Friday, July 12, 2024

Botswana has the edge on wildlife-based land use

Southern African countries, such as Botswana, have shown that ecological advantages of wildlife-based land use exceed the economic and financial benefits of land uses for agriculture, University of Pretoria Mammal Research Institute’s Dr. Peter Lindsey says. Lindsey said what gives Botswana the cutting edge lies in the fact that the country is ideally suited to wildlife-based land uses because of its huge size, the size of France, low human population densities and low and declining productivity of other land uses.

The developed world viewed Botswana as safe and democratic with a high degree of wildlife conservation commitment at the highest political level. Furthermore, the country is endowed with impressive park networks and amazing wildlife resources, the Okavango Delta in particular.

Wildlife has the potential to contribute to food security, protein production, foreign currency generation, employment creation and attracting donor funding.

Giving a talk of the potentials and constraints of wildlife-based land uses in southern Africa at the Kalahari Conservation Society AGM held in Gaborone last week, the University of Pretoria’s Mammal Research Institute guru said: “Where viable, ecotourism is the most profitable form of wildlife-land use creating the highest form of quality employment. Ecotourism contributes 78 percent and 62 percent of the overall economic value of wildlife in Botswana and Namibia. But it is only typically viable in areas with exceptional scenery, high densities of wildlife and good infrastructure access. Apart from ecotourism being susceptible to local, regional and international political instability, it can suffer from high level of leakage of revenues.

“In the same vein as ecotourism, trophy hunting, if managed properly, is completely sustainable. Botswana generates more income per hunting client than any other country in Africa. For instance, through trophy hunting, Botswana generated 15 percent of tourism revenues from only 1 percent of tourist arrivals. Other benefits from wildlife use include biltong and skin sales.

“To address factors limiting the growth of photo-tourism, there is need to improve air access to Botswana from international destinations, develop infrastructure within and access to underdeveloped parks, Wildlife Management (WHAs) and Commercial Hunting Areas (CHAs).

“In Botswana, data from 2002 suggested that the wildlife industry generates 4.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) from 40 percent of the country’s land, whereas livestock generates 3 percent from 60 percent of the land. Agriculture, which primarily was a livestock domain, currently creates 5 000 jobs whereas tourism accounts for 15 000 jobs.”

He said, however, subsidies which artificially inflate the profitability of livestock relative to wildlife land uses have emanated from state investment in veterinary controls, international grants to assist compliance with EU import standards of beef, cheap loans for livestock farmers, state-supported livestock support services and drought relief, tax deductable nature of livestock related capital and lower municipal rates for livestock than game farms. Lindsey said Botswana had come up with recommendations for wildlife-land uses culminating in the community based natural resources management (CBNRM).

“Where CBRNM is effective, there is realisation of local identity, democracy and local government structures.” The recommendations included CBNRM reform; pursuance of proper devolution of user rights such that communities retain income from wildlife and play a central role in decision-making on their land. It involved adopting similar land uses with similar levels of investment granted to livestock production. The process also called for maximising the flexibility of the industry by allowing market forces and landholder preferences to dictate the practical form of wildlife-use.

He said: “The review of wildlife laws would be yield more results through creating more effective deterrents for poaching better enforced through anti-poaching and stringent sentencing. Encouraging the practice of wildlife-based land uses on appropriate scales, for example, would reduce the fragmentation of land into smaller fenced units. When designing veterinary controls and fencing, the incumbents should be cognizant of the impacts on wildlife and potential for wildlife-based land uses. For instance, veterinary fencing caused mass die-offs of wildlife and continues to prevent recoveries; restrict wildlife translocations and movement of game meat.”

Lindsey said, however, like the rest of the region, in Botswana there exist a number of constraints preventing the value of wildlife from being harnessed to full potential. Failure to incentivise wildlife-based land uses on adequate spatial scales and obscure land reform, pose challenges and opportunities for their development. He pointed out that key constraints included the lack of support, misconception that wildlife poses a threat to food security, lack of awareness of wildlife benefits exacerbated with a lack of support and investment, preferential support of livestock. Failure to devolve user rights adequately and lack of authority over wildlife and limited decision making powers denied communities in Botswana had resulted in 65% of revenues from CBNRM accruing to the state. Inadequate wildlife laws and enforcement left illegal hunting and the bush meat trade, a sub-Saharan scourge, undeterred.

However, key concerns limiting the potential development of the wildlife sector in Botswana involve increasing habitat loss, declining wildlife populations and restrictions of trophy hunting.

Lindsey said similar CBNRM land-use devolutions of authority were eventually granted to residents of communal lands in some countries, Botswana included, now practised on land covering in total over 400 000 square kilometres. However, the extent of the devolution and thus success of wildlife as land use on communal land has been quite variable within regional countries.

In a nutshell, due to wildlife in southern Africa’s comparative advantage, nowhere on Earth can compete with the region in terms of the diversity, abundance and charismatic wildlife. Research from the low veldt of Zimbabwe showed a shift from livestock to wildlife ranching resulted in a gradual recovery in rangeland condition, which had suffered continued degradation under the former (livestock). The tangible results in gradual recovery of rangelands have contributed to achieving requirements of multilateral environmental agreements like the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification as well as the UN Framework on Climate Change.
For instance, the most successful wildlife land use by far is Namibia with 76 conservancies covering 150 000 square kilometres. Communities receive R175 million annually for hunting and tourism and harvest 315 000 kilogrammes of meat, creating 1350 permanent and 1500 part-time jobs.

Empirical research has shown that out of the 16 500 to 23 000 tonnes of game meat produced in Namibia, 97% was consumed locally. Furthermore, there has been significant complete turnaround in wildlife population trends and major increases in the abundance of most wildlife species, with 1.8 to 2.8 million head of game on ranches. There have been recoveries in populations of several threatened and endangered species, especially for Hartman’s zebra, black-faced impala, elephant, black rhino and lion.

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