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A perfect storm? The impact of COVID-19 on community-based conservation in Namibia

In responding to the unprecedented impacts of COVID-19 on the community-based conservation contexts of our broader study-area and beyond, the Namibian and UK Principal Investigators on Etosha-Kunene Histories (Lendelvo & Sullivan) collaborated to bring to publication a rapid off-site (i.e. telephone) survey of the responses of communal-area conservancy members and managers to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Entitled "A perfect storm? COVID-19 and community-based conservation in Namibia", and is co-authored with Mechtilde Pinto, a masters student at the University of Namibia, the peer reviewed paper has been used as a baseline of discussions by the Namibia Association for CBNRM Support Organisation (NACSO) regarding the effect of COVID-19 on selected conservancies. It also forms the basis of discussions of the Conservation Relief, Recovery and Resilience Initiative led by the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism with different stakeholders.

The paper was also summarised for the Conservation Namibia blog run by the Namibian Chamber of Environment: see ‘Communal Conservancies Cry for Help to Survive Coronavirus “Perfect Storm”’ (10 July 2020).

Funding has subsequently been allocated to the Multi-Disciplinary Research Centre at the University of Namibia to scale up the assessment among conservancies of the effects of COVID-19, and regarding how the relief package contributed to resilience among conservancy communities. Recently the paper was referred to by the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Tourism in his Foreword to the State of Community Conservation in Namibia Annual Report 2020, published in late 2021. Hon. Minister Pohamba Shifeta writes:

[a] study on the [pandemic] situation led by the University of Namibia described this pending disaster as a ‘perfect storm’ that threatened rural livelihoods and Namibia’s conservation record.

The paper is summarised in its Abstract as follows:

We report on a rapid survey of five communal-area conservancies in Namibia to understand initial impacts on community-based conservation of national and international policies for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Namibia’s Community-Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM) programme has been growing for over 30 years, with high economic reliance on tourism and conservation hunting. We review the interrelationships between COVID-19, CBNRM, tourism and hunting, and discuss our findings under eight interlocking themes: 1) disruption to management and regular operational processes of conservancies, including 2) effects on conservancy wildlife patrolling and monitoring; 3) losses of revenue and cash flow in conservancy business operations; 4) impacts on Joint-Venture Partnerships; 5) impacts on employment opportunities and local livelihoods; 6) effects on community development projects and social benefits, including 7) disruption to funded projects and programmes; and 8) lack of technical capacity regarding communication technologies and equipment. In our conclusion we discuss tensions between an assumption that normal business can or will be resumed, and calls for the COVID-19 pandemic to create an opportunity for global choices away from ‘business-as-normal’. It is too early to tell what mix of these perspectives will unfold. What is clear is that communal-area conservancies must derive benefits from conservation activities in their areas that are commensurate with their role as key actors in the conservation of Namibia’s valuable wildlife and landscapes."

Keywords: communal-area conservancies, Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM), conservation hunting, COVID-19 pandemic, Namibia, rural livelihoods, tourism, wildlife.

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