Wetlands like the Okavango Delta areas located in the global south have become important sites of programmes for economic development, particularly agricultural production, and international tourism. The Okavango Delta is attractive because of its rich natural resources such as permanent water supply, wildlife, riverine and forest products.
However, modern state institutions, policies and other regulatory measures developed by the Government of Botswana to direct economic programmes in the wetland have disrupted long established the customary and usufructory access to land and environmental livelihood resources that form the bases of the socioeconomic practices and cultural identities of the indigenous and other communities that reside within. This somehow causes conflicts between residents of the Okavango Delta and traditional communities.
The Okavango Delta is, paradoxically, one of the most fragile ecosystems in Botswana, even though its rich and unique diversity of flora and fauna continue to be promoted as a premier tourism attraction. Increasing demands for economic development have intensified overt resource competition in the delta between differentially positioned land users and interest groups, most notably for water resources as 80 per cent of Botswana consists of drought-prone Kalahari rangeland.
In the last 30 years, the successful international marketing of the Okavango Delta as a major nature and wildlife tourist destination has been accompanied by an increasing commoditization and privatization of choice wetland and adjacent sandveld areas. These alienations, together with the burgeoning tourist market for handicraft, have induced scarcities of natural livelihood resources in the subsistence economies of delta communities.
Another competitive land use activity similarly increasing pressure on natural resources is beef production, for which compliance with European Union (EU) import regulations has necessitated the erection of veterinary fences cordoning off wide expanses of the Okavango Delta since the 1980s. Beef exports are a monopoly controlled by the government-established Botswana Meat Commission which is the third largest national economic sector after the tourism sector.
The continued “alienation of ancestral and traditional homelands” in the Okavango Delta, the establishment of Moremi Game Reserve and the ongoing promotions of international wildlife/ nature tourism, and for the establishment of buffer zones introduced by veterinary fences catering, ultimately, to protect European beef markets, have escalated contentions over resource use between delta communities, state bodies and outside agencies implementing these programmes.
Research has shown that when subsistence livelihoods are threatened, the rural poor predictably resort to overexploitation of natural resources for survival. In many parts of the world, environmental degradation has resulted caused by the growing numbers of poor people just because these poor people are trying to meet basic survival needs on a day-to-day basis. People everywhere compete for the natural resources they need or want to ensure the sustainability of their livelihoods.
Clearly, there is a direct link between officially sanctioned and enforced restrictions on subsistence supports and the contestation among various communities as well as with outside commercial interests that compete to enhance or secure their own profits. Formal or informal negotiations to address these conflicting interests are, inter alia, hampered by ineffective government intervention strategies and, more specifically, poor communication between policymakers, policy implementers and resource end-users.
Consequently, some displaced communities will be more likely than others to circumvent institutionalized regulations and controls, say by resorting to poaching or ‘illegal’ hunting just to meet survival needs. It is from this standpoint that lasting solutions are required to address the conflicting interest of stakeholders in the Okavango Delta.