11 May 2017

Namibia: Wildlife Report Sparks Discord

THE minister of environment and tourism Pohamba Shifeta has criticised the report by the parliamentary standing committee on natural resources on human-wildlife conflict in north-eastern Namibia.

The minister told the National Assembly recently in response to the committee's report on human-wildlife conflict that some of its findings were factually incorrect.

Consequently some recommendations the committee arrived at relied on inaccurate information, he said.

This view was also expressed by chairpersons of conservancies from the Kavango and Zambezi regions at a meeting in Rundu on 26 April.

But the parliamentary committee is standing by its report.

The committee visited the two regions before compiling their report dated 23 April - 14 May 2016, titled "Motion on Human Wildlife Conflict" in which they made several recommendations to the environment ministry.

The minister said no community has been put under pressure or given lofty promises to form conservancies as alluded to by the committee's report but they voluntarily applied to the ministry to have their areas be gazetted as conservancies.

There are 82 registered conservancies in Namibia.

Shifeta told lawmakers that human-wildlife conflict is a complex issue that needs to be dealt with by all stakeholders.

"The wildlife found in Namibia plays a very important role in attracting thousands of tourist visitors that contribute to the country's economic development and employment creation.

"The ministry is cognisant of the numerous challenges our rural communities are experiencing as a result of human-wildlife conflict."

The minister addressed some of the committee's recommendations including the need for a genuine review of the community-based natural resources programme.

He said while the ministry does not provide compensation in human-wildlife conflict, as this is costly and unsustainable, but develops mitigation measures to offset costs by supporting economic activities including granting quotas for trophy hunting and granting tourism concessions in national parks where appropriate.

"I have directed that at least 30% of total revenue generated must be spent on members' benefits rather than just operating costs."

He said some conservancies were doing better than others in income generation due to suitability of their areas to implement conservancy activities.

"Some conservancies have invested huge amounts of funds in community development programmes thereby developing rural areas," he said giving examples including Bamunu Conservancy in the Zambezi that has electrified all villages in the conservancy and bought a tractor for ploughing crop fields.

Shifeta said it was costly, impractical and unfeasible to fence off communal conservancies with elephant and predator-proof fences as recommended by the committee.

He said the ministry is currently reviewing the human-wildlife conflict management policy to come up with region-specific responses to deal with this phenomenon.

According to Shifeta, the ministry had noted the committee's recommendation to promptly respond to incidents of human-wildlife conflict but said they face the challenge of inadequate human resources as worsened by budgetary cuts as well as the poaching menace that is stretching the available manpower to the limit. Most chairpersons of conservancies who attended the meeting at Rundu expressed surprise at the findings of the standing committee and said they had not been personally consulted.

They said members of the committee had interviewed conservancy members at random.

While they fully support the right of the parliamentarians to speak to anyone, they said they welcome any opportunity to present the facts about conservation in their areas.

They said the committee had criticised "starvation wages" of N$500 and N$650 paid to conservancy workers a month but this was a complete misunderstanding of the facts.

"The lowest paid game guard in the Zambezi gets N$1 300 a month, and the highest is paid N$2 200," they said in a statement.

Shifeta told MPs that issues of conditions of service do not fall under his ministry's ambit and should be referred to the ministry of labour.

The chairpersons criticised the committee's suggestion that conservancies should be fenced and said as parliamentarians, members of the committee should know that it is illegal to fence off communal land in Namibia.

The chairperson of the standing committee, Sophia Swartz, said her committee stands by their report.

"Our report reflects the situation on the ground as presented by the people affected by the conflict and we stand by it," she said.

She said their outreach programme was initiated by a motion tabled by Kavango parliamentarian Hambyuka Hamunyera.

She expressed surprise that minister Shifeta could criticise their findings after they had tabled the report in the National Assembly where it was "debated and then adopted", making it a public document.

"He should have done so during the debate in the National Assembly," she said, adding that they had already held a policy conference on the matter in February.

"Perhaps he was stung by a story in the media last month," she said of Shifeta.

Namibia

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