Wednesday, June 7, 2023

BirdLife Botswana embarks on conservation projects in Makgadikgadi

Botswana won international acclaim recently when the Okavango was declared a United Nations Scientific Educational and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site. This seems to have motivated various environmental conservation stakeholders in the country to step up efforts and conservation and preservation of the country’s pristine natural resources. The Makgadikgadi Salt Pans are currently enjoying massive attention because of this drive.

Civil society, the private sector and stakeholders from within government have stepped up efforts to turn the breeding grounds of flamingoes in the Makgadikgadi pans into a protected area and also ensure participation and projects’ ownership by communities in the area. In areas where the hunting ban imposed by government has negatively impacted communities, measures are put in place to ensure that community trusts are not negatively affected.

A number of corporate partners have come on board, among them mining giant Debswana, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Small Grants Program (SGP) and Global Environment Facility (GEF). All of them have readily provided funding to support the on-going projects. BirdLife Botswana provides expertise in natural resources management while government departments facilitate monitoring and lands allocations.

The Director of Birdlife Botswana, Dr. Kabelo Senyatso revealed in an interview that the NGO is engaged in three projects with various stakeholders. The first project, titled “improving knowledge and understanding of migration needs of threatened birds in Orapa Park” is conducted in partnership with Debswana. Senyatso said BirdLife Botswana spent time compiling action plans for the projects to ensure that the outcomes of projects implementation would show evidence based input.

“The project has been on-going and it’s in the second of its three years implementation period. It has three components that include supporting Orapa mine staff with identification and monitoring of bird species in the park, establishing whether expansion of the Orapa Park would maintain environmental protection and utilizing satellite transmission to monitor movement of the lapped-faced vultures. These vultures are found mostly in Botswana and their largest population lives in the Orapa area. Monitoring them would help us find out where they spend most of their time,” explained Dr. Senyatso.

He added that they will be able to establish whether the vultures spend time in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) or at people’s cattle posts, which would be problematic since some farmers poison wild animals.

Dr Senyatso added that they will be able to monitor the species to establish which species belong where, in what type of vegetation and which species are available during which season of the year. Consequently the researchers would be able to plan routes used by game scouts on game drives. The project will also enable game scouts to know which species are available in their parks so they can market them to clients.

For his part, Mbakiso Sebina, Community and Mine Closure Planning Coordinator at Orapa and Letlhakane Mines, said the decision to expand the park was reached after new mineral deposits were discovered outside the current mine fence. He added that since neighboring communities will be affected once the mine closes they have taken them on board in the tourism project.

The second project that Birdlife Botswana is involved in is the one titled “using sustainable land management (SLM) to improve the integrity of the Makgadikgadi ecosystem and secure the livelihoods of rangeland dependent communities” which was funded by the UNDP through GEF to the tune of US $935,677 (P7, 485,416). It is time framed for 2014-2017.

The project aims at increasing institutional capacity to effectively fulfill SLM and integrated land planning and creating awareness in different stakeholder groups of the importance and value of SLM. It was also developed to raise political and community support for and facilitates active involvement in SLM.

“We also target demonstration at site level of effective SLM and integrated land planning with case studies; tackling of soil organic carbon and soil erosion, reduction of livestock-induced bush encroachment,” said Dr Senyatso.

The leading government agency on this one is the District Planning Unit. Dr Senyato said it was only recently when residents of Boteti discovered the tourism sites potential that the Makgadikgadi and Sua pans possessed. Consequently, applications have been flowing into the land board offices in uncontrollable quantities seeking pieces of tourism business plots. He said this has informed inclusion of adaptation of Geographic Information System (GIS) based decision support tools, akin to the one being piloted by SAREP in Ngamiland. Apart from procuring for the land board hardware and software required for this product, training on the use of the tool will be provided. Once competency and datasets have been compiled, the project will support production of hard copy publications identifying priority/preferred land use options that minimize conflicts across this planning area.

As part of implementation, community development experts will hold participatory workshops with local institutions to introduce the SLM concept and skills development. In yet another project titled “empowering effective civil society participation in the implementation of the Makgadikgadi Framework Management Plan’, Birdlife Botswana seeks to strengthen CBO/NGO institutions for participation in planning and implementation of rangeland resources.

“We have discovered that many a time communities do not partake in decisions affecting them and their natural resources. With the Makgadikgadi area the situation is worsened by the district’s vast land and its geographical features. This leads to them having little or no input in the way their resources should be managed. Their ownership of whatever projects is thus limited,” said Senyatso.

Under this project therefore, his NGO and other stakeholders will train community clusters representatives on the use of monitoring kits. These include management effectiveness tracking tool, strategic environmental assessments and project management and fundraising. Its other objective is to improve range management in communal areas and promotion of multiple livelihoods system through sustainable harvesting, processing and marketing of veld products. It is under this objective that stakeholders will engage youth in areas that were affected by hunting bans to acquire guide licenses in areas like Phuduhudu and Moreomaoto. In Gweta and Dukwi residents will undertake falconry as a means to control the quelea bird.

“Rakops will be assisted to curb human wildlife conflict, especially poisoning of vultures which is common near Rakops. BLB will collaborate with Department of Wildlife and National Parks and educate farmers on the effective livestock management techniques,” he said.

This project is sponsored to the tune of P2, 198,000; of which P1, 328.000 by GEF/SGP while other undisclosed sources contributed P870, 000. The project runs from 2014 to 2017.


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