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Protected areas

Transcending frontiers

When contiguous ecosystems straddle national borders, it makes sense for countries to manage conservation areas together. Cross-border cooperation can succeed if national laws are harmonised, the necessary infrastructure is put in place and all actors and affected parties become involved.
Local kayak guides with the evaluation team in Sendelingsdrif at the border river Orange. Buchberger Local kayak guides with the evaluation team in Sendelingsdrif at the border river Orange.

Ecosystems do not stop at national borders. Accordingly, efforts to manage protected areas across international boundaries are growing. The double goal of Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs) is to preserve biodiversity and foster sustainable local-level socio-economic development. In the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a regional organisation made up of 15 member states, there are 18 TFCAs. Successful implementation cannot be taken for granted however. Poor cross-border coordination, lacking community involvement and other problems may thwart success.

In order to promote cross-border management of natural resources, SADC and GIZ have been cooperating in a regional TFCA programme since 2012. Pilot projects have been designed to facilitate learning and improve cross-border cooperation. Per project, funding worth € 50,000 was made available. For a project, two partner agencies, one from either side of the border, must implement measures together in nine months.

Four of nine projects have already been evaluated and allow us to draw first conclusions concerning what makes cross-border cooperation successful. We will elaborate these matters on the basis of two pilot projects related to tourism.

The first project concerned the Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park (ARTP), which links protected areas in Namibia and South Africa. ARTP contains one of the world’s most species-rich semi-arid ecosystems. As part of the “Desert Kayak Trails” pilot project, a kayak tour was de­signed on the Orange River. This river marks the border between the two countries. National-park agencies from both Namibia and South Africa are involved in the project, led by Namibia Wildlife Resorts, a parastatal institution.

The second project concerns the ­Lubombo Mountains, which belong to the Lubombo Conservancy-Goba TFCA (LCG TFCA) in Mozambique and Swaziland. The Lubombo Conservancy in Swaziland comprises several protected areas with different statuses. The stakeholders have organised in an NGO that is also called Lubombo Conservancy.

Cross-border network of trails

On the Mozambican side, the Goba district has been made part of the TFCA. However, it does not yet have legal conservation status. The project “Mhlumeni Goba Community Tourism and Conservation Initiative” was supposed to build a cross-border network of trails for hiking, mountain biking and all-terrain vehicle tours, including eco-lodges and campsites operated by local communities. On behalf of partner communities on both sides of the border, the pilot project was planned by the Lubombo Conservancy NGO in cooperation with the Maputo office of an Italian NGO.

Cross-border TFCAs depend on pre-existing structures. In the case of ARTP, there are established park agencies on both sides of the border, and the TFCA is administered by the Park Management Committee, which includes park managers from both protected areas as well as a leading manager from Namibia Wildlife Resorts.

The partners are responsible for day-to-day management, joint planning of conservation measures and developing the infrastructure for tourism. Both governments cooperate at the policy-making level. The pre-existing structures facilitate cross-border cooperation, including when it comes to new projects like “Desert Kayak Trails”.

Cooperation should take place at eye-level moreover. In the LCG TFCA, both partners are NGOs with similar points of departure, interests and expertise. That should have been a solid foundation for successful collaboration. However, they were not involved in project design and discussions with SADC/GIZ equally. The Swazi partner, Lubombo Conservancy NGO, implemented most of the project activities and was also in charge of managing the funds. Its dominant role led to frictions and, ultimately, to the end of co­operation.

Successful cooperation, moreover, requires the participation of all parties concerned at the local, regional and national levels. In the case of ARTP, these parties included officers at the ministerial level as well as representatives of local communities, who stand to benefit from the pilot project. Accordingly, successful long-term cooperation looks probable. However, it would be good to involve community members in the project and in the management of the TFCA even more in the future.

Another decisive issue is the existing infrastructure, including roads, border crossings and communication networks. In the case of LCG TFCA, a solidly paved road links the protected areas, and a border checkpoint is open around the clock.

Cross-border projects tend to link areas with diverging socio-cultural, political and economic backgrounds. In order for binational projects to succeed, these local contexts must be taken into account and measures designed accordingly. The people who are in charge of implementation must have a good understanding of the entire project region. In doubt, it is necessary to carefully assess the environmental and social contexts, the needs of local communities, possible conflicts of interest and other potential risks in advance.

In the case of LCG TFCA, project partners lacked knowledge of the grassroots reality in Mozambique. They were insufficiently informed about existing institutions, lingering social tensions, the protection status of the area and other matters. Poor information and incorrect assumptions resulted in cooperation with a partner organisation that did not adequately represent the community. The role and responsibilities of this organisation remained unclear. Furthermore, administrative structures and internal conflicts were ignored. Ultimately, the grassroots communities were not involved and cooperation failed.

Cross-border cooperation is obviously made easier when the laws of both countries are harmonised. For instance, visa regulations within a TFCA have a bearing on cross-border tourism. The ARTP, how­ever, does not have border posts at all points where kayak tourists cross over from one country into the other. Due to an agreement between Namibia and South Africa, however, there is the possibility to liberate tourists from visa requirements, as long as they remain within the TFCA.

The successes and failures of both tourism projects can be summarised as follows:

  • In the ARTP, successful cooperation on kayak tourism created the first permanent binational team in this business. It consists of park-management personnel and kayak tour guides from the surrounding communities who were hired by the project. A test run was successful this spring, and commercial kayak-tour operations were set to begin in October. Based on these experiences, the TFCA management is planning additional tourism projects with greater participation from local communities.
  • Conversely, the pilot project “Mhlumeni Goba Community Tourism and Conservation Initiative” in the LCG TFCA failed. The Lubombo Conservancy NGO is the only partner that remains committed to the project. It is now doing a belated assessment of the situation and looking for a new long-term partner. Preparatory activities and confidence-building measures are being planned for future work with the Mozambican community.

Laura Rupp participated in the project “Cross-border natural resource management in the SADC region” as part of her post-graduate studies at the Centre for Rural Development (SLE) of Humboldt Universität zu Berlin.

Maxi Springsguth also participated in the project “Cross-border natural resource management in the SADC region” as part of her post-graduate studies at the Centre for Rural Development (SLE) of Humboldt Universität zu Berlin.

Alfons Üllenberg is working as independent consultant in the field of development cooperation and was the team leader within the framework of the SLE project to evaluate GIZ projects aimed at improving cross-border natural resource management in the SADC region.


Study: Evaluating cross-border natural resource management projects.
SADC TFCA network portal:


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