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Delicate balance: Resolving conflict between tourism, agriculture

Elephants in the Okavango Delta PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES
Increasing levels of human-wildlife conflicts are challenging conservationists to promote wildlife sustainability to enhance the welfare of local communities and for economic development.

Wildlife conservation is often compromised when the locals’ livelihoods are threatened, hence the need to balance biodiversity conservation and sustainable livelihoods. Negative attitudes toward wildlife often promote retaliatory killings of wild animals that undermine sustainability. Consequently, there is a need to understand the attitudes of communities in proximity to wildlife and to explore their responses to wildlife conservation. In Botswana where human-wildlife conflicts have been increasing, the promotion of wildlife conservation and the reduction of human-wildlife conflict incidents is important as the country’s economy relies on income derived from wildlife resources. The failure to conserve wildlife poses a threat to the country’ economy and natural resources. This is because the country’s tourism industry relies heavily on wildlife, especially in northern Botswana.

Contemporary conservation models view local communities as possible collaborators and partners in the conservation and sustainable development of wildlife. Until people who must coexist with wildlife can benefit proportionately with the costs incurred, they will not be willing to conserve wild flora and fauna. The sustainable-use approach hypothesises that local community user rights encourage natural resource conservation. This is consistent with institutional economics where community rights over natural resources encourage sustainable use. Incorporating local people and promoting their involvement ensures conservation goals. Despite the benefits of Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) programs, threats posed by wildlife to property and human life may lead to negative attitudes toward wildlife and nullify all benefits.

Human-wildlife conflicts occur when peoples’ livelihoods are negatively impacted. Such conflicts increase poaching, decrease physical and psychological well-being, food security, reduce agricultural income and access to land. Communities near protected areas must share habitats with predators that harm or kill livestock, raid fields and destroy crops. This leads to costs and resentments and threatens conservation.

Poor subsistence farmers may not cope as well as wealthier cattle farmers. The lack of awareness about environmental issues and low education levels may lead to communities rejecting wildlife conservation while people’s tolerance, retaliation, attitudes and reporting are influenced by the species involved in the conflict. For instance, elephants and tigers are more likely to be reported than pigs, smaller canids or felids. People’s attitudes are also influenced by the belief that governments and conservationists as more concerned about wildlife than human welfare. Communities that receive more benefits from wildlife have a higher propensity to support conservation than those that do not. Mitigating human-wildlife conflicts can facilitate natural resource conservation. Compensation, wildlife population control and preventive methods are used to deal with human-wildlife conflicts. Such methods combined with community development programs encourage peaceful coexistence between humans and wildlife.

A study conducted in the four villages of Shorobe, Matsaudi, Gumare, Shakawe with 221 selected farming households and 18 key informants found that between the 2015 and 2018, all respondents had encounters with wildlife through crop-raiding, livestock predation or both. About 76% indicated that they had experienced crop-raiding within the three years and 71% indicated that they had experienced livestock predation. The livestock killed included cattle, goats, sheep, donkeys and horses. Encounters with wildlife often negatively affected respondents’ livelihoods. Such encounters influenced the communities general attitudes and perceptions toward wildlife conservation.

Larger households were less likely to participate in wildlife conservation. Respondents involved in either livestock farming or arable agriculture were less likely to participate in wildlife conservation activities within their villages. Farming households that had received compensation for crop-raiding incidents were less likely to participate in wildlife conservation activities while those who had received compensation were more likely to participate in conservation. This paradox could be explained by comparing the value of crops lost against the amount of compensation paid to the farmers. Balancing conservation and livelihood security in a rural setting is a delicate affair requiring a deep understanding of socio-economic positions and perspectives of households that live alongside biodiversity, in particular wildlife. Striking this balance is dependent on socio-demographics. The study revealed that education and income have a positive relationship with attitudes toward conservation. The lower the income or education the lower the desire to participate in wildlife conservation. Not surprising the villagers’ viewed wildlife as pests. It is critical to build the capacity of rural villagers on the importance of biodiversity conservation, especially wildlife.

Results illustrate that building capacity has to be implemented along with overall income growth if the

capacity is to be sustainable. The importance of income in the conservation livelihoods cannot be overstated. Understanding income as the overall output that rural households realise after conversion of multiple capital assets (e.g., labour, savings, land and social links) is vital. Crop and livestock income represents the overall household output. Wildlife negatively impacts the production of general household income and result in overall household dissatisfaction. The presence of wildlife brings disutility from a livelihoods’ perspective. Rational individuals will hold negative attitudes toward components that negatively affect the levels of utility realised. When the utility derived from living alongside wildlife is negative, negative attitudes of communities in question will continue. The non-recognition of rural communities that live alongside wildlife as the producer communities of ecosystem goods (e.g., wildlife) is common throughout the developing world. Natural resources management in Botswana continuously disempowers local communities and normalises perpetual disutility. The disutility results in community members actively participating in the destruction of wildlife to compensate for reduced livelihood risks. In Botswana, compensation is only paid for damage caused by nine listed wildlife species (i.e., cheetah, crocodile, elephant, leopard, lion, wild dog, rhinoceros, buffalo hippopotamus. To meet conservation goals, the relationship between local people and natural resources must be understood. This is important due to enduring hostilities that exist over the local use of natural resources and human-wildlife conflicts. The latter creates resentments and constrain local tolerance of conservation. Communities living adjacent protected areas are not always concerned with monetary benefits or the tangible costs of conservation. Tolerance for wildlife conservation is often dependent on intangible costs and benefits. The government of Botswana must devise management strategies which reflect such a reality. Results also indicate that farmers who have recorded gains are supportive of wildlife conservation whereas those who incur costs are not supportive. Costs incurred by farmers, especially those who experience damages to crops far outweigh benefits. It is critical to not only build capacity on the positives of biodiversity conservation but also to increase the utility derived from wildlife by rural communities that live alongside wildlife. The situation in Botswana is like that in Zimbabwe where wildlife destruction continues as rural villagers weigh costs of conservation with possible gains in incomes derived from poaching and the advantage of less animal trouble. To improve communities’ attitudes toward wildlife conservation, it is critical to review the institutional arrangements that build capacity and affect the utility derived from the conservation of nature. This article validates the assumption that community participation and support for conservation depends on perceived costs local communities associate with predation and livelihoods as well as the benefits people derive from conserving wildlife.

The study shows that livestock predation, largely by lions and crop-raiding by elephants are rampant in the Okavango Delta and adjacent regions. Farmers’ livelihoods are negatively impacted as a result of increasing human-wildlife conflicts, fuelling communities’ negative attitudes toward wildlife. It was also revealed that the compensation framework for losses due to wildlife damages is inadequate. The extremely low compensation thresholds that are below the market value and the inefficiencies within government offices responsible for processing claims discourage farmers from making claims for compensations. In turn, negative attitudes and frustration toward wildlife are increasing among local communities. Most older respondents were unlikely to participate in conservation programs in their villages. Due to the lack of an efficient compensation framework, farmers are increasingly becoming less likely to be supportive of wildlife conservation in the Okavango Delta and Botswana in general. To improve co-existence between people and wildlife, the government must increase utility rural communities derive from wildlife. Communities currently do not value wildlife as a resource but rather as a government property that destroys their livelihoods and drives them into poverty. To encourage local communities to be active in wildlife conservation, measures that to ensure economic benefits from the wildlife are necessary.


*Prof Patricia Kefilwe Mogomotsi is an Associate Professor (Natural Resources Economics) at the Okavango Research Institute, University of Botswana.

** Dr Lesego S. Stone is a Senior Research Fellow (Tourism Management) at the Okavango Research Institute, University of Botswana.

*** Dr Goemeone E.J. Mogomotsi is a Senior Research Fellow (International Environmental Policy) at the Okavango Research Institute, University of Botswana.

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