A Culture of Caring [analysis]

ON A bank of the Chobe River in Kasika Conservancy in the easternmost corner of Namibia, Victor Owen scribbles notes into a yellow booklet.

Over a thousand kilometres to the west, in Doro !Nawas Conservancy, Michael Geiriseb sits in his office checking that wildlife data from just such a yellow booklet correlates with the aggregated totals in the blue and pink monthly and yearly reporting books spread out on his desk. From Kasika to Doro !Nawas, and from Epupa to Gamaseb, the Event Book Monitoring System is used in communal conservancies across the length and breadth of the country. Around 530 community game guards are employed to monitor and manage wildlife — and a great range of other natural resources — in Namibia’s communal lands. For most, it is more than just a job. These people really care about their environment.

This wasn’t always the case. During Namibia’s colonial period, communal area residents were disenfranchised from their rights to use the natural resources around them. Wildlife belonged to the State. Subsistence hunting, a central component of most African cultures, was made illegal. Tourism revenue went only to private sector operators. Communities got nothing — except the cost of living with often destructive and sometimes outright dangerous game. After independence, far-sighted legislation changed all that. The disparity between the rights of private landowners (who had enjoyed benefits from wildlife since the 1960s) and communal landholders was quickly addressed. Since the mid-1990s, communal farmers also have the right to benefit from wildlife — as long as the game is sustainably managed through conservancies.

Yet how do remote rural communities manage their natural resources sustainably? Active monitoring to really know the resources provides the basis. For over a decade now, community game guards have been monitoring natural resources and related events through the Event Book System. Developed in Namibia by and for Namibians, the Event Book is a real game-changer. It has done much more than just provide wildlife data. It has fostered a culture of monitoring, and with it a sense of pride in working with and caring for natural resources. It has helped to re-link people with deep-rooted cultural and environmental values. The Event Book has also produced a number of other spin-off benefits, including the monitoring of conservancy income and expenditure, management performance, and other aspects of community-based natural resource management.

In the shade of huge trees along a small road just a few kilometres south of the Zambezi River, the Sikunga Conservancy conducts its annual Event Book audit – a particularly stringent process in the Zambezi Region, involving tough peer reviews by senior game guards from neighbouring conservancies and awards for the best Event Book. David Ward looks on from the back and makes an occasional comment. Dave is the doyen of the Event Book. A tall, lean man forever wearing veldskoene and shorts, a faded khaki shirt and a floppy hat, he has spent his entire working life out in the veld, having started in geological exploration before turning to conservation. His skin is tanned to the texture of leather. He is a keen birder and spends most of his free time collecting data for bird atlas projects. He is a highly entertaining raconteur, a great guy for evenings around a campfire. But Dave’s real talent, and his invaluable contribution to the community conservation movement, is his religious attention to detail and his methodical administration of one of the most effective community-based monitoring systems ever developed.

Dave works together with Raymond Peters and other staff of the Natural Resources Working Group of the Namibian Association of CBNRM Support Organisations, NACSO. The working group provides extension services to the community conservation programme, in close collaboration with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. The Event Book is the real nuts and bolts of that programme. Monitoring provides the information for sound game management, which in turn facilitates wildlife-based tourism, creates employment and a broad range of community benefits, and enables wildlife use that funds conservation activities — in short, all the things that make wildlife management outside national parks successful. In its application, the Event Book System is simple (thus motivating its use), yet its different components and layers make it incredibly effective.

Event Book data is gathered during regular fixed-route foot patrols and other monitoring activities, such as following up on human-wildlife conflict incidents. Out in the field, game guards carry a small satchel made of sturdy, waterproof material slung over their shoulder. In it is the yellow booklet into which all events are recorded. Each monitoring category, be it wildlife sightings, poaching or human-wildlife conflict incidents, rangeland condition or game introductions, has its own reporting page in the booklet. Data from the yellow booklet of all game guards in a particular conservancy is aggregated each month into the blue book, while the pink book tracks annual totals from year to year to help understand trends and facilitate archival data access. Although they have their own reporting sheets, annual game counts form an integral part of the system. All data collection and aggregation is done locally, so the conservancy understands its meaning and is able to actively use it. All the monitoring materials — the books and maps and game count forms — are produced and distributed by the Natural Resources Working Group to the now over 80 registered communal conservancies. The conservancies use their own funds – generated through sustainable wildlife use – to pay game guard salaries and carry out monitoring and anti-poaching activities.

The core of the system is completely paper-based. In remote conservancies, a digital system would be destined to fail — due to a lack of electricity or access to service support, limited computer expertise or that maddening need for perpetual updates and compatibility. Yet the results are digitised during the annual audits and are entered into the national Con.Info Data Base, enabling a range of further uses. Tony Robertson, a real data guru, has been instrumental in creating the systems that format and evaluate the data for a variety of reporting outputs, such as posters, graphs and maps, distributed to key stakeholders.

These allow the conservancies to adapt their management, and the MET and NACSO to target needed support interventions.

The Event Book was developed, refined and implemented over a number of years in close collaboration with conservancies by a group of natural resource experts including Dave Ward, Greg Stuart-Hill, Tony Robertson, Chris Brown, Jo Tagg, Richard Diggle, Beaven Munali and Raymond Peters. The system was pioneered in the year 2000 in conservancies in the Zambezi Region by the field NGO Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation, IRDNC. It quickly took hold and is now implemented as part of the conservancy formation process of the MET and used in all registered conservancies. Conservancy game guards and technical staff work together to identify what needs to be monitored and how the monitoring can be kept simple and relevant to local communities. While conservancies must report aspects such as wildlife removals to the MET, game guards monitor a much broader range of activities and resources.

Most of this they do on their own. The MET, Dave Ward, Raymond Peters and other NGO staff are all largely in the background now.

The system is so successful in conservancies that it was adapted for national park use by the MET. Renamed as the Incident Book, it is now used in all of Namibia’s parks. The concept has also been exported to other countries in Africa and Asia to support their community conservation initiatives. What started as a local idea has found world-wide applications. The simple Event Book System of community-based monitoring and administration is a truly universal concept that has amassed a wealth of data and is actively used to guide natural resource management — in Namibia, in Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Nepal, Mongolia and Cambodia. Yet perhaps its greatest value lies in nurturing a culture of caring, in connecting people to their environment and motivating them to understand it better.

Source : The Namibian