Eco Award Namibia in Düsternbrook
Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in the world and as with all other economic activities there are two sides to it. On one side tourism brings employment generation and opportunities for local people, foreign exchange, funds for conservation projects and on the other side it produces waste, uses resources and creates environmental and social costs.
Due to the possible negative impacts, the World Commission on Sustainable Development urges that all countries should work against illegal, abusive and exploitative tourist activities and find ways to minimize the negative and support the positive impacts of tourism. In response the World Tourism Organization (WTO) recommend that each country should create its own program for sustainable tourism. Namibia reacted on that with the "Eco Award Namibia" in 2005. The Eco Award Namibia is a non-profit organization which encourages sustainable development with the aim to create more awareness for the environment but also looks at the uplifting of local staff in terms of employment and training. The uplifting of local staff not only means to create jobs, but it means to give a higher standard of living to future generations.
Establishments, from campsites to hotels, can apply and depending upon the number of points achieved in the checked areas- conservation, water, waste and energy management, construction and landscaping, guiding, staff development and social responsibility- an accommodation can get a maximum of 5 flowers. For example, the evaluation team looks at what sort of water management policies you have in place and also checks on whether you are using natural building materials for construction such as natural stone and shadow roofing. In order to increase opportunities for rural communities, they are concerned that you give priority to hiring and training local staff, rather than bringing in trained employees from outside. Each applicant gets rechecked every two years.
Düsternbrook Safari Guest Farm started to work on sustainable tourism long before 2005 and so we managed to obtain 3 out of 5 flowers already in the first year, 2005. Once re-checked in 2007 we obtained again 3 flowers and with improvements done since 2007 we have received 4 flowers in 2008 and again in 2012. We are proud to say that at that time there are only very few establishments who have obtained 4 flowers and we have been the only one in the guest farm category.With the years the number of accommodations who participate have grown.In april 2015 we have been assessed again and in august 2015 I got the positive news that this time we managed to achieve to get 5 flowers of which we are very proud. Now we are one of only 12 establishments who have achieved 5 flowers and still the only guest farm.
At Düsternbrook we endeavor to promote sustainable tourism in all areas and our aim is:
"Reduce the social and environmental costs and maximize the advantages!"
We recognize and respect the fact that we have a responsibility to nature and we intend to conserve and sustain resources, protect and develop the local community and reduce our ecological footprint.
This little introduction, with only some examples, gives you some insight into our guest farm operations.
Water, Waste and Energy Management
First of all in everything we do nothing is perfect here as you might be used to from your European environment. Everything is a compromise of available time, resources and level of education and also subject to prioritizing of other important jobs to be done on the farm. We promote water, waste and energy saving in best practices to staff and guest through information in the guest rooms and an information centre.
Water In the water consumption chapter of the 2008 Living Planet Report it stated that 98% of the countries water resources are already fully utilised and the problem is only going to get worse with the population growth. In Nambia too is the most valuable natural resource in Namibia. We are the driest country south of the Sahara and for that reason water conservation is of high importance!
In Namibia 80% of the rain evaporates immediately, 15% is absorbed by the roots and evaporates through the leaves, 2-3% is flowing off in rivers and ONLY 1% goes into the ground which again is partly pumped as water supply.
At Düsternbrook Safari Guest Farm our main source of water is a 70 meter borehole with an electric pump with a 20 minute time switch (so that the water cannot come out when anybody forgot to switch it of) and a windmill. Out on the farm outposts we only use windmills and dams. We regularly monitor and record our water usage to ensure that our consumption stays within the seasonal averages. Furthermore we installed a time sprinkler system which starts in the early morning hours so it reduces the amount of water lost through evaporation and also controls the overall amount used for watering. Moreover we cover the pool in the evening and most of the winter season due to the high evaporation.
Waste is directly related to the increasing population and consumer. Our aim is to manage waste so that the tourist and farming operation does not have a negative impact on the environment through landfill use, litter, and water or soil pollution. Therefore the classical formula: reduce, re-use and recycle is also applied here for many years. A recycling-bin system has been set up where we recycle in 6 different areas: paper, carton, cans and tins, hard plastic, soft plastic and glass, which we bring once a week to the recycling centre in Windhoek. Did you know that 1 recycled can gives you 3 hours of television? Moreover we re-use glass jars for homemade jam, envelopes are used as file dividers, all paper that has only been printed on one side is used for internal printing and most of our food waste is used as chicken feed for the employees on the farm. For our sewerage water we have a three chamber biological cleaning system and a French drain. In 2008 we added a trickling filter, to break down the ammoniac. Only now we can in future use the recycled water for the garden. Hereby we hope to have water savings between 30% to 40%. But with this we couldn’t reduce the costs of the power (electricity) unfortunately, as recycled water also has to be pumped.
All conventional methods of energy production have large hidden cost to the environment, some more some less, therefore we intend to use less of conventional energy sources, using alternative sources of power that are renewable, non polluting and environmentally friendly wherever possible, but there is also a cost factor as energy from the grid is highly subsidised. We use energy saving light bulbs, gas cooking, windmill powered water pumps, solar heated hot water and limited outdoor lighting. Additionally we have no air conditioning (because the temperature is controlled by roof design), central heating and TV´s in our guestrooms.
Since 2012 we have a photovoltaic solarcollector on the roof to produce own power at least during the day. Measures over the years show that we save about 20% with it.
Conservation is fixed in the namibian constitution, a really special case in the world.
We have a number of species of wild plants, animals and insects that are indigenous or endemic to this country. If any of these species are lost it would be really a pity. Any loss has its effects and we do not know exactly how nature compensates these losses. There are many theories and many negative scenarios (with possible hidden agendas) but what we can say is: it is better if we do not loose anything and try to keep the natural balance in terms of animals and C02 output.
At Düsternbrook we try to maintain and protect the integrity of the natural habitats and wildlife populations on and around the reserve. Therefore we are part of the Khomas Hochland Conservancy and the Windhoek Greenbelt Landscape, we promote biodiversity by re-introducing native species back into their natural habit. In 2010 we reintroduced hippos in the lake down the Andreas Dam.
Since 2012 there is an new development in Namibia which is called NAM-PLACE. The impulse for this development was supported from the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) and our Ministerium for Tourism and Conservation. The aim is to enlarge the existing conservation areas with the help oft he farmers, so that the specific biotop can get preserved. In Namibia there exists 5 of these areas and one of these areas is called „Windhoek Greenbelt“. Duesternbrook is in this area. For certain projects a group is stronger or has more advantages than a single person.( example: fire fighting. In other cases a single person is more flexible than the group. In the Windhoek Greenbelt Landscape we like to concentrate on where we are stronger together without compromising the flexibility of the individual member. This Pilot Project will run over 5 years and after the 5 years the aim is to an independent unit which can sustain it-self through common projects. This year 2015 the project will come to an end. In the 5 years we implemented 12 different projects to the advantage of the community for example: we improved communication between the farmers, we have done a very successfully a bush encroachment project, we improved an access road for fire fighting, we had the waste water from Windhoek tested, a SEA study was done just to mention a few. Finally we created our first common tourism project, a hiking trail of 90 km through several farms in the Khomas Hochland, called KHHT. Some farms also offer weekend trails. We have an own website to market the Windhoek Greenbelt Landscape. I think it was an exciting project and future will tell if it stays alive which would be good for our area.
Back to Düsternbrook, we enlarged the existing population of our Hartmann mountain zebras with further 15 individuals in 2002. The Hartmann mountain zebra is endemic to Namibia and due to their limited numbers and mountain habitat they are classified as a special protected game and are internationally listed as a CITES species.
Cheetah and leopards
Apart from our natural population of cheetah and leopard still roaming in this area we have introduced cheetah and leopard in large "drive in" enclosures, exceeding the official recommended 1 hectare per animal set out by MET (Ministry of Environment and Tourism). These rare and endangered cats are shown to visitors to sensitize tourists through "conservation through education".
An international well known wildlife veterinary, Dr Hymn Ebedes, termed them as being free ranging but not self supporting. As former problem animals they are better alive than dead and their enclosures exceed by far international accepted enclosures of zoos. For example our two cheetah enclosures are as big as the total surface of the zoo in Frankfurt/Germany but with hundreds of animals.
At Düsternbrook we do not kill any predators (carnivores) that are free ranging on the property. The losses we have on life stock and game are compensated through tourism which we show the captive animals in a big and natural environment. Thereby the totally free roaming cats are fully protected and can life as ever before.
All guests are welcome to read further details about wildlife and birds in our small information centre.
Construction and Landscaping
"Sense of place" is a term coined that your present and new buildings should blend in with the environment but you should also limit physical impacts like unnecessary earth moving or construction. In year 2008 for example we builded an annexe tot he our kitchen, which nobody would recognize who isn’t informed. Our isolated location offers visitors access to practically untouched African landscape, local bird and wildlife and from its renovated buildings a in a turn-of-the-century colonial atmosphere. All buildings, including the houses built for the employees, are constructed of locally sourced stone because it blends in best with the surrounding landscape. Moreover every room enjoys plenty of natural light during the day and the roof (colonial verandah style) is designed for managing the temperature by not letting the sun heat the walls and creating a shadow on the wall.
The decor is kept simple, using wood and natural colors. Besides that, there are several examples of German colonial antiques in the main house and some remnants of farmstead equipment, such as the old ox-wagon, a plough and the steam pump as some examples from that time used as decorative elements in the garden and the yard.
In a booklet called "What is What" all guests can get more information about what they see around and in the house which they might at first glance not understand.
Social responsibility can be defined as the ongoing commitment by a business to act ethically and contribute to the economic development, whilst improving the quality of life of the workforce and the families, as well as that of the local community.
I cannot alone improve the Namibian society at large but what I can do is try and develop and support here on the ranch our own local society but this takes time and patience.Often people do not even notice that their living standard has improved because it does not happen overnight. For example before 1997 we did not have electricity from the grid so no one had electric light in the room, a fridge, electrical water cooker, TV etc. Today it is there first one than two and now everybody and it is the most common thing. So how did that happen? A decision by me and the financial burden had to be taken that we are connected to the grid on 24/7 basis. Only over the years you notice that the living standard has improved quite substantially.Our aim is to further enhance the well-being and quality of life of the local community, create jobs, improve hygiene and HIV awareness and improve the quality of life and living standard BUT all is also based on own responsibility, own willingness and own motivation to achieve this goal.
All employees at Düsternbrook are members of the families who have lived on the farm for generations, and enjoy housing with running water, electricity and sanitation e.g. flushing toilets. Furthermore, we built an employee kindergarten in 2006, in order to prepare the children better before they go off to school. The kindergarten is managed in day to day activities by the community and volunteers. Guest donations provide the main source of funds for the ongoing operation. We established a fund for the primary and secondary school education for employee children in order to make school attendance possible and to pay school fees, books, uniforms etc. Our aim is that all children should finish at least secondary school. Secure schooling could means (depending also on own drive) more and better job chances and a better life for the kids. All employees with children have agreed that his/her tips are donated to this fund to the advantage of their own kids and it is working very well. In one generation we are getting all the kids to finish school.
With this efforts and of course also with other criteria we got the award „Best agrarian employer of the year“ some years ago.
"Every flower will blossom if it is treated well in its particular way!"
We think, Safari Ranch Düsternbrook offers good working and living conditions for all employees. Our level of socio-economic development is a direct result from tourism and our philosophy. Each full-time employee should have a written job description so that expectations and tasks are clearly communicated.
The staff have constant on the job training in order to meet today's tourist expectations. They were also sent to off-site courses for driving license, cooking, room service and guiding to further their skills and confidence. We helped one employee who wanted to work as an au pair in Germany for one year. After one year the employee spoke German and apart from having learned many new things and also a different relation to time. By this she had increased her job prospects upon returning to Namibia. Today she is well off and has a good work in the capital. This was all possible with our help but also her own strong willingness. Other members of staff were sent for driving lessons. One passed - the other one not and she is today in passion of a driver's license and I gave her a car. To be committed, be self motived to contribute to the success of the farm pays out.
Our government has a future aim for the country called "Vision 2030". This we also use as our basis but we want to reach that goal long before 2030. In November 2008 we are proud to say that we have reached already the aim in terms of minimum average income per person at the farm.
Why is Guiding important? Tourists from the entire world come to Namibia and an increasing number return for second and third visits. Therefore, guides are the link to our beautiful nature and wildlife to give correct and entertaining information at all times.
At Düsternbrook our guides are from the local community. Our guiding policies are designed to guarantee a professional level of guiding which fulfils industry standards and norms of service and behaviour. We recognize that this is an ongoing training project for the staff, as some of the local staff here has never been in school so to bring across academic knowledge and communication skills from that level is not an easy task. However, with time and constant training improvements can be seen. We have not reached our goal and there are still several areas in which we hope to increase our guides' knowledge.
The guiding at Düsternbrook involves short drives to the enclosures for seeing the cheetah and leopard and for game drives around the property. Most training is done on-site. Step one was to develop an in-house guide training document called "Duesternbrook Unabridged Safari Training" (DUST) (a volunteer, his name is John, made this programme for me in 2008) including among other things, introduction to guiding with code of conduct, driving, practical guiding, cats- cheetah and leopard, game of Düsternbrook, birds, conservation and culture. In 2009 we realized this programme with „training on the job“.Some guides were also sent to some off-site training courses to hone their game viewing skills and knowledge of wildlife in Namibia. At the same time they improved there english. In the last 3 years our guides improved there knowledge very well and they are getting better.
On the farm we practice ongoing monitoring in all areas in order to meet tourist expectations. We therefore ask our guests to evaluate their stays in a feedback questionnaire this has helped us in the past a lot to address weaknesses. Sometimes also the Guides should get valued so that we can found possible weak points which we can improve.
On our safari Guestfarm Düsternbrook we know how much work it is to practise exquisite sustainible Tourism. That is why we took part in the challenge to get all the 5 possible flowers of eco award namibia by 2013. This we did not achieve by but we also noticed that the goal posts of the Eco Award Namibia have been shifted. In 2008 we got 4 flowers – and since that time we worked a lot on the improvements for example the photovoltaic solar collector. In spite of our efforts in march 2012 we’ve only got again the points for 4 flowers. That’s not really a motivating. Now in 2015 after further improvements we managed to achieve the 5 flowers of which we are very proud. We will keep on improving, especially in water saving there is still room for improvement.
"Reduce the social and environmental costs and maximize the benefits!"
After the 4 flowers in 2008 and 4 flowers in year 2012 and 5 flowers in august 2015- we want to keep up the standard. Our sustainable development plan for the next few years will concentrate on details and especially lowering water consumption.
We know that there is a lot of work involved to practice excellent sustainable tourism but at Düsternbrook Safari Ranch we will accept the challenge to further improve our score in the 5 flower section which is currently at 91%. 95% would be a next goal and is achievable is also a nice. Just to reach a goal is not the aim, the practical advantage is the road to get there. With our current level of 5 flowers and cheaper solar panels today we can also produce more electrical power during the day but also train the staff to use electricity more wise for example.
Health and Safety is an permanent important issue in Namibia so health awareness should be maintained at all times.
Besides that we will in future establish a 3 month internship program in tourism and guiding for our local high school graduates in order to give some graduates the opportunity to gain valuable after-school or pre-job experience. This could help them to find easier another job elsewhere. The program would cover all operational areas of the farm, including kitchen/waitressing, reception/bookings, office skills, room cleaning gardening and guiding.
To reduce energy consumption was at a stage counter socio-economic development but now the living standard has gone up and it would be wise to use it more efficient. So a better awareness program for staff and guests could be the road to follow. Furthermore a staff appraisal system will be followed up in future and also the more guide training on different subjects.
What's more? On the wildlife side we have measured the home range of our wild leopards. Much more has to be done to fight bush encroachment BUT NOT with poison only with natural burning if there is enough grass. Alien vegetation should be removed from the yard and farm property.
At the beginning of year 2011 we had a scientist here who made a baseline study of our farm to detect/ find out the dimension of the scrub/vegetation encroachment. The aim was to fight against the bush encroachment with controlled burning. End of september 2011 we had a big fire, which came from the neighbour and 4500 hct were burned. (that wasn’t planned but the effect was fantastic). In september 2012 there were a rangeland forum in Windhoek and for the practical part Düsternbrook was chosen to show the positive effect of fire relating bush encroachment. The action/ measure to reduce the concentration of bushes, is called Rangeland or Habitat Management. That will be on top of the priority list in the following years, for establishing /(holding) the natural balance between bush population and grass land. In 2014 we burned another 500 ha artificially with our own developed system. The success you could see again after the rain season. The ash goes directly into the ground the grass is more fertile and tastes better. I fully support the natural system which is fire with least collateral damage as it has been here for thousand of years. What has grown from that soil MUST go back to the soil and not used as bio fuel as you take important nutrients away from the soil to make it more fertile. Chemistry or poison is not the answer!!!!
By 2013 our solar energy system was in place. We know that this required capital but in this way we could reduce environmental costs.
At Düsternbrook we sometimes offer more in-house training in e.g. English and German, computer and other relevant skills, for the employees who did not have the chance to do that at school. Some guests have spent us to used laptops and some of the employees got training in handling with it, so that they can also manage some small things on the computer.
In conclusion, we are aware of the changes we need to make and we are dedicated to implementing these changes within the next few years. Suggestions and comments are always welcome.