The management of biological diversity is a social and political process. Conservation areas such as the Okavango Delta, Chobe national park, Makgadikgadi Nxai Pan Game Reserve, Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Kalahari Transfrontier National Park are often located in areas where livelihoods are directly dependent on accessing environmental and natural resources.
In this regard, the environment is a vital component of modern-day politics and achievement of better livelihoods. Environmental Conservation is therefore an area which requires urgent political action and decision making.
In North western Botswana, politics and political decision making become handy when considering Climate change and its impact on livelihoods, dependency of rural livelihoods on the environment especially from the Okavango Delta and Chobe region, reliance of the tourism industry on the environment.
That is, designating certain areas or aspects of biological diversity as ‘protected’ or labelling them as ‘threatened’ often results in strict management of, or reduced access to those resources as is the case with national parks and game reserves in Northern Botswana. In 2014, the Okavango Delta was declared the 1000th World Heritage Site by UNESCO after Tsodilo Hills was equally declared a World Heritage Site in 2005. Who benefits or loses because of biodiversity conservation processes and is therefore central to understanding the conservation and political debate.
Conservation and environmental management often require national and international cooperation between governments, with agreements needing to be reached, to come to a decision on the best way to pursue environmental issues.
Take for example, the debate between the Global South and Global North on issues of photographic tourism, trophy hunting and funding of conservation initiatives. As a result, the role of social relations and political power in shaping access to, and control over natural resources as well as the distribution of costs and benefits from environmental exploitation are key issues in the political ecology or politics and conservation matters.
In the north western Botswana especially in the Okavango Delta, Chobe and Boteti regions, the costs of conservation have been borne by poor rural communities and the benefits have largely accrued to those in the tourism industry and central government.
When studying politics and processes in northern Botswana, it is easy to realize that biodiversity conservation policies have resulted in differential access to and control over the same resource, often at the expense of subsistence livelihoods. The Community-Based Natural Resource Management Policy of 2007 needs to be revised to ensure benefits to communities living and relying on environmental resources.
The reality therefore is that politics and both the national and local governments have a significant role to play in conservation of natural resources and environmental management. They can adopt and promote a green-friendly culture in society to inspire citizens and local businesses to reduce their carbon footprint while at the sametime befitting from natural resources in their surroundings. This approach and its impact of the total effort has an exponential effect that creates a win-win situation for everyone.
It is from this background that all the stakeholders such as communities, politicians and conservation experts need to consult with each other and discuss conservation of environmental resources and come up with well informed decisions, laws and regulations that will not only achieve conservation but improve the lives of the people in environmental rich areas such as northern Botswana where at times poverty reigns.