Windfall for campfire communities

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By Emmanuel Koro in

Johannesburg, SA

CHRISTMAS has certainly come early for Zimbabwe’s hunting communities that are soon going to receive 100 percent payments from international hunting revenue.

Under the Communal Areas Management Programme For Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) Programme, international hunting revenue used to be paid to rural district councils that later paid it to the hunting communities also known as CAMPFIRE communities.

“We are going to start paying 100 percent of international hunting revenue to CAMPFIRE communities (local hunting communities) in the next two months,” said Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority director-general, Dr Fulton Mangwanya, speaking at the Hwange Elephant Conference in  May this year.

The 100 percent payment is a big jump from the 60 percent that Zimbabwean hunting communities have been receiving since the introduction of the CAMPFIRE Programme in 1989. The remainder of the revenue was paid to support the work of the CAMPFIRE Association secretariat office in Harare (four percent), wildlife and habitat conservation, including managing human-wildlife conflict, anti-poaching operations at the community level by rural district councils and the payment of community rangers (26 percent). Lastly, 10 percent was also paid to support rural district councils’ administrative work related to the CAMPFIRE Programme.

The news that, for the first time, Zimbabwean communities are going to receive 100 percent of international hunting revenue and also decide for themselves how to use it was greeted with excitement and applause by delegates at the May 2022 Hwange Elephant Conference where the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management director-general, Dr Mangwanya, made the announcement.

This new development seems to be an absolute achievement of the CAMPFIRE Programme’s goal to radically democratise wildlife management authority to the grassroots or rural community level.

This time, the Zimbabwe Department of National Parks — and Wildlife Management and not the Zimbabwe Rural District Councils – will take the lead in making sure that this initiative works.

Meanwhile, well-placed Zimbabwe Government sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said that “…the chiefs are the new signatories on the CAMPFIRE international hunting revenue bank accounts and they will decide on how to use the money in consultation with their communities.”

The CAMPFIRE Programme was introduced by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority in 1989 under the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Act (Chapter 20:14, 1982).

The Act mandates the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority to manage wildlife. Using these legal powers, the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority then decided, in 1989, to innovatively permit wildlife producer communities to get involved with wildlife management in order to improve wildlife and habitat conservation by giving them appropriate authority to do so. The communities started receiving international hunting revenue and, in turn, use it for wildlife and habitat conservation and also to support their socio-economic wellbeing.

The 100 percent payment of international hunting revenue to the CAMPFIRE communities might signal the return of CAMPFIRE to the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority, raising questions about the fate of the CAMPFIRE Association secretariat currently headed by Charles Jonga. 

However, well-placed sources said that: “Jonga should continue with his CAMPFIRE secretariat role after having agreed on certain undisclosed terms with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.”

“In the past, the international hunting revenue money was paid into the Zimbabwe rural district councils bank accounts,” said a Zimbabwe Government source who spoke on condition of anonymity, expressing optimism that the 100 percent international hunting revenue payment to the communities would bring greater opportunities for wildlife and habitat conservation, including socio-economic development. 

“In some cases, the Rural district councils abused the money buying vehicles with very little going to the communities.”

Elsewhere, the Hwange District Council Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture officer, Nxolelani Ncube has asked some fair and important questions regarding the fate of the wildlife management partnership between the rural district councils and the communities under the new system that involves 100  percent payment of international hunting revenue to CAMPFIRE communities, into bank accounts managed by local chiefs.

“Remember there is also an element of conservation and administration, maybe people are not privy to what other statutory obligations need to be deducted from that 100 percent (statutory obligations that make it necessary for deductions to be made from that 100 percent),” said Ncube.

“There are other statutory obligations that need to be looked into and there are also rural district councils, unless if it now means rural district councils are going to go all out on their own.

“It (international hunting revenue) involves many things in terms of problem animal control and human-wildlife conflict.  So where will the rural district councils get the budget to do that?

“In terms of wildlife and habitat conservation, how will rural district councils get the funds to do that if all the 100 percent is paid to the communities? Which is fine, but I am saying where will they (rural district councils) get the funds to support the activities that I have mentioned?”

Meanwhile, a leader from the Hwange District hunting community, Eliah Mutale, has warned that if no proper international hunting revenue use controls and monitoring are put in place, “…the money could be abused by the chiefs and hunting communities.”

“This is a welcome decision to pay Zimbabwean hunting communities 100 percent international hunting revenue,” said Safari Club International (SCI) Africa co-ordinator, George Pangeti. 

“In fact, the international hunters have always argued that the money we take to Africa must go and benefit people who live with and interact with and look after the wild animals. Previously, there were many accusations that the international hunting revenue was being abused and communities were not directly benefitting. But the statement that was made by Dr Mangwanya that the money is now going to directly benefit communities will be received with happiness.” 

Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe president Dr Emmanuel Fundira also welcomed the decision to pay CAMPFIRE communities 100 percent of international hunting revenue.

“The idea to give communities 100 percent payment of international hunting revenue is good as it aims to maximise benefits to local communities living with wildlife,” said Ishmael Chaukura, the chairman of a newly formed Community CAMPFIRE Association that aims to lobby for greater community benefits from hunting revenue. 

“As an Association representing communities, we welcome this idea but communities must not forget to use that revenue to (pay) the rural district councils so that councils, as local authorities, will continue working together with communities. 

The new arrangement to pay international hunting revenue directly will also allow communities to receive their income on time, unlike in the past when some rural district councils delayed paying the communities.”

Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning journalist who writes independently on environment and development issues in Africa and is the author of the book ‘Western Celebration of African Poverty – Animal Rights Versus Human Rights’.

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