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Theme: Principles and Action

Learning Objective: To improve participants' understanding of the relationship between differing communication principles for effective change, and the planning and organisation of their actions.


There are a number of very different principles on which to plan and organise a communication activity related to NRM. Two different approaches follow the outline of this experience in Namibia.

We suggest that you start by reading the Namibia experience. As you do, think about the change principles that are central to it. We then outline two change approaches and ask you to reflect, in relation to both the Namibia example and your own activities.


Community Based Natural Resource Management in Namibia (CBNRM) is less a project or programme, and more a process involving different actors and approaches over time. It has focused on providing communal area residents with incentives to use their resources sustainably, combining reform of policy and legislation, with implementation at the community level.


Namibia is the most arid African country south of the Sahara, with limited and unpredictable rainfall, leading to regular drought and marginal agricultural yield. 66 percent of its population of approximately 1.8 million live in rural areas, and are directly dependent on harvesting natural resources. Per capita GDP is about $4 600, but income is highly skewed between rich and poor, with the richest ten percent receiving 65 percent of total income.Apartheid policies during South African colonial rule meant that at independence in 1990, 40.8 percent of the land had been allocated to black homelands supporting a population of 1.2 million, while 43 percent (including all the most productive land) had been allocated to white commercial farmers. Fourteen percent was allocated to conservation, and a small portion was unallocated.

Wildlife and forestry resources have been subject to strict state controls. In the past, local residents had little legal access to these resources. In spite of the controls, wildlife numbers fell significantly. In many communal areas, forests are being cleared for shifting cultivation, firewood and building materials. The state has been unable to regulate either wildlife or forest resources, due to distances and limited government capacity.

Traditional mechanisms for land and resource allocation began to break down during colonial and apartheid times. Since independence, government policy has continued to erode the status and power of traditional leadership. This has lead to situations of "open access" on much of Namibia's communal land. Residents have been unable to prevent others from settling and using resources, even when such use is detrimental locally. People have tended to use what they can before someone else does.

Government and communities have recognised these problems for some time, and considerable energy has gone into developing CBNRM. Experiments began as early as the 1970s on commercial farms, expanded to communal lands in the late 1980s, and accelerated in the post-independence atmosphere of open policy reform.


  1. Poverty in rural communal areas.
  2. Significant reduction of wildlife populations in communal areas, due to poaching and drought.
  3. Significant loss of forested areas.
  4. Limited rural economic opportunities.
  5. Small, widely separated communities with poor communication and little cooperation.
  6. Lack of state resources to patrol and monitor large inhospitable tracts of land.


This project operates simultaneously at different levels and in mutually-reinforcing ways. Projects at the community level act as pilots to test community identification of issues and appropriate responses. Local experience is integrated into policy and legislation development. In terms of communication needs, this means that several different approaches have been adopted, and a number of technologies introduced to make it happen. In rural areas, satellite radios have been put in place to enable communication between distant communities and game guards who monitor and track wildlife.

Many facilitated meetings have been required to work out differences and agree to institutional frameworks. Sustainable resource management training has been conducted for game guards and community members. Meetings have been co-ordinated between communities and private tour and resort companies to build trust and negotiate deals. At the government level, research has been planned and carried out.

Sensitisation has occurred regarding the importance of community participation in the research and problem definition phase. Government has been encouraged to incorporate lessons from pilot projects and community experience, into the policy development process. This in turn, has been fed back to communities for comment and understanding.


Chronologically, the process after independence went as follows:

  1. 1990-92: the process began with socio-ecological surveys carried out by NGOs with local experience to determine the key issues and problems from the perspective of effected communities.
  2. This led to the development of several pilot community-based conservation projects, which were supported by foreign conservation NGOs.
  3. This experience helped the government and Namibian NGOs to realise that policy and legislation would have to change to allow success. Throughout, the pilot projects led the process of policy development.
  4. 1992: A new draft policy was prepared giving rights over tourism and fire control to communities that formed conservancies.
  5. 1993: The United States Agency for International Development (US AID) became involved through the Living in a Finite Environment (LIFE) Programme. This enabled a national approach involving a partnership between national and local government, NGOs and local communities.
  6. 1995-96: Cabinet approved a new policy for conservancies and enabling legislation was passed.
  7. 1997: The first communal area conservancy was legally recognised.
  8. 1998: Three more conservancies were recognised, and the President officially launched the Namibian Communal Area Conservancy Programme.9. 1999: Four more conservancies were approved in principle, and the LIFE programme was extended for another five years.
  9. By February 2001, fourteen communal area conservancies had been registered and 40 were in the process of being formed.

Key aspects of the method were:

  1. Building on lessons from earlier examples in Namibia.

    In the 1970s, commercial farmers were given the right to control and profit from wildlife on their farms, which led to the development of a multimillion dollar hunting and photo safari tourist industry.

    In the 1980s, the Namibian NGO, Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC) had already begun working in communal areas on NRM with a focus on community empowerment.

  2. Looking outside of Namibia for both negative and positive examples.
  3. Particular emphasis was given to Zimbabwe's Campfire experience, which pointed to the importance of communities benefiting directly from wildlife conservation income rather than having the income go to government and then come back through community programmes.

  4. Learning from advances in theory and practice regarding community property management through appropriate institutions that incorporated:
  5. Developing a two-way communication process between local communities, government officials and NGO's that enabled joint identification and understanding of problems and the joint development of solutions.


  1. Community leaders and resource users.
  2. Local government workers and extension officers.
  3. NGOs/Funders - IRDNC/US AID, World Wide Fund for Nature, the European Union.
  4. Private sector tour and lodge operators.
  5. Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism.
  6. Namibian Cabinet and President.

Results and Reflections

There are now fourteen legally gazetted conservancies and at least 40 other communities in the process of forming conservancies. This indicates that there is communal support and that the pilot project experiences are widely known in the country.

While conservancies are just beginning to operate, and only a few contracts have been signed with commercial hunting and photo safari operators, there are a number of positive and successful examples.

For instance, a conservancy in the Kunene Region Conservancy has an agreement that has seen an upmarket tourist lodge built on its land. The Conservancy is involved in overall policy making for the lodge, local people receive preferential hiring, and the lodge provides training to ensure that local employees are also in management positions. Other benefits have come from hunting licenses, wages to community game guards, and the ability to hunt surplus game.

A profit-sharing arrangement has resulted in contributions to the community development fund of US$ 40 000 and in direct wages of US$ 69 000 between 1996 and 1998. The direct wage numbers are quite substantial considering the low population and even lower incomes in these areas, where a few hundred dollars per year can make a significant difference to a family.

Non-financial benefits have included the empowerment and skills that come from the conservancy development process. These are very important in a context where apartheid has left many rural communities disempowered and dependent. Some of the non-financial benefits include:

  1. Adaptable institutions.
  2. Defined and committed community membership.
  3. Accountable leaders and participatory processes for making decisions and sharing information.
  4. Cohesive social units with a common purpose.
  5. New skills in resource and business management.
  6. Mechanisms for managing natural resources.
  7. Experience and growing confidence in negotiating with outsiders.
  8. Recognition from neighbours and outside authorities.
  9. Pride and sense of control.Such building blocks may become tools for further social organisation around a range of other resource management issues such as forests, farmland, water and harvestable wild products.

The process is still relatively new. There are high participation costs for communities in terms of time spent in meetings, conflicts emerging as land and resource sharing issues are discussed, frustrations waiting for government policy and legislation changes, and new community issues arising from decision making about what to do with community income. However, the growing numbers of communities involved mean that many perceive the benefits to outweigh the costs. During 2001 conservancies in different regions in Namibia began to form regional associations in order to provide greater communication and cooperation between individual conservancies sharing similar interests and problems. These associations provide a platform for the conservancies to engage in advocacy at various levels, particularly with regard to lobbying government for increased rights and recognition as full partners in natural resource management. This is an important step as it means the communities will have their own voice independent of the NGOs that have been supporting them, and will start to form a significant political constituency.


Here are two contrasting views on how and why change takes place.

  1. Paulo Freire25 viewed change as coming from a process where dialogue led to social commitment, and the constant dialectic between action and reflection. In other words:
    1. Dialogue: Lots of communication, discussion and debate, particularly amongst those people most affected and engaged.
    2. Social Commitment: People, individually and through organisations and groups in which they are involved, commit themselves to change, and/or take advantage of the opportunities they see for improving their livelihoods.
    3. Action/Reflection: People take action and then review those actions to see what happened. In the light of that assessment, they plan and undertake new actions leading to further reflection on what happened and a continuing cycle of action and reflection.
  2. Johns Hopkins University Center for Communication Programs26 developed the following model for change:

Information, examples, data, etc.

From those around you, of the importance of the issues you wish to address, and the importance of addressing them effectively.

To make it happen, genuinely desiring that the change will take place.

An action has to be undertaken.

Try to convince others about the desirability of their making the same choices and taking the same actions.


We suggest you refer to the Namibia experience above as you do this exercise. As you review it, make notes in the boxes below to detail elements of the change strategy pursued in Namibia, which are consistent with one of the principles for effective and sustainable change outlined by either Freire or Johns Hopkins University CCP.

Change principle

Elements of the Namibia NRM story that reflect this change principle.



Social Commitment














What conclusions do you draw about the main change and communication strategies that underpinned this NRM initiative in Namibia?


What implications are there for your NRM strategies?


Considering the Theme and Learning Objectives for this experience please list one or more lessons you think are important for your own work. Please list these on the chart in "Drawing Your Own Conclusions" p89.


Brian T. B. Jones, "Community Management of Natural Resources in Namibia", Scandinavian Seminar College's Africa Project SSC Africa Project, paper no. 03 1999 - (View abstract at:

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