Namibia’s National Protected Area System – state land devoted to conservation – comprises over 17% of the country, and is broadly split into two parts: national parks and concessions. Concession areas are state land managed by non-state entities, such as communal conservancies or private sector operators, usually given over to tourism.
There are four broad types of concession: lodge-based tourism, camp site based tourism, trophy hunting, and traversing rights (whereby a communal conservancy or tour operator may have rights to traverse national park areas with tourist clients).
There are currently 15 concessions. One is for hunting, 11 for lodges, and 3 for activities such as ballooning. Lodges carry out tourism activities in concession areas: primarily game drives.
The concessions granted to conservancies are called ‘head concessions’, and are conditional upon conservancies tendering out management of tourism in concession areas to private sector operators with both experience and capacity. Income then goes to conservancies, to the private sector, and to government, thus stimulating the economy both locally and nationally.
Even before independence in 1990, traditional authorities in Kunene had designated the concession areas of Palmwag, Etendeka and Hobatere - the largest concession area of the country – as conservation areas, where there would be no agriculture and where wildlife, especially endangered species such as black rhino, could thrive.
With the Nature Conservation Ordinance of 1996, which made the creation of communal conservancies possible, it was agreed that the financial benefits accruing from concession areas should go in large part to conservancies. Until that point, rural communities had borne the brunt of human-wildlife conflict, crop raiding and predation on livestock, with no benefit in return.
The government approved a new Tourism and Wildlife Concessions Policy in 2007. The purpose of the Policy is to guide the fair, transparent and efficient awarding of concessions on state lands. While concessions are seen as a means of providing high quality and diversified tourism and hunting opportunities to visitors that can contribute to growth of local and national economy, the Namibian government also believes that protected areas should also be used as a direct tool for poverty alleviation and community empowerment. The Policy explicitly creates the opportunities for rural communities to participate in the fast growing nature based tourism sector, and derive a range of tangible and intangible benefits from living inside or adjacent to protected areas. These benefits include monetary benefits, employment creation, business opportunities, and capacity building. The awarding of concessions to local communities can also support positive changing of community perception about wildlife and protected areas, and thereby contribute directly to nature conservation.
Typically, 75% of the income after costs from a tourism operation will go to one or more conservancies operating a concession, and 25% to government. The existing concessions have created more than 340 jobs in rural areas, and new concessions promise to increase that number to over 600.
Income accruing to conservancies is used for conservation purposes, such as the employment of game guards, which has proved a highly effective deterrent to poaching in conservancy areas adjacent to concessions.
The way forward
Following on the granting of the Palmwag Concession to three conservancies: Anabeb, Sesfontein and Torra, new tourism concessions have been granted for lodge and camp sites in the Skeleton Coast Park, Bwabwata and Nkasa Rupara National Parks. Conservancies to the north and west of Etosha National Park have been give traversing rights in the park.
The awarding of new concessions will further strengthen Namibia’s communal conservancies, generally acknowledged to be an outstanding example of community based natural resource management in Africa, and will provide a conservation buffer around important and well known protected areas particularly for rhinos and elephants.