawn criticism since the publication of its finding by New Era in April. Environment Minister Pohamba Shifeta has also cricitised the report, telling parliament he found it to have been factually incorrect. However, the parliamentary committee has told parliament that it stands by its report.
The committee found that government’s glowing public reports on earnings and benefits derived from community-based conservancies are in a stark contrast to the reality on the ground. Human-wildlife conflict is causing much more serious social and material damage to the poorer communities, who are supposedly benefiting from the conservancies.
As a result, the committee made a number of recommendations, chief of which is to conduct “a genuine review of the community-based natural resources programme, because its lofty promises seemed to have been jettisoned during the implementation process”.
The other recommendation is that the Environment Ministry “should expedite a review of the National Policy on Human-Wildlife Conflict Management with the view to incorporating fair and commensurate compensation to victims of human-wildlife conflict.”
“The revised policy should take into account views expressed in this report,” read part of the recommendations in the report by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Natural Resources on October 14, 2016.
However, the chairpersons of the conservancy associations in Kavango and Zambezi say they are “at a loss to understand the suggestion by the standing committee that conservancies should themselves pay compensation from their income”.
Conservancies have called for increases to the offsets paid by the Ministry of Environment to farmers for losses, and for compensation for injuries and deaths.
“That is exactly what they do… Conservancies add to the ministry’s offset allowance of N$60,000, which is paid to conservancies in need of assistance. Salambala added N$100,000 last year and Bamunu N$60,000. Even Muduva Nyangana in Kavango, which has a much lower income, put aside N$10,000 for compensation,” said Felton.
He further said the benefits accruing from wildlife are considerable, giving examples of community development paid for from conservation hunting and tourism, made possible only by wildlife in conservancies.
“Kwandu Conservancy has just bought five electricity transformers at a cost of N$600,000, which will bring power to 1,947 households. In addition it is building six permanent structures for local courts (khutas) and is laying pipelines to pump water to 6,000 people,” he said.
“Zambezi conservancies contribute significantly to traditional authority income. Six other Zambezi conservancies are providing similar benefits, and the Kavango conservancies, which have lower incomes, are providing water pumps, zinc roofing for schools and community gardens.”
In its report, the parliamentary standing committee further noted that communities are unhappy with the meagre income received from resources and conservancies management, with earnings ranging between N$500 and N$650 per month.
“By any standard, these are starvation wages,” they said. “The overly positive narrative about community-based natural resources management (CBNRM) does not reflect reality on the ground or in the communities,” reads the report.
Felton, however, said there is a complete misunderstanding of the facts. “The lowest game guard salary in Zambezi is N$1,300, and the highest N$2,200. Even in Kavango, where conservancy income is lower, George Mukoya pays its ten game guards N$1,600 each.
“Higher wages for fewer guards would lead only to problems, stated meeting participants, as there would be fewer game guards patrolling and preventing poaching.”
He further said committee members were reimbursed for travel costs in sitting allowances, amounting to N$650 in Kasika, “and this may have been the figure the standing committee was referring to”.
“It was pointed out that committee members were taking small allowances, in order not to take money from salaries and community development projects,” he said.