Is Namibia’s biodiversity management action plan on track?

The implementation of the national biodiversity strategic and action plan (NBSAP), established under the Aichi targets of living in harmony with nature, is currently underway in all the country’s 13 regions.

The plan is aimed at ensuring the implementation of the United Nations Convention on Biological Biodiversity (UNCBB) objectives of biodiversity conservation on sustainable utilisation and benefit sharing at national level.

In more scientific terms, biodiversity has been defined by the UNCBB as: “The sum of all species of animals, plants, fungi and micro-organisms. The total biodiversity of a region is generally unknown and is commonly expressed simply as the number of animal and/or plant species known to occur in that region.”

As a signatory to the UNCBB, Namibia is obliged to develop an NBSAP. As such, the country has since recorded a number of success stories, especially between 2001 and 2010.

The United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 formally marked this new biodiversity era. From the beginning of Namibia’s young democracy, the interlink between environmental and developmental issues has always been pivotal. In a country as arid and dependent on natural resources as Namibia, this association is critical to its future.

The biodiversity of species is threatened by many factors including conflicts between farmers and predators, mining, fishing and other recreational activities.

According to the Khomas regional governor, Laura McLeod-Katjirua, Namibia has a unique and well conserved biodiversity structure, which attracts approximately one million tourists per annum. Examples of our tourist attractions include two globally recognised biodiversity hotspots, the oldest desert in the world, as well as Africa’s largest and the world’s second largest river canyon.

Given Namibia’s aridity, the fact is, there are flora and fauna, invertebrates, birds, as well as endemic species that are only found in Namibia.

The deputy minister of Environment and Tourism, Pohamba Shifeta thus states: “Biodiversity and the natural environment are of special significance to Namibia. Natural resource-based sectors including mining, fisheries, agriculture and tourism are the basis of the Namibian economy. Around 70% of Namibia’s population relies on the natural resources for income, food, medicine, fuel and shelter.”

He adds, “Namibia has set aside about 17% of its territory as national protected areas. We have proclaimed the country’s first marine protected areas and set aside about 22% as communal conservancies and forests. Namibia amended the Nature Conservation Ordinance of 1975 and developed the Forestry Act in 2000 to give rights to communities to sustainably manage and utilise their natural resources.

“The 76 communal conservancies covering 18% of Namibia’s landscape have been proclaimed since 1998. Over US$6m was generated by communal conservancies in 2011 and these institutions now employ up to 4 500 people per annum. However, 33 conservancies lie adjacent to national parks, which have opened up wildlife corridors and provided increasing opportunities for communities to participate in park management and to benefit from tourism concessions.”

According to a local environmental report based on key identified regional priority activities from workshops held between October and November last year, the development of NBSAP is driven by the requirement to stay aligned to the UNCBB strategic plan and the associated 20 Aichi targets.

Namibia is one of the few countries in the world to specifically address habitat conservation and protection of natural resources in their national constitutions.

Article 95 of Namibia’s constitution states, “The State shall actively promote and maintain the welfare of the people by adopting international policies aimed at the following: maintenance of ecosystems, essential ecological processes, and biological diversity of Namibia, and utilisation of living natural resources on a sustainable basis for the benefit of all Namibians, both present and future.”

Furthermore, the State is obliged to utilise the country’s living natural resources in a sustainable manner for the benefit of all Namibians, both present and future. Our Constitution also compels the Government to provide measures against the dumping or recycling of foreign nuclear and toxic waste on our territory. This has laid a foundation for integrating sustainability in our development, planning and policy making processes, the Article further points out.

The director general of the National Planning Commission (NPC), Tom Alweendo, in this regard, stresses that Namibia’s long term development goals are guided by the Vision 2030 objectives, which reflect the special importance of environmental conservation.

“Namibia clearly depends on its renewable natural resources for its development. These assets, if well managed, will continue to be available for future generations as compared to the mineral resources, which are exhaustible. This dependency is very well expressed in the concept of ecosystem services, which are all the benefits we receive from nature.

“It is important for us to know and understand that biodiversity is the key component for these ecosystem services. If we want to maintain the wide variety of these services in Namibia, then we also have to conserve our biodiversity and promote its sustainable utilisation thereof. Unfortunately, conserving biodiversity is sometimes considered as an obstacle to development. This can only happen if we take a short sighted view of development and lose sight of its original meaning,” adds Alweendo.

In 1996, the Government introduced a legislation to give communities the power to create their own conservancies. The legislation would allow local communities to create conservancies that would manage and benefit from wildlife on communal land while allowing the former to work with private companies to create and manage their own tourism markets.

As of 2006, there were 44 communal conservancies in operation, in which the members were responsible for protecting their own resources sustainably, particularly the wildlife populations for game hunting and ecotourism revenues.

United States Agency for International Development (USAid) began its third phase of community-based natural resources management (CBNRM) programme in 2005, which includes expanding community management to include forest, fisheries and grazing land. The third phase also puts an emphasis on community training for business and trading skills.

Although the conservancies stress the importance of local community control, they do not place any pressure on membership. Their plans must also be discussed with communities that surround their boundaries. Any funds that communities receive through their conservancies must be distributed amongst their members.

In Alweendo’s view, the relation between biodiversity and national planning comes in tow folds.

“Conserving and maintaining our biodiversity and ecosystem services provide an enabling environment for our development and contributes to environmental sustainability. At the same time, the sustainable utilisation of our renewable natural resources provides a very wide spectrum of income and employment opportunities ranging from community based natural resource management, tourism and bio-trade,” he concludes.

All in all, it suffices to say that the implementation of developing strategies from the Aichi convention heavily depends on the corporation of ordinary Namibians who rely on the ecosystem for food and water. Thus, better results are yet to show. PF