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One of the recurring themes that is recited over and over by different researchers and organisations is whether communities living in the Okavango World Heritage Property receive enough benefits from the property.
The Okavango River Delta and its immediate environs, otherwise known as Ngamiland has a human population of about 195,547 people. Over 95% of the people directly or indirectly rely on the natural resources found in the wetland to sustain their livelihoods. The Okavango River Basin has an ethnically mixed population with groups such as the Basarwa, Bayei, Bakgalagadi, Bambukushu, Basubiya, Batawana, Baherero and many others.
Each group living in the Okavango World Heritage Property has its own distinct livelihood strategy. For example, Bayei tend to engage in fishing while Basarwa in the olden days largely hunted gathered. In contrast, Batawana and Baherero are ‘typical’ livestock farmers. Bambakushu are more involved in arable farming.
In this regard, the delta and its surroundings are used to support the livelihoods of the local population (e.g. arable and livestock farming, hunting and gathering) and for commercial purposes such as fishing and tourism. The delta’s resources are further used by Community Based Organisations (CBOs) as a mixture of livelihood and commercial activities.
The recurring theme by critics is that CBOs in the Okavango World Heritage Property are not benefiting from tourism development. It is critical to note that there are communities involved in tourism development through their CBOs while other communities do not have CBOs hence are not directly involved in tourism development.
In addition, the level of community benefits from those with CBOs and involved in tourism differs from one to the other. Some CBOs benefit more while others do not befit at all despite the existence of a CBO in their village,
For those involved in tourism through their CBOs, critics argued that they are selling tourism products in their allocated Controlled Hunting Areas without necessarily knowing the economic or tourism value of these products. Through the community based Natural Resources Management programme, communities are allocated/leased concession areas otherwise known as Controlled Hunting Areas (CHAs) by Land Boards.
In addition, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) allocates a wildlife quota to communities. As such, the different communities and their Trusts generate huge amounts of monies from tourism activities being carried out in these CHAs or concession areas. For example, in 2021, OKMCT generated P7,831,071.00, PALEKA generated P7,000.000.00, CECT generated P5,600,000.00, OCT generated P 5, 800,000.00.This revenue is generated through the following: i) land rentals where the concession area (CHAs) is sub-leased out to a safari tourism company to carry out either photographic or trophy hunting activities, ii)selling of wildlife quota to safari hunting company which in turn sell animals to hunters from Europe and America, and in some Trusts develop campsites and lodges.
The dilemma is that Trusts sub-lease their CHAs to safari companies without knowing the value of the concession area and natural resources found in it. Trusts also sell the hunting quota without knowing the value of the quota or each animal. This is a tragedy because communities are loosing millions of dollars in the process of sub-leasing the CHA or selling a wildlife quota.
This approach to tourism by communities make communities to have very little to do with the management, monitoring, or practicalities of running a tourism business. In addition, some Boards of Trustees members are reported to engage in corrupt practices as well as misappropriation and mismanagement of funds. We can only hope that one day, communities will know the value of their tourism product and take control of the community-based tourism industry.