A battle is looming between Botswana’s powerful cattle interests and equally powerful tourism interests in a clash that is expected to split the country’s old boys club.
The fall out of climate change is forcing government into the comfortable decision of reviewing the redistribution of scarce water and grazing land among the country’s two biggest competing interests, cattle and wildlife.
In one corner there are cattle barons with powerful political influence among them former president Ketumile Masire and most of his former cabinet members. On the other corner are powerful tourism investors who share an interest with current president Lt Gen Ian Khama and his close associates who have invested heavily in the tourism industry.
For the first time in the history of Botswana, the dice seem loaded against cattle interests. A study on the “contribution of sustainable natural resources management systems to economic growth, poverty eradication and achievement of NDP 10 goals” a report of which was recently handed to the Minister of Finance and Development Planning suggests that Botswana should stake its future on wildlife and tourism as opposed to cattle farming.┬á The report among other things proposes “fewer subsidies for livestock in areas where water is needed for wildlife.” The recommendation against subsidies is in fact extended to the whole farming community. “Many agricultural subsidies are damaging. Subsidies to irrigation water in the form of less than full cost recovery pricing encourage over use of scarce water and hence water logging and soli salination.
“Boldly stated agricultural subsidies can encourage the production of environmentally harmful pollution, lead to excessive use of natural resources and often impose high costs on consumers, tax payers and government budget.”
The report argues that livestock ownership is associated with big farmers “therefore support for this sector, among other things, serves to widen income inequality which is already high in the country and has limited contribution to poverty eradication because it is not labour intensive.”
The report further states that agricultural subsidies increase the exploitation of natural resources and lead to unsustainable use of natural resources. “For example the loan schemes supporting the purchase of livestock for keeping in communal lands that are already over grazed around settlements tend to exacerbate the problem of over grazing and diminish the productive potentials of these rangelands.
“The agricultural sector in Botswana has become less sustainable and with increasing exposure to drought conditions the risks of engaging in this sector has increased and productivity has continued to decline”, states the report.
The research team then goes on to make a compelling argument for Botswana to invest in tourism: “the share of tourism employment in total employment is forecast to grow by 4, 2% each year between 2012 and 2022. This might even be an understatement as there is scope for Botswana to more effectively target tourism from rapidly growing Asian economies and Russia. In any event, this employment growth depends on attracting foreign leisure visitors to Botswana’s natural environment which is in competition with many other countries.” The report further states that Botswana’s major tourism asset is its incredible wildlife resources. Similar wildlife experiences are only to be found in Southern and Eastern Africa and as such Botswana’s potential competitors are located within the region. They provide a convincing argument that Botswana’s African wilderness status and icons is clearly the brand asset that differentiates the destination from its competitors. The Okavango Delta, the elephants of the Chobe and the San culture are highly marketable brand icons that contribute to the mystique and celebrity status of the destination. Consequently, sustainable natural resource management is essential to realise this projected growth and maintain employment benefits over time. CBNRM provide the greatest potential for nature based tourism to contribute to poverty eradication.