Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation
What we do
Structure & staff
Caprivi Project
Kunene Project
Recent Reports
Discussion Papers
Site statistics

Namibia is located in south-western Africa

IRDNC is a Namibian NGO

IRDNC works with communities in the north-west and north-east

IRDNC works closely with the Namibian Government and in partnership with other NGOs

Mission Statement

IRDNC Trust strives to improve the lives of rural people by diversifying the socio-economy in Namibia's communal areas to include wildlife and other valuable natural resources. We believe this will, in turn, secure a long-term place for wild animals outside of national parks, and significantly reduce the pressure on these areas in the future. The Trust further aims to build up the capacity of rural Namibians, and to assist them to develop a civil society whose members can sustainably manage and benefit from their local natural resources.

Our vision for the future...

A Namibia where:

  • rural poverty has been diminished by wise management of natural resources by local users in communal areas
  • wildlife is conserved and valued both inside and outside our national parks
  • people continue to be empowered to make decisions about collective management of their natural resources and a strong civil society has emerged in communal areas
  • management of wild and domestic animals, water, forests, other plant resources, grazing, and fresh-water fish is integrated, with government and NGO inputs co-ordinated by local institutions such as conservancies
  • conservancies and residents' trusts are well managed, accountable, transparent and effective community institutions
  • the Namibian Government, communities and their traditional leaders, private enterprise and NGOs are strong partners, building up our country together
  • biodiversity conservation and rural development are linked, not just in Namibia but also in neighbouring countries so that the region prospers.

An IRDNC summary

Doing African conservation the sustainable way...

IRDNC's long-term southern African program pioneered linking wildlife conservation to rural development and to democracy.

We have developed an African way of doing conservation and nurtured a powerful local vision that stands firmly on three legs - improved management of natural resources by the users themselves, diversified local economic development and the growth of a strong civil society in Namibia's remotest regions. In recognition of its cutting edge work, IRDNC has received some of the world's most prestigious conservation awards.

This practical and holistic application of community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) has demonstrated that this approach is an essential part of large scale eco-regional and trans-boundary conservation initiatives and IRDNC continues to test a number of new conservation and development ideas.

Today we work as part of a multi-skilled team that is community driven, championed by government, in partnership with other NGOs and private sector. Because of our policy of local employment, in IRDNC itself we speak 11 different Namibian languages.

The first phase of the program started in 1983 in response to a crisis: major commercial and subsistence poaching of Namibia's now famous desert adapted elephant, black rhino and almost all other species in the arid north-west of the country.

We broke new ground at the time by entering into a partnership with community leaders and directly involving local people in conservation. The apartheid government regarded this approach as subversive and orthodox conservation circles saw the early project as lunatic fringe.

Today, those remnant wildlife populations are flourishing and earning substantial income for local communities and for the country. The cumulative 'on the hoof' value of increased wildlife populations adds up to more than N$470 million. The overall contribution of community-based conservation activities since Namibia's independence in 1990 to the country's Net National Income (NNI) exceeds N$550 million.

Ordinary rural people are able to capture some of these benefits by forming a conservancy - a legally registered institution which manages its own wildlife in a structured and sustainable way and in return gets rights over its use, including valuable tourism rights. These new opportunities were extended to rural Namibians by the new Namibian Government when it amended legislation in 1996 to enable this collective ownership of natural resources.

Overwhelming popular response

The response from Namibians has been overwhelming: By 2007, just 11 years later, more than 50 rural Namibian communities have registered conservancies and about 30 more are being established across the country, collectively involving more than 250,000 people and over 12 million hectares of Namibia.

This means that one in four rural Namibians is a member of a conservancy and so far eleven conservancies are independent of start-up donor funding, making enough income to manage themselves and earn a profit for their members. A further seven conservancies are contributing to their own operational and staff costs.

IRDNC works with more than half the country's conservancies: 44 registered and emerging conservancies in the two most remote and wildlife rich regions of Namibia, the north west corner - Kunene Region which borders Angola, and the extreme north-east - Caprivi Region, bordering Angola, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Reducing poverty

Thus from an embattled pre-independence situation whereby the colonial apartheid government was hostile to the program's approach, community-based natural resource management is now nationally promoted by government. Conservancies and the concept of CBNRM are firmly entrenched in Namibia's national development plans and seen as a mechanism to reduce poverty.

Government, the University of Namibia and 12 NGOs, including IRDNC, and some of the private sector now work together with communities towards a national CBNRM program which has seven objectives:

  • Creating incentives to manage wildlife and other natural resources sustainably
  • Boosting the abundance and productivity of natural resources
  • Bringing a new set of natural resources into production
  • Unlocking the economic potential of wildlife and tourism in communal areas
  • Supporting and promoting the establishment of local management institutions
  • Building empowerment, capacity and skills at local levels
  • Correcting discriminatory imbalances of the past

IRDNC's Caprivi and Kunene program has achieved notable conservation successes as well as contributing to the development of a strong civil society, initiating economic benefits from wildlife back to communities and laying the foundation for robust economic growth in these two formerly marginal areas.

200,000 elephants

Conservancies have been registered or are developing all along the Skeleton Coast Park boundary in the north-west and this park has thus been reunited after 35 years - via a corridor of conservancies - with Etosha National Park. Similarly, the small Caprivi national parks are being buffered by conservancies, thereby ensuring their viability and providing important trans-boundary wildlife corridors and linkages with neighbouring countries. More than 200,000 elephants making up the largest contiguous elephant populations in Africa - and indeed in the world - depend on these corridors for their survival.

However, our challenge goes beyond wildlife and the other natural resources with which we are increasingly working - grazing, forests, valuable plants and fish. IRDNC's technical, logistic and financial focus now includes assisting conservancies as new and fragile community-based organisations to function effectively and to reach social, economic and environmental sustainability.

Ecozones within our target areas include wetlands, adjoining and linking with Botswana's Okavango Delta; riparian woodlands; savannah; semi-arid and desert environments where elephant and black rhino still occur.

IRDNC Vision

To link conservation, rural development and the growth of a strong civil society in Namibia's two most remote regions, Kunene and Caprivi.

Conservation Goal

To promote biodiversity and secure the future of wildlife outside of parks in Namibia's Kunene and Caprivi regions and in neighbouring areas of Zambia, Angola and Botswana by entrenching and expanding community-based natural resource management.

Development Goal

To contribute to an enhanced quality of life of rural Namibians through economic diversification and holistic conservancy-based natural resource management.


  1. To institutionalise good conservancy governance and strengthen civil society and sustainable NRM by creating a range of learning and leadership forums to deliver focused CBNRM tools and systems
  2. To accelerate the positive impact on quality of life of rural Namibians by facilitating economic diversification, significantly increasing conservancy income and promoting its effective use
  3. To improve and harmonise natural resource and land management within conservancies and maintain or enhance biodiversity
  4. To expand the philosophy and practice of CBNRM by creating and supporting local, national and trans-boundary regional conservation and rural development alliances
  5. To manage the programme and partnerships effectively.

Biodiversity hotspots

Caprivi's conservancies encompass a number of biodiversity 'hot spots', harbouring for example, species such as Wattled Crane. In contrast to biodiversity patterns, concentrations of endemic species are greatest in the dry west and north-west Kunene Region.

The two program areas are very different and the 44 target conservancies, in which eight different languages are spoken, reflect the country's extreme geographic, social, cultural and economic diversity.

Caprivi Region comprises major floodplains of the Zambezi, Kwando-Linyanti and Kavango Rivers, separated by Northern Kalahari sandveld-woodlands. The region's 110,000 people depend largely on natural resources and livelihood strategies include subsistence and cash-cropping, cattle-farming, fishing and, in West Caprivi, hunting and gathering.

The rugged, vast and mountainous north west ranges from arid savannah to Namib Desert. Most of Kunene is too dry for rain-based agriculture and the hyper-arid west is marginal even for nomadic pastoralism. The target area supports about 80,000 people, a primarily pastoralist community of semi-nomadic Himba and Herero herders, plus in the Hoanib River basin and southwards, Damara and Riemvasmaker communities who tend small-scale furrow irrigated gardens and farm cattle and goats. In both regions the contribution of wage-labour is still minor although tourism is now booming thanks to the recovery of wildlife.

WWF has been supporting IRDNC's CBNRM activities in Namibia since just after independence in 1990, a remarkable commitment that spans nearly three decades.

Our wordy name - IRDNC - which staff has steadfastly refused to change to a shorter more digestible mouthful with a slicker acronym is a statement in itself: Our focus and priority is making things happen on the ground and keeping at it till real African roots have grown.

Addressing the fundamentals

Now that wildlife is relatively secure IRDNC is able to turn its attention to fundamental environmental threats including the severe degradation of perennial grasses in Namibia, particularly Kunene and bush encroachment and the decline in environmental productivity in Caprivi as a result of either a ban on fires or poor fire management.

Loss of topsoil and regeneration of perennial grasses

In many areas of Kunene, rangeland degradation was occurring at a large scale and most perennial grasses had been lost. The Holistic Range Management Project, started in November 2003, has made great progress in addressing this problem.

Fire as a tool to improve productivity

Bushfire Management in Caprivi is taking a new direction and focuses on using Fire as a Resource by taking control of when, where and how fires occur. Controlled Burning is used as an effective tool in managing Wildfires, Land Use and the Environment.

Collaborative efforts between Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation, government, NGOs and the local communities - through their conservancies - have been instrumental in pioneering this Bushfire Management approach.