Science’s role in natural resource decisions

18 Oct 2018

Botswana recently hosted the Consortium of African Funds for Environment (CAFÉ) general assembly in Kasane whose objective is to provide a sustainable source of financing to the different national park systems across Africa. The consortium attracted participants from Africa and South America.

Welcoming delegates at the event, Chobe District Chairperson, Paul Chabaesele highlighted the importance that natural resources play in the livelihoods of people in the town.

“We are a small town greatly endowed with natural resources. We are constantly training our people to be vigilant in sand extraction and waste dumping. We have partnered with a Swedish municipal to do more green projects; such as those for re-use and recycling of waste. We are determined to come up with projects that will help us mitigate and adapt to climate change impacts.” Another speaker, the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama informed delegates how the town would in the future be turned into a ‘green town’ through various green projects that would be implemented in the town.

Although the use of natural resources is intuitively thought to be associated with rural areas, research has shown that such resources form an important part of livelihoods across peri urban and urban landscapes as well.

Numerous researchers have come up with some research projects to ensure scientific information is conveniently conveyed for the benefit of all. One such is the Centre for Conservation of African Resources: Animals, Communities and Land use (CARACAL). This is a field based non-profit, non-governmental organisation, which was started in 2001 in recognition of the need to integrate traditional and scientific understanding of natural resources and promote partnership between Government and local communities in natural resource management.

Their projects include the development of conservation and research programs which contribute to sustainable wildlife utilisation, wildlife conflict resolution, and endangered species management, rescue of injured wildlife, ecosystem health, and training of government staff, communities and school children for natural resource management.

A particularly interesting one is titled; ‘Conserving and maintaining forestry resources & services in Northern Botswana; sustaining community livelihoods through improved management and early warning frame works in Chobe District’.

The project was sponsored by Forest Conservation Botswana to the tune of P1, 432, 389 and its purpose was to undertake assessment of threats to hardwood forest resources and regeneration management in Chobe.

It was conceptualized due to the fact that forests in the Chobe District are utilized heavily for subsistence farming, livestock grazing, timber extraction for building, medicine and fuel and if not managed proactively may impact forest resources persistence, degrading opportunities and services, threatening rural livelihoods of communities.

Furthermore it was conceptualized for water-restricted environments that experience strong seasonal differences such as those found in Botswana. Loss of trees and forest biodiversity in these systems can jeopardize ecosystem functioning, as well as vital ecosystem services that are essential for the well-being of wildlife, humans in general and vulnerable rural communities in particular.

The research report was expected to identify drivers of changes in forest resources and suggest measures.

“Grass land and bare cover, in particular, increased from 1990 -2003 but declined substantially during the subsequent time. Fire detections varied greatly year to year and among the different protected areas, with the forest reserves and communally manageg lands tending to burn more frequently than the Chobe national Park,” conclusion of the study reads in part. It further indicates that fire frequency increased in years of high rainfall, particularly when annual rainfall exceeded the long term annual projection of 632mm. However, it continues, loss of woodlands was significantly associated with fire only in locations experiencing 15 or more ignitions during the 2001-2013.

“Although elephants are often cited as a major cause for woodland degradation in Northern Botswana, we did not detect significantly higher woodland losses in areas of high elephant biomass estimated from aerial surveys,” it states.

The study also highlights that changes in frequency as a result of increased climate variability across the Southern African region may have profound effects on the distribution of woodlands in savanna systems.

In one of the articles the researchers published shows that “Urban and peri-urban households reported use of a broad range of natural resources highlighting the importance of these products in transitioning landscapes.

  “Across the study villages, natural resources harvesting occurred predominantly on communal land. Primary barriers to resource access were perceived to be strict government regulations and decreasing resource availability. Natural resource commercialization was identified as potential opportunity for early intervention but was often carried out only on a small scale.”

The article published in ELSIEVER Journal states that continued reliance on natural resources, raises important planning questions about how to ensure both the ongoing conservation of forested and other natural areas, and the availability of associated resources for urban livelihoods.

“In this regard, small urban towns that are rapidly transitioning from rural landscapes provide a targeted opportunity for early intervention. Our findings underpin the vital role that natural areas play in supporting the livelihoods of the urban poor and highlight the need to encourage land designation and management of such areas not only for conservation but also as a safety net for vulnerable urban households.”

Study villages were located in northern Botswana and incorporated one urban settlement-Kasane one peri-urban settlement-Kazungula and one rural village-Lesoma. Kasane, which borders the Chobe National Park is the administrative center for the district and is connected by paved roads to urban centers in the rest of Botswana, Zambbia, and Zimbabwe. All these areas are located adjacent to protected areas. State owned reserves surround each of these settlements. Both the forest reserves and the communal land included in the study, occur within the Zambezi Woodlands ecoregion which is a dominated forest, woodland, thicket, and secondary grasslands region with a hot semi-arid climate.

Researchers indicated that village respondents participating in the study were more likely to be female and unemployed. However, instruction and questions were designed to obtain responses that represented the household rather than the individual being interviewed, mitigating gender bias to some extent.

“While not significant, survey household demographics highlighted a tendency towards higher profile in both the urban and peri-urban areas versus an aging population in the rural setting. Respondents in all three areas showed a high rate of unemployment as well as single heads of household, both men and women. Household sizes tended to be large with between five and ten members and with most households, across study areas, using a combination of fuel wood and electricity for meeting their power needs.”

The researchers emphasise that despite the widespread use of natural resources identified in this study, distinction needs be made between culturally preferred practices, and dependencies that arise from livelihood shortfalls. Cultural preferences can be an important drivers of wild food use, influencing what products are harvested, and which are harvested and which are sought in urban markets and/or imported at high cost. For example, reports that wealthier households tend to utilise both rural and urban resources as accumulation strategies while poorer households often navigate the rural-urban continuum for survival. In the study, rural households in Lesoma reported significant interest in using more natural resources while urban populations in Kasane and Kazungula expressed the desire to be less reliant on these resources.