Community trusts in the Okavango region have welcomed the Enhanced Livelihoods and Natural Resource Management under Accelerated Climate Change (ELNAC) research project that aims on enhancing the human and wildlife co-existence, natural resource management and conservation in the Okavango Delta.
The project aims at creating a platform for the establishment of a collaborative, working relationship with communities to addresses the vivid and on-going human-wildlife conflict and failing conservation and development objectives in these areas.
There has always been an assumption that this conflict is caused by the current conservation paradigm, which stigmatised local communities as degrading agents and excluded them from managing the natural resources around them.
Research findings also indicate that not only livelihoods but also conservation outcomes are jeopardised through this process because disenfranchised local communities will resist conservation objectives brought by either the government or tourism management agencies.
University of Botswana ‘s Okavango Research Institute, which is spearheading the project on Wednesday hosted an introductory workshop to consult with the trusts and other stakeholders in Gumare.
The workshop’s main objective was to engage with the communities as well as seek suggestions on the components of research that would need further improvement, identify pertinent issues relating to land use conflicts, natural resource management, tourism and climate change among others.
Giving an overview of the project, Professor Richard Fynn said that the project will help to develop more effective and sustainable conservation models that better integrate livelihoods of local communities with conservation activities by scaling up the management of large landscapes and explicitly including key principles of scientific best practice and knowledge.
He noted that when communities are given a distinct area of sufficient size to manage, have decision-making and management rights over the area under strong local institutions and leadership (kgotla system and DiKgosi) and have a monitoring system in place to evaluate effects of their actions on the resource then the natural resources will be managed in a sustainable manner.
Through the project communities will be engaged on issues of governance, ecosystem and services quantification in combination with results from community workshops which will be done by the students from the institution.
Furthermore, they will be synthesised in land use planning to make recommendations on allocation of concessions to all local communities around the western side of the Delta, who are currently excluded from benefits of wildlife and tourism management rights.
Fynn added that capacity building of local communities to govern and manage natural resources will be done through; training in accountable finance procedures, development of downward accountable local institutions, training in natural resource monitoring and eco-rangers.
Tubu Community Development Trust chairperson Ompolokile Mavona lamented that they live in abject poverty though they have adequate natural resources around them which are however enjoyed by other people who are not from their village.
Mavona appreciated that the project will help and empower them in understanding conservation better and manage the natural resources within their reach rather than being spectators.
Nokaneng Community Developmet Trust Chairperson Keakgametse Katisa is of the view that the project will help direct the government on how best to manage conservation and natural resources if communities are given total custodianship to manage them.