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In Botswana, flood recession farming commonly known as molapo farming is largely carried out in the Okavango Delta and to some extent in the Chobe River area. Molapo farming is an important land use and livelihood activity for poor and vulnerable communities living on its fringes of the Okavango Delta. As such, molapo farming is mainly practised by subsistence farmers. Molapo farming depends on natural (flood) waters of the Okavango River.
The floodwaters originate in Angola and in March/April the flood peaks at Shakawe in northern Ngamiland and spreads gradually throughout the Okavango Delta. In Maun the water level starts to rise about three or four months later (June-August). Depending on rainfall in the Angolan highlands, the timing and level of the flood vary considerably from year to year. When the floods recede from the flood plains, farmers cultivate their farms located along the river banks or floodplains.
Crops mature earlier and yields are higher in the molapo system because of moisture availability due to periodic flooding. It is important to note that there are two different systems of crop farming in the Okavango region: dryland farming and flood recession or Molapo farming. About 75% of crop cultivation in Ngamiland consist of dryland fields which 25% of fields is molapo farming and is described as temporarily.
Since molapo farming takes place on small fields separated by strips of ‘natural’ floodplain, large scale land-clearing does not usually occur. Only a small-scale removal of some vegetation takes place. Other than that there is no clear evidence of largescale direct negative environmental impacts on the wetlands, especially because most fields are cultivated at low input levels (e.g. fertilizers are rarely used).
It is important to note that there are two different systems of crop farming in the Okavango region, namely: dryland farming and flood recession or Molapo farming. About 75% of crop cultivation in Ngamiland consist of dryland fields which 25% of fields is molapo farming and is described as temporarily. A total of about 14.5% of the economically active population of Ngamiland is employed in agriculture.
As a result, arable agriculture is the most important livelihood activity for over 23% of households in rural areas of the Okavango Ramsar site. Molapo cultivation is found in the floodplains at the western and south eastern fringes of the Delta, especially in the Tubu and Shorobe-Matlapaneng areas. The BaYei consider themselves “river people” grow maize in the floodplains while sorghum is planted in the higher, drier parts of a molapo field.
Although molapo farming has been carried out for decades in the Okavango, it has challenges. Firstly, Tawana Land Board does not recognise it and does not issue farmers who practice it lease certificates. Secondly, due to changes in flood level and distribution patterns in recent years, some molapo fields do not get flooded every year and are cultivated under rainfed conditions.
An extreme example of natural fluctuations is the drying up of the Thaoge river, formerly the main tributary for the Tubu floodplains in western Ngamiland. Consequently, some of the major molapo cultivation areas between Habu and Gumare had to be abandoned.
Finally, molapo farming is considered a potential threat to the ecological functioning of the Delta, through use of inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. Consequently, farmers have been discouraged from practicing molapo farming on floodplains hence Tawana Land Board does not issue land certificates for molapo farming.
However, farmers involved in molapo farming note th, ploughing in floodplains minimizes cutting of trees and renders use of fertilizer unnecessary due to annual deposition of nutrients through flood waters. It is critical to note that Indigenous Knowledge (IK) plays an important role in molapo farming. As such, sustainable molapo farming requires the use of IK within an Integrated Land Use Planning process in the Okavango area. It is also important to acknowledge that even though the Okavango Delta is known for wildlife-based tourism, there are hundreds of people whose livelihoods are sustained by the floods of the Okavango River Delta. As such the Okavango River Delta should be conserved by all who live in it and rely on natural resources found in it.