- Villages in the arid southern part of Botswana with their back against the Kalahari Desert are stopping the threatening advance of sand dunes and making a living out of them. The cultivation of Batswana sand dunes is attracting visitors from around the world, eager to learn.
In the village of Struizendam, located on Botswana's southern border with South Africa, the local community started rehabilitating arid rangelands that had been overexploited by farmers and herders. Struizendam has now attracted funding from the UN development agency UNDP, which is "exporting" the concept to other villages in Botswana and Africa.
Standing atop a sand dune, Klaas Matthuis can see more dunes almost surrounding Struizendam, UNDP reports from the village. The dunes are still bare of vegetation except the one he stands on, which has large clumps of grass, trees and shrubs.
Mr Matthuis, vice-chairperson of a new community resource management committee, is showing visitors from Kenya, Mali, and the University of Oslo in Norway the dune that has been stabilised by fencing out goats and cattle and planting various indigenous species.
- People in most remote villages in Botswana, as elsewhere in the arid zones of Africa, depend heavily on natural resources for their livelihoods, as there are few alternatives other than government welfare, the UNDP explains. "But poverty often pushes them to over-exploit resources to meet immediate needs."
Mr Matthius had dreamed of seeing the sand dunes stabilised so they no longer threaten to engulf houses, and his committee found a solution. Through a regional project to restore indigenous vegetation implemented by UNDP and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) with support from other partners, the Struizendam community is now putting the dunes to work for the villagers.
One of the committee's first priorities was to help the community to draw up an action plan to reverse environmental losses and improve livelihoods. A project was designed, UNDP reports from Botswana.
The project covers steps to conserve the whole spectrum of local resources, including wildlife and products such as firewood; grass for grazing and thatching; medicinal plants like devil's claw (sengaparile), sold to European markets, particularly Germany, to make medication to control high blood pressure; a caterpillar known as phane, a local delicacy sold widely in the region; and the morula tree, whose nuts are used for oil and sweets, fruit for jam and beverages.
Thirteen other villages hard-hit by environmental degradation - five in the southern tip of Kgalagadi, six in northern Kweneng, and three in Boteti - have recently completed similar plans. In addition, villages in two areas in Kenya and two sites in northern Mali are following a similar strategy.
- All the local plans benefit from indigenous knowledge and traditional land management systems, UNDP says. They include fencing off parts of communal grazing areas to heal the land and control sand dunes. "A key element is for community members to take the lead role in conserving biological diversity and bettering income-earning opportunities," the UN agency adds.
The Global Environment Facility is providing US$ 8.7 million for the five-year pilot initiative through UNDP and UNEP, and another US$ 3.5 million comes from German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), the University of Oslo, and the governments of Botswana, Kenya and Mali.
- The project is tremendously important because if it can demonstrate that community management of rangelands is viable, the approaches developed have the potential to transform the way in which rangeland resources are managed in the three countries and beyond, said Dr Michael Taylor, UNDP project team leader, seconded to the Batswana Ministry of Agriculture.
- Approaches that safeguard the interests and options of the poorest members of society, who often depend greatly on rangeland resources for their livelihoods, are particularly vital, Mr Taylor said. The Ministry of Agriculture had "wholeheartedly put its weight behind the initiative," he added, and this was "evidence of the government's concern and commitment to poverty reduction and sound environmental management."
According to UNDP, the project focuses on giving communities greater power to manage local natural resources. "However, people cannot manage resources effectively unless the government gives them the mandate and authority to do so," the UN agency adds. Another element of the initiative therefore had been research and advice to the government on policy development to change this.
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