Thursday, October 28, 2021

Adventure into the deep in search of conservation

The thought of travelling here; a place close to where the first citizen of Botswana performed a ground breaking activity for a multi-million Pula project – Mohembo Bridge – brought great exhilaration onto my mind.

The fact that the President’s journey here previously marked a kick-start of a project that would lead to Botswana being smoothly connected to other countries for future economic advancements added value to the purpose for which I joined researchers here – environmental conservation, sustainable development, food security and rural community empowerment projects.

The more than 800 kilometres journey in a double-cab was nothing less than a fruitful escapade.

We discussed how Botswana politics seem to lead to one a party state because of lack of commitment in the opposition.

Throughout the night we drove through villages, big and small, towns and settlements. By the wee hours of Thursday July 6; the first day of capacity building workshop we were driving on narrow, pot-holed road, through thick and high trees; here and there wild animals showing that we are approaching our destination – Shaikarawe.

It was 3 15am when a sign board directed us to where Mohembo is. At Shell filling Station a security guard directed us to a road heading towards Botswana/Namibia border turning left on a gravel road to Gani, a settlement 15km South West of this Shaikarawe. Soon we joined the team at the camp. The sandy soil of Shaikarawe gave answers as to why Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources used 4×4 off road vehicles.

Clicks of Sesarwa language as our hosts prepared our breakfast awoke me and I was a bit shocked to find myself lying on a shelter whose roof was so close to my bed. I was in a new place. A new environment! I was happy. A part of a research team. And who am I? A compassionate conservationist born on the day the world selected to be World Environment Day (WED).

By outlandish residents of Shaikarawe are compassionate conservationists who have lived with a jealously protected environment for decades; depending on its resources for livelihood. Handouts in the form of poverty eradication goods have not deterred them from this initiative. The elderly here have over the years handed over the conservation task to their youth.

“I am the chairperson of Shaikarawe Conservation Area, a CBO whose mandate is to conserve our forest. This was triggered by the realisation that people come from across the Namibian border to recklessly cut our trees. We have lots of fruit trees, medicinal ones and industrial ones – those used for construction of shelter and other uses,” explains Martin Smith in an interview.

He adds that the Community Based Organisation motivates youth to conserve their environment. They also train them on the tracking of wild animals. Furthermore, the CBO hosts cultural events annually to ensure that all members of the community understand culture through poems, songs and names of trees and their uses.

“When we first came here for need assessment, they gave us a list of indigenous plants they want to invest on. Many chose Mongongo and we have since done a thorough research on this and indeed it has good nutritional value. Today we are conducting a capacity building workshop. Tomorrow we will conclude by selecting a team from here for a two-week intensive training at Sebele-BUAN,” revealed Dr Rosemary Kobue-Lekalake, the head of the research team.

Her team comprises: Ompelege Matenanga, a Food Scientist who is also a Research Assistant, Kholwani Bagayi, an Msc student at BUAN, who in the project deals with pest issues, Thebeyame Makoyi, an Environmental Scientist, who in the project deals with maps and GIS issues and Goitsemodimo Makati whose assignment is in the Green House – dealing with seedlings. Other members are Dr Keneilwe Kgosikoma and Dr Seo Tshwenyane.

The seemingly determined participants, in a workshop where presentations were made in Setswana, interpreted in Sesarwa, agreed that the indigenous veld products’ entrepreneurship was not imposed on them. The participants and their guests shared information on how the Mongongo plant was processed; both the indigenous way and the modern way. They also came to know of the pests that might hamper production of the plant. Lekalake brought joy unto them by revealing that their research have also established that the Mongongo plant oil has the potential to help prevent Cancer.

“Mongongo contains between 55-60 percent oil. Therefore, 1kg should yield approximately 500ml oil. The young people who are interested in taking up the technology at different stages of the value chain will be trained in the respective areas of their interest eg, some are interested in cultivating the plant; others want to make perfumes and lotions from the oil; others want to extract the oil and sell it; others are interested in the instant porridge,” said Dr Kobue-Lekalake.

Dubbed, “Cultivation, value addition and marketing of climate smart emerging crops to improve food security in Botswana”, this project in sponsored by Southern African Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management (SASSCAL) with tune of P2.7 million.

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