In March 1995 the Namibian Cabinet passed a new policy on wildlife management, utilisation and tourism in communal areas (areas occupied by subsistence farmers rather than large-scale commercial ranches). This followed five years of consultations, and much study.
Many interested groups, including the Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC) have been closely involved with the formulating of this policy, and it enabled a whole new type of community project like Damaraland Camp to get off the ground.
The new policy finally encouraged the linking of 'conservation with rural development by enabling communal farmers to derive financial income from the sustainable use of wildlife and from tourism'. It also aimed to 'provide an incentive to the rural people to conserve wildlife and other natural resources, through shared decision-making and financial benefit'.
Put simply, this gave a framework for local communities to take charge of the wildlife in their own areas for sustainable utilisation – with decisions made by the local communities, for the community.
Community Game Guard scheme
This scheme (originally called the Auxiliary Game Guard scheme) started in the 1980s and has been behind the phenomenal recovery of the desert-adapted populations of elephant and black rhino in the area. In its simplest form, a community game guard is appointed from each community, and is paid to ensure that no member of the community hunts anything that they are not allowed to hunt.
These aim to enable local communities to benefit very directly from passing tourists. The community sets up a campsite, and then a central community fund receives the money generated – and the whole community decides how that revenue is spent. Once the tourists have stopped to camp, it also gives the community a chance to earn money by guiding the visitors on local walks, selling curios or firewood, or whatever else seems appropriate in the area.
There are now several community campsites in the Kaokoveld, and an increasing number in the Caprivi area.
The Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC) is a small organisation directed by Garth Owen-Smith, a Namibian nature conservator, and Dr Margaret Jacobsohn, a Namibian anthropologist who worked amongst the Himba people for years.
Their goal is to ensure the sustainable social, economic and ecological development of Namibia's communal areas, and they have been working towards it since the mid-1980s. The directors have received several international environmental prizes, and the IRDNC now employs a staff of over 30 and more than 130 rural community workers.
The IRDNC was one of the pioneers of the community game-guard scheme in the Kaokoveld, involved as early as 1983, and later helped to set up some of the community campsites there. It facilitated the important projects to return money from lodges to local communities at Lianshulu and Etendeka, and was also involved with setting up the joint venture between the community and Wilderness Safaris which is behind Damaraland Camp.
Typical of the organisation's low-key approach, when asked they emphasise how they have always worked as part of a team with the government, various NGOs, community groups and like-minded organisations in the private sector. (Namibia's Save the Rhino Trust is another notable player in much of this work.)