A move to dole out food handouts to the communities in the Okavango Delta is a result of government ignoring early warnings from researchers and conservationists that foreign control of resources in the area would threaten the inhabitants’ livelihoods.
The introduction of mini food baskets to address the abject poverty in 2016/2017 by the Ministry of Local Government sums up University of Botswana Okavango Research Centre, Acting Director Professor Joseph Mbaiwa’s argument in his research paper titled “Enclave tourism and its socio-economic impacts in the Okavango Delta” that tourism industry has failed to contribute to rural poverty alleviation.
The government also ignored the International Union for Conservation of Union (IUCN) which bestowed President Ian Khama with Honourary Membership in recognition of his influence on issues of conservation and natural resources.
IUCN had warned that in the absence of unmanaged and uncontrolled expansions of human activities, predominantly associated with tourism, and foreign control of resources, was resulting in the abandonment of many traditional practices which could threaten the livelihoods of the inhabitants.
Okavango and Ngamiland communities suffer from abject poverty, according to a Statistics Botswana study conducted in 2015.
According to Minister of Local Government Slumber Tsogwane, the mini food packages targeting 4 300 families in Okavango will give them dignity and access to basic needs.
In his 2003 study, Mbaiwa argues that tourism contribution towards poverty alleviation was minimal due to foreign domination in ownership of tourism facilities, management positions as well as lower salaries for citizen workers.
Mbaiwa further emphasises that tourism as a result has a minimal economic impact on rural development due to its weak linkages with the domestic economy particularly agriculture.
“Because of its nature tourism in the Okavango Delta cannot be described as being more inclusive and beneficial. There is a need to adopt policies and strategies that will ensure that sustainable amounts of tourism revenue are retained in the Okavango and Botswana,” adds Mbaiwa.
University of KwaZulu-Natal researchers, Philippa Harrison and Brij Maharaj, also support Mbaiwa’s argument on their research paper titled “Tourism Impacts on Subsistence Agriculture’s – case study of Okavango Delta” that Botswana is grappling with developing a policy that will create among other things rural job creation.
They both argue that as the a major challenge facing Okavango Delta region in the 21st century is an attempt to support the tourism industry without compromising the traditional livelihoods of its local inhabitants.
“More specifically, as tourism increases economic growth and employment opportunities, it is becoming difficult for local inhabitants to sustain traditional subsistence agricultural livelihoods,” concludes both scholars.