The prohibition of hunting activities without immediately putting in place an alternative to address the impact of the ban such as loss of jobs from safari hunting, loss of game meat and loss of revenue has exposed and rendered local communities more vulnerable, researcher Israel Blackie, a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology- University of Botswana, has found.
Published in a Social Sciences journal cogent on May 02, 2019, Blackie’s research was on The impact of wildlife hunting prohibition on the rural livelihoods of local communities in Ngamiland and Chobe District Areas, Botswana. Respondents to questions posed during the research indicated that they were more likely to ignore government and/or connive with poachers. The majority (91.2%) of respondents in the study who include local communities’ heads of households and/or their representatives and key informants would like to see the wildlife hunting prohibition being reversed or lifted since they see wildlife hunting as playing a significant role in rural livelihoods.
Botswana Government has been caught up in a tricky situation where locals have been demanding the lifting of the hunting ban because of the worsening human-wildlife conflict while wildlife conservationists in Europe and USA threaten to boycott local tourism in objection to trophy hunting. Consequently, President Mokgweetsi Masisi and Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Kitso Mokaila have been appearing before different fora to explain Botswana’s position on the matter. At home, there is growing skepticism about the state’s perceived agenda of pleasing the developed world or global north at the expense of the local populace. The prevailing global norms as they affect national conservation policies continue to shape citizens and state relations particularly those residing in the northern districts of Botswana where the livelihood needs of human beings and wildlife habitat overlap.
Even though they were aware that wildlife hunting has been dominated by foreign hunting safari companies, respondents in Blackie’s research insisted that it had contributed to improvements in the rural livelihood. They count the losses due to the hunting ban to include loss of employment, loss of revenue to both CBOs and individual households and loss of game meat. One of the village elders in Gudigwa expressed this dissatisfaction with the hunting prohibition as follows:
“Government wants to eliminate the San culture so that maybe we could be the Batswana like them. We are no longer allowed to hunt even though our culture is intrinsically embedded to wildlife hunting. I wonder what kind of children we are going to raise who will not know even how to track down nor hunt wildlife. Gudigwa village is like a death trap. If we go to the north (NG22) of our village, we are prevented from doing so by the Wildlife and Botswana Defence Force under the pretext that we will otherwise be tempted to poach the wildlife. Yet again we are also prevented by the Bambukushu ethnic tribe to access developments which are located to the south en-route to townships such as Shakawe and Maun which are the modern centres where major developments are located. That’s why our children seem to be drinking lots of alcohol because they do not have much to do since introduction of hunting prohibition”, (80-year-old man, Gudigwa village).
The hunting prohibition has also led to local CBOs abandoning the provision of community benefits such as old age, orphans and disability allowances as well as students’ scholarships. Funding for these community benefits was mainly derived from revenue generated through the sale of community hunting quotas including the sale of wildlife by-products such as meat from hunting safaris.
“Lifting the wildlife hunting prohibition, therefore, could trigger an increased value chain as local communities partake in conservation of wildlife as it will generate employment,” Blackie concludes, adding that Government should maintain both consumptive and non-consumptive tourism according to the suitability of the CHAs. This is mainly because the prevailing wildlife management statutes such as the Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act (1992), CBNRM policy (2007) and the Wildlife Conservation Policy (2013) promote inclusive management and utilisation of natural resources, he observes. Further, Blackie reiterates that even when wildlife hunting was allowed, 322 elephants were successfully hunted out of the 396 elephant quota given by CITES (Botswana Wildlife Hunting Report, 2013). However, he cautions that lifting of the hunting prohibition should be exercised with caution lest communities continue to be exploited by professional hunting safari companies as has been the case before the 2014 hunting ban was enforced.
Blackie also concludes in the study that the decision to prohibit wildlife hunting was not necessarily the problem but rather the manner in which the decision was taken and implemented because it was announced without prior consultation with local communities who were only informed of the policy change. The study found that the implementation of the wildlife hunting prohibition was carried out without adequate consultation with local communities. Rather it was conveyed to local communities as a government policy directive.
This approach has “removed the sense of pride for owning land and natural resources” and thus created a perception that locals do not own the wildlife resources (including those in their CHAs). “Local communities now view the wildlife as state property, and any costs that arise out of wildlife is attributed to the government and therefore they demand full compensation for such costs (crop damage, livestock predation and loss of human life),” concludes Blackie.
Consultation at grassroots level would have been consistent with the principle of decentralising decision-making in community-oriented natural resources management programmes.
DeKock (2010) noted that the first CBNRM principle calls for decision-making at the lowest relevant level within the community where capacity to implement communal programmes or initiatives exists or can be built and thus create a sense of ownership. Similarly, Ngwira et al. (2013) also found that government plays a critical and major role in decision-making regarding the utilisation of natural resources in most southern African countries. They found that in many cases, usufruct rights are conferred by administrative decrees and management agreements instead of legislation and a right-based approach. Decentralising natural resource conservation creates an avenue for local communities to become more democratic and encourages effective participation unlike in centralised settings where leadership consolidation and organisational elitism are inevitable (Michaels, 1958). Decentralisation of decision-making in natural resources management to community levels is premised on the notion that greater participation in public decision-making is a positive good in itself and that it can improve efficiency, equity, development and resource management (Agrawal & Ribot, 1999).
Given that, local communities’ awareness of the natural capital around them matches or supersedes that of scientific enquiry (Table 4). Progressive conservation policies can be reinforced by taking into consideration the depth and wealth of indigenous ecological stewardship. The results of this study lend credence to the CBNRM policy’s claim that “local populations have greater interest in the sustainable use of natural resources found in their locality than a distant government or private management institution which may lack understanding and genuine interest in local environments” (CBNRM Policy, 2007, p. 1).
Discussions on why respondents want the hunting prohibition reversed revealed that the incessant appeals to lift the hunting ban are at the very least meant to provide the locals with employment opportunities as a livelihood option. The respondents suggested that livelihood needs could have been met through the immediate implementation of photographic safari tourism in 2014 when the ban on wildlife hunting came into effect. The wildlife prohibition, however, did not invalidate existing leases such as leases for hotels and lodges or other natural resources use such as gathering veldt products. The views of respondents that the hunting prohibition be reversed largely arises from the fact that tourism product diversification has had limited success even though the CBNRM programme and policy have never explicitly presented wildlife hunting as the only natural resource that can be used within the confines of the tourism industry. The study also found that CBOs failed to move into the hotel and accommodation sector even though such enterprises are the biggest revenue sources in tourism. For example, out of a total of 198 (156 Ngamiland and 42 in Chobe) accommodation facilities in the study area, local communities own about 10 (5%) through their JVPs (Department of Tourism, 2013; Centre for Applied Research, 2016). Most CBOs own campsite grounds which also provide accommodation facilities for tourists though campsites usually attract lesser fees than hotels and lodges. The 198 accommodation facilities in the study areas translate to 37.5% of the national accommodation facilities with a 25.3% national employment rate in the tourism sector. Local CBOs could be generating sufficient revenue and employment had they invested in hotels and lodges since employment generated by CBOs is often reserved for local community members.
Most local communities have in the past 15 years (+) failed to utilise some of their prime and scenic community use zones in their delineated CHAs. For example, the Kazikin campsite, which belongs to the STMT, has a carrying capacity of 50 beds although only 2 accommodation structures consisting of 2 beds each have to date been developed. Also, the facility was constructed through a donation from the government of Japan and not from money earned through hunting. Discussions with STMT management indicates that STMT prioritised community social benefits such as building one roomed houses for the destitute, funeral assistance, construction of toilets, sponsoring a football team as well as fitting stand pipes for the provision of clean running water. Even though the above services are important, investing in sustainable income generating projects such as constructing hotels and lodges would potentially have offered better returns. Development of community use zone areas such as in NG 34 and others have the potential to become profitable business ventures and possibly lead to improvements in community livelihoods.
As noted earlier, the wildlife hunting prohibition did result in a loss of employment and revenue accruing to CBOs. Local communities were also compelled to either suspend or abandon some of their social services to community members due to the unavailability of funds. In line with the tenets of social exchange theory, the study also established that allowing local communities to derive benefits from the utilisation of wildlife resource has a positive influence on local people’s attitudes towards wildlife (McCool & Martin, 1994; Andereck & Nyaupane, 2011; Látková & Vogt, 2012; Mir et al., 2015). It should be noted that some of these communities, especially those of Ngamiland, are very poor, and their livelihoods are extremely vulnerable and their employment is at the lower end of the tourism sector. It could therefore be argued that hunting and CBNRM have failed to contribute to rural development at a larger scale. Tourism and hunting in these areas simply created dependency and now that has been extended to the drought relief (Ipelegeng) work programme. Vaughan, Katjiua, Mulonga and Murphy (2004) argued that countries should find a means of incorporating local hunting on a few select wildlife species as an incentive for local populations to actively participate in the conservation of their natural resources.
Through the tourism land bank initiative, government has taken upon itself to subdivide large concessionaires to avail tourism investment land for more citizen participation through tender advertisement of these tourism concessions. However, delays and perceived lack of transparency in the implementation of the tourism land bank initiative have led to grave speculation leading to unsubstantiated and pre-emptive disapproval of the initiative on the basis that it is an extension and replica of the then hunting tourism which favoured private hunting safari companies at the expense of local communities. Commentaries from Khwai FGD also attest to these fears:
“Foreign professional hunters who used to dominate hunting expeditions now dominate photographic guiding escorts since their hunters’ permits allow them, and project them as highly qualified and experienced. The strict requirements for professional hunters discourage us [locals] from undertaking this course”. (Focus Group Discussion, Khwai).
The tourism land bank violated the Tribal Land Act (1968) which gives the land boards authority to govern and manage land in tribal areas. The current situation where the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism has together with the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation subdivided and advertise tourism concessions in WMAs has been received with mixed reactions. Four years after the introduction of the tourism land bank initiative, none of the citizens have been allocated tourism sites in the prime tourism areas of the Okavango or Chobe districts. The land bank initiative seems to have further centralised the management of community tourism land. In essence, government has un-procedurally transferred tribal land into state land thinking that it is empowering local communities, something that is likely to further impoverish locals as they do not have the requisite financial capacity to attract and develop these high-end tourism sites. The tourism land bank initiative has essentially disempowered local communities from venturing into high-end and profitable tourism enterprise as they no longer have land rights as in the past before introduction of land bank. It is with facilitation and secure land rights that CBOs could attract investors who could in turn use it as collateral in formal credit markets to access funding. Perhaps a rural development policy should promote secure land rights so that CBOs could use the land rights to access financial assistance from private banks.