Fear, frustration engulf Mbalambi farmers as elephants invade

Elephants are pushing farmers to their limits PIC: KEOAGILE BONANG
Elephants are pushing farmers to their limits PIC: KEOAGILE BONANG

While armchair critics bash the government of Botswana for opening dialogue on the country’s elephant overpopulation, farmers in Mbalambi village are living in fear following an upsurge in raids on their fields. Mmegi Correspondent, LESEDI MKHUTSHWA recently visited the terrified village

FRANCISTOWN: At least 15 farmers have filed official incident reports, as the numbers of elephants and the frequency of their raids on fields in Mbalambi increase.

While the world debates the issue and blasts Botswana’s proposals, Mbalambi, a village about an hour north-west of Francistown, is living with the overpopulation of elephants.

March 15 is a day that will forever be etched in Chiyapo Matilandana’s memory. On that Friday, the Mbalambi farmer’s wife woke up in the wee hours of the morning to make her way to the fields.

“She found a herd of around 10 elephants destroying the crops,” he says.

“They destroyed about two hectares that we had planted of sorghum, maize, beans to a few.

“It is all thanks to elephants that we are going to go empty-handed this harvest.”

The Matilandanas immediately raised the alarm, but by the time wildlife officers arrived on the scene, the elephants had wandered off, leaving destruction in their wake.

The farmer says the number of elephants has increased in the past years and the giants are now roaming around Mbalambi looking for water.

“Government should come up with measures to help the human and elephant conflict. This has been troubling us for the past decade.”

Lolo David, another Mbalambi farmer, says she is living in fear.  The elephants, she says, not only pose a risk to the fields, but the lives of the villagers in Mbalambi.

“I’m scared of visiting my fields because I could get killed by the elephants.

“I have also restricted my helpers and family members from going to the fields because I do not want blood on my hands.

“Elephants are very dangerous and they belong in the jungle not in the midst of people,” she says.

Recently, David found that a cow and calf (a female and a baby elephant) had passed through her fields and destroyed gum poles and the fence surrounding the ploughed area. The frustrated farmer says she was compensated with P700 by the wildlife office.

“Government should do something to tackle the issue because more crops and more lives will be lost.”

Mbalambi chief, Kgosi Bernard Mbalambi says the invasion of elephants has cloaked the village in a cloud of fear. Already, 15 reports from different farmers have come in this cropping season about elephants destroying crops and infrastructure in the small village. Some farmers have abandoned their fields either due to fear of the giants or because the elephants have left nothing to go back to.

“The elephants come in scores in search of water and they have a tendency of destroying the poles and fence surrounding the small village dam,” explains Mbalambi.

“We long complained to government about the situation, but no permanent solution has been availed to resolve the matter.

“Government had promised to supply a solar panel with which we would light up the area around the dam in order to scare the elephants away, but that has not happened.

“People are running out of patience because of the endless promises made without delivery.”

The chief says while all elephant incursions are reported to the wildlife department, it is clear that the rangers are no match for the rampaging jumbos.

“One thing I have realised is that the Department of Wildlife is understaffed and cannot cover all the areas invaded.

“A few months ago when the wildlife officials were in our village to assist with elephants, they were called away to attend an emergency in Matsiloje where an elephant was suspected to have killed someone.”

Mbalambi says the government needs to hire more rangers in the battle to manage elephants.  However, he says, better solutions are required over and above staffing.

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