The governance of indigenous natural products in Namibia: nature, diversity and dynamics

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


During the past decades increased attention had been given to the dual roles of NTFPs in fulfilling both livelihood needs and forest biodiversity conservation. These development efforts included measures to improve the governance of NTFPs concerning both access to resources and to markets. Nonetheless, in many cases these products are still poorly regulated around the world. Namibia is one of the countries in which a conscious effort has been undertaken to stimulate NTFP production and to improve their governance. These products are domestically referred to as indigenous natural products (INPs). In order to promote sustainable commercialisation of INPs, an Indigenous Plant Task Team (IPTT) was established in 2003 as a multi-stakeholder forum for fostering development. The IPTT was established to facilitate various pilot projects in production, processing and marketing of INPs in Namibia. As a result a multifaceted system involving multiple stakeholders and overlapping institutions has been developed through which decisions are made and implemented for regulating access to INPs and their markets.

Studies to analyse the structure and process involved in this multifaceted system are scanty in Namibia. As Namibia has undertaken conscious efforts to stimulate NTFP development, this country offers a good opportunity to study the complexity in NTFP governance systems. Applying varied theoretical frameworks that taps from the different concepts of governance, this thesis analyses the nature, diversity and dynamics of different forms and mechanisms for governance of different categories of INPs in Namibia. Governance is a concept from political science literature which reflects changes in policy process from the traditional approach which is centred on top-down, command and control and state-centric authority toward a new multi-actor and multilevel approach. This thesis took a qualitative research approach and data were collected through interviews, focus group discussion, participant observation and document analysis. A combination of these research methods allowed cross-checking and triangulation of information.

The thesis consists of four empirical chapters, the introductory chapter and the concluding chapter. The first two empirical chapters analyses the structures through which decisions for management and trade of INPs are made and assesses how these structures influenced INP policy process. The last two chapters analyses the processes through which INP related decisions are practiced and how they evolved as influenced by different international discourses.  

The structure of INP governance in Namibia constitute several dimensions. Firstly, the actor dimension of INP governance constitutes different multi-stakeholder governance forums such as the Indigenous Plant Task Team (IPTT), the Devil’s Claw Working Group (DCWG) and the Interim Bioprospecting Committee (IBPC). These governance forums have emerged in response to different policy concerns therefore their substantive focus also varies. Whereas the IPTT mainly focuses on coordination of INP activities, the DCWG and the IBPC have mainly focused on agenda setting and policy-making. The actor dimension of INP governance is also reflected in an interactive network of pilot projects. In this network, clusters or sub-groups of actors can be distinguished that focus their activities on different functions such as: value addition and product development, resource assessment and management and institutional capacity building. Both the multi-stakeholder forums and the clusters of pilot projects do not yet include all relevant stakeholders. Stakeholders such as primary producers, private sector and product quality standardisation bodies are weakly represented in these structures.

These findings indicate that attention needs to be given to the further development of policy platforms in which all relevant stakeholders are represented to further stimulate a balancing of stakeholder interests and power within the project dominated governance networks that exists in Namibia.

Secondly, the structure of governance was described in terms of existing arrangements for accessing INPs and their markets. This mix of governance arrangements is species-specific. Whereby commercially interesting INPs are mostly accessed through highly institutionalised legal arrangements, products that are sold at informal markets are accessed solely through community-based and self-organised governance arrangements with no legal instruments involved.

On the other hand, arrangements related to accessing INP niche markets are also different in terms of market destination and the relations between product suppliers and buyers. Due to these differences, three types of value chain arrangements for providing access to markets were identified. The captive value chain is mostly dominated by a few lead firms and a minimal value chain upgrading within the producer country. This value chain concern products such as devil’s claw that are sold at international markets. In the relational or quasi-hierarchical value chain, producers are supported through user group associations, trade associations and public support from NGOs and the state. The organised producers are linked directly to manufacturers through financial and technical support led either by NGOs or the state. Products such as marula oil, Commiphora resin and Kalahari melon oil are typically marketed through such chain arrangements. The last value chain is highly informal and it mainly operates at the level of domestic markets, characterised by the interaction between local producers and buyers. Mopane worm production reflects this value chain.

This differentiation in value chains indicates that the governance arrangements for accessing resources and markets are characterised by either formal or customary norms, often acting in combination. Although several relations in the different governance arrangements could be identified, a uniform pattern of factors that determine a particular type of governance arrangement for a given INP could not be determined. Rather than being purposively developed, the governance arrangements for access to resources and markets often result from a reflexive and ad-hoc development process. Considering the diversity in INP production and marketing systems, such a differentiated approach to the further development of INP governance arrangements seems to be most appropriate. However, in view of the fact that NTFP enterprises are often very small and that they co-exist geographically, it would be more effective if a general comprehensive policy approach is adopted for products sharing similar characters, such as products derived from protected species which are characterised by destructive harvesting methods or products sharing similar processing techniques or market segments.

The governance process through which decisions for management and trade of INP are made shows that generally, INP activities in Namibia are gradually incorporated into the Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) institutions where the performance practices of these institutions results in varied results. These CBNRM institutions were originally developed narrow in scope, crafted specifically for resources such as wildlife, timber or water. Gradually, several governance practices had to be further adapted in order to become compatible or complementary with existing culturally-based local practices. This often involved devil’s claw, where different arrangements for access and management emerged because of overlapping authorities to oversee harvesting, management and trade practices for devil’s claw. For devil’s claw, practices such as training in new techniques for resource assessments and sustainable harvesting were introduced especially in areas that are supported by civil society organisations. In contrast, in common access areas where support from civil society is limited, the capacity of the government to train harvesters and conduct pre- and post-harvesting resource assessment was limited and the customary systems of harvesting were maintained.

Incorporation of INP activities into CBNRM also led to the scaling down of the formal CBNRM practices to the requirements of specific INPs. For example, establishment of Commiphora resin enterprises in communal conservancies in the Kunene region illustrates how formal requirements of forest inventory was scaled down to fit milestones required for establishment of community forests, which provides access to harvesting of Commiphora resin. Thus, in terms of scope, practices and procedures the designed CBNRM institutions initially lacked harmony with both the INP institutions at the national level and the socially embedded institutions at the local level.

Apart from the mixed results reflected by the performance of CBNRM institutions, the process of INP governance in Namibia also shows an evolutionary trend from strict regulations toward a much more incentive based approach for management and trade of INPs. This trend is a result of the NTFP commercialisation discourse, which address biodiversity conservation, sustainable utilisation and poverty alleviation. Looking specifically at devil’s claw, which is sold to international markets, the development policy for this species is significantly impacted by the NTFP commercialisation discourse. The analysis of the impact of this discourse on the actual governance practices in Namibia demonstrates that multiple storylines that are supported by different actor coalitions has emerged. This therefore requires an inter-sectoral cooperation between different sectors. Specifically, further inputs from the Ministry of Trade, Industrialisation and SME Development, the Namibia Competition Commission and the National Standard Institute would be beneficial in shaping the market structure and value addition for the devil’s claw enterprise.

In conclusions this study shows that Namibia has a well-established national stakeholder platform for coordinating NTFPs activities and sharing knowledge. This platform, which is dominated by state actors and civil society organisations, has made significant progress in terms of organising access to INPs in Namibia. The state actors and civil society organisations have adopted the international discourse of NTFP commercialisation, which promotes biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation, to develop governance arrangements that are adapted to the Namibia land-use conditions. However, more attention still needs to be given to the development and support of INP-based small and medium enterprises.

This thesis contributes towards the increasing scientific evidence, which indicate that NTFP policies are multidimensional. The stimulation of improved governance of INPs is characterised by pragmatic developments that are differentiated according to the different types of NTFPs. Such a flexible approach is appropriate for NTFPs in view of the variety in NTFP ranging from locally-used to internationally traded products and from endangered wild species to cultivated species as well as the variety in marketing conditions, including emergence of new niche markets. Such a flexible approach is also appropriate in view of the gradual incorporation of INP management activities into the CBNRM programmes of wildlife, timber and water. In developing improved governance systems for stimulating NTFP production as a contribution to sustainable development it is therefore imperative to recognize that there does not exist an institutionally clearly delineated NTFP sector, as suggested by the term INP sector in Namibia, but rather a complex network of institutional arrangements for specific NTFPs.  

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Arts, Bas, Promotor
  • Wiersum, K.F., Co-promotor
  • Mapaure, I., Co-promotor, External person
Award date14 Nov 2018
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789463433563
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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