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Developing countries of Latin America, Asia and Africa are the fastest-growing destinations of international tourism. About 30 per cent of all international tourist arrivals are in developing countries; this proportion has nearly tripled over the past 20 years. The tourism industry has grown to become the world’s largest economic sector.
Thus, it has basically become one of the leading job creators in the world, creating more than 3 per cent of all global employment. Botswana, especially northern Botswana has become a key wildlife-based tourism destination in the world. Wildlife-based tourism in Botswana therefore means that wildlife resources are commodified for the tourism market, especially for the international market.
Commodification implies the “dominance of commodity exchange-value over use value and implies the development of a consumer society where market relations subsume and dominate social life and experiences that tourists are usually relatively happy to consume”. Commodification is thus a process through which objects and activities are categorised in a commercial context as goods and services after being evaluated according to their exchange values.
The commodification of wildlife resources for the tourism market either through trophy hunting and photographic tourism has various impacts on the livelihoods of local communities, on economic development, and on the natural environment.
That is, local communities earn income by participating in tourism, thereby increasing their cash flows. Also, tourism has many long-term dynamic impacts on the development of local economies and local people’s livelihoods and ultimately affecting their income, opportunities, and/or security. Commodification also affects the natural environment in which people live, as well as their social and cultural environment, thereby affecting their livelihoods and their overall well-being.
Wildlife resources were not commodified per say in the pre-colonial period of Botswana. However, during the colonial period, the use of wildlife changed. That is, the arrival of Europeans and the introduction of European trade in the 1850s and the subsequent colonisation of Botswana by the British in 1885 resulted in the commodification of wildlife resources in the country.
The commodification of wildlife resources led to the overharvesting of wildlife species since the trade was driven by profit-seeking without any consideration for the ecological consequences. The European trade expansion in Botswana is noted for having had tremendous effects on wildlife populations not only in the Okavango but the whole of Botswana.
To minimise the overharvesting of wildlife resources, the British colonial Government of Botswana (1885 – 1966) centralised wildlife resources and established protected areas. After independence from the British in 1966, Botswana continued with the creation of national parks and game reserves as wildlife sanctuaries where wildlife-based tourism activities can be undertaken.
The post-colonial government of Botswana passed the Wildlife Conservation Policy of 1986 and the Tourism Policy of 1990. These two policies are accredited for the introduction and expansion of wildlife-based tourism in Botswana. These policies facilitated the commodification of wildlife resources for the tourism market in Botswana. They resulted in the division of the country into WMAs and CHAs, which are concession areas leased to tourism companies either for photographic tourism and trophy hunting; this has further commodified wildlife resources in Botswana.
The growth of international tourism in northern Botswana has also created a window of opportunity to further commodify wildlife resources in the country. Wildlife is valued as a tourist attraction. The commodification of wildlife resources in Botswana for the tourism market is perceived by government to be promoting conservation, economic development and improved livelihoods of rural communities in the wetland. It is from this background that the principles of sustainable development should be observed while promoting and commodifying wildlife resources of Botswana for the tourism market. The key theme of sustainable tourism and sustainable development is that tourism development should be based on environmental, socio-cultural, and economic pillars of sustainability.