Friday, April 12, 2013

Week 12: The South - Community Campsites, Tree-Planting, and Tourism

Post by Allegra Marra and Hanna Miller

This past weekend, the group made the trek to the South of Namibia to learn about community based natural resource management and other environmental issues that affect the country. We’ve been reading about environment-related concepts for our Development and Politics courses, and it was a valuable experience to see these theories in practice. 

The CGE crew relaxing at the hot spring
Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) is a system utilized in Namibia in which the control of the land is given to a community. This allows for more direct community participation, employment, and revenue generation for the population, and enables a community to profit off of their own lands, rather than it being a forbidden resource. These structures have been implemented with great success across the country, but the southern region has been facing various challenges. Facing a lack of water, funding, and big game to attract tourists, community-run conservancies such as the Ganigobes Community Campsite struggle to achieve the same success as their northern counterparts. At the Ganigobes campsite, a natural hot spring and waterfall make for an appealing destination, but the lack of water deters many visitors. In order to sustain these community-based initiatives, more funding is needed, but unfortunately, it is not always available and the government response is often inadequate. Our second campsite, Brukkaros, was situated at the base of a mountain and also did not have running water. Petrus Fleermuys, one of the community members in charge of this project, explained his initial rejection of a private company’s interest in building a lodge on the community’s land, and how he has since changed his mind. Many community conservancies have benefited from the construction of private enterprises, as it can help to draw visitors. However, the establishment of these businesses can detract from the community’s benefits and undermines their agency over the land.

Hanna worked with two students to plant a tree in Berseba
While in Berseba, we visited a group of students and helped to plant a number of trees. CGE students have been planting trees with these students for years, but so far none of the trees have survived. Additionally, the trees that are planted are a non-native species that is not accustomed to the environment in Berseba. We expressed curiosity as to why this practice continues in spite of its questionable success rate. If an activity has been tried and failed so many times before, but the community is adamant about its continuation, is it our role to comply with the community’s needs? Is it our role to question the community’s needs as outsiders?  Questions similar to these are common in many of our development discussions and we have yet to find an answer. While we don’t anticipate finding answers to these questions but we nonetheless feel as though they are vital areas of exploration.

Jaco Visser, a representative of the Gondwana Kalahari Anib Lodge, spoke with us about the group’s sustainability philosophies and various lodges across Namibia. One of the ideas that he emphasized was the role of tourism in development. “If it pays, it stays,” he repeated, referring to the concept that an organization such as a conservancy will only prosper if it’s profitable. There is some validity to this statement, as we witnessed the problems faced by the community campsites, but it also seems questionable to predicate development and conservation on consumerism and tourism. This shifts the focus of these initiatives from community livelihood to the needs of outside visitors. Our discussion with Jaco made us question ideas of ethical tourism and what our own roles are as tourists in Namibia. It was valuable to be reminded that however comfortable we feel here, we are still visitors, and our presence has implications that we may not recognize.

View from the hike up Brukaros Mountain
After hearing about these various campsites and lodges, we began to think critically about the role of privatization in conservation efforts. While a community’s reservations towards the development of private lodges are understandable, there were stark differences between the successes of the community campsites compared to that of the Gondwana Lodge. The Gondwana Lodge has multiple establishments around the country and seems to maintain a steady flow of guests, and this revenue generated by these tourist activities makes them a more successful economic venture. In comparison, the Ganigobes campsite has been unable to locate funds and attract visitors. We can see the potential for a mutually beneficial relationship between private companies and community initiatives by utilizing market based models and community conservation ideologies. We hope that the two structures will find a way to collaborate and share the benefits of both privatization and community based natural resource management to best utilize the southern Namibian landscape and foster community empowerment.

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