The Australian Government-spearheaded International Savanna Fire Management Initiative (ISFMI), in partnership with the Botswana Government, recently launched its Botswana pilot project, centered around two pilot sites currently experiencing a high frequency of destructive wildfires.
We had the honour of facilitating, and logistically supporting, an important component of the ISFMI crew's activity schedule last month: the first-ever cultural exchange between Aboriginal Australians and Southern Africa's San (Bushmen), which took the form of a visit by Aboriginal "fire rangers" and their supervisors from the Kimberley region of Northern Australia, to the remote Ju/hoansi San community of /Oabatsha, west of Tsodilo Hills (Northwest District).
Although living worlds apart, the Aboriginal people of Australia and the San of Southern Africa, are connected to one-another by virtue of their hunter-gatherer cultural origins and their traditional fire management knowledge. And interestingly, their techniques for making fire by friction are virtually identical. Indeed it is such shared ancient knowledge that is fundamental to the effectiveness of the ISFMI.
The ISFMI has achieved global success in its project areas by reducing wildfire-related carbon emissions by up to 50%, thereby rehabilitating the biodiversity of the affected areas, improving food security, and creating opportunities for local employment through carbon market opportunities.
Now rapidly gaining recognition as an important intervention in efforts to combat man-made climate change, the ISFMI has essentially modeled its approach to fire suppression on the ancient knowledge systems of the Aboriginal hunter-gatherer communities of Australia. For thousands of years, the Aboriginal people of Australia - just like the San of Africa - have implemented rotational early winter burning ("cool fires") between April and June. This is done to reduce combustible dry fuel loads, thereby suppressing the conditions that lead to the outbreak of large and very intense, late dry season "hot fires" (September to December). Many deciduous plants redistribute their energy reserves in the late dry season towards the exposed outer growing meristems (e.g. flower and leaf buds), which may be activated before any rains fall, thus rendering them particularly vulnerable to heat damage. The emerging trend in recent years in Northern Botswana of heat extremes coupled with delays in the start of the rainy season has exacerbated the level of damage being done to Botswana woodlands.
Once also plagued by frequent, destructive wildfires, the Australian Government has only in recent years realized that conventional methods for fire suppression, centered around complete intolerance of all forms of fire, have failed dismally to bring wildfires under control. It has come to light that the revival of traditional Aboriginal burning practices, which it had outlawed decades ago following the colonization of Australia, is in fact essential to maintaining the health and vigour of savanna landscapes. These landscapes have long adapted to the presence of hunter-gatherers and their rotational land use systems and the anthropogenic effects span many thousands of years. The territorial land use systems implemented by the hunter-gatherers also included the use of fire to maintain the diversity and productivity of the biotic components on which their survival ultimately depended.
In a similar sense, the ISFMI project will also be reviving the traditional knowledge systems of the San as a key strategy in guiding burning programmes that will reduce the frequency of the intense, destructive fires that have become common-place. It represents a vital opportuntity to start reversing many years of progressivley accumulating environmental damage, characterised widespread loss of tree cover, decline in spevies richness, and deterioration in the wild plant food supplies on which the San and others still depend for their health and well-being.
Over the past two weeks we successfully implemented phase 1 of our endeavour to provide Botswana's remotest communities - the hunter-gatherer San and Bakgalagadi of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve - with access to their own Portable Rainwater Harvesters (PRHs). The four installed phase 1 PRH devices are now accessible to 60% of the resident CKGR population (three out of the five villages) Under the long-term average annual rainfall conditions, these four devices can collectively harvest around 8400 litres per year, providing much-needed supplementation to water supplies trucked in each month by the District Councils.
Potable (non-saline) fossil ground water supplies in the CKGR are notoriously unreliable, expensive to develop, and difficult to maintain. It is also extremely expensive to transport water in each month to these villages by truck - the most remote of the communities being 140km, by sandy 4X4 track, from the nearest developed settlement!
Watch the video's below (8th April 2019), showing some of the community members extract water from a 2,500 litre capacity PRH device set up at Mothomelo: Over 200 litres were extracted after a single brief rainshower, which fell whilst we were still setting it up earlier the same day.
In phase 2 - planned for later this year - another installed 23 units will have the capability of meeting the drinking needs of the entire CKGR human population (est. at 306), without having to rely on any other artificial supplies. Funding support for phase 2 is still needed!
Thanks to Mike McCune and Karen Kaye Smith-McCune of San Francisco, for their donation towards the PRH initiative and for helping to make this important exercise possible!
Last week we installed another Portable Rainwater Harvester (PRH) for a remote community in Northwestern Botswana. As with other PRH units installed recently, the device will dramatically reduce the time and labour involved in fetching water from existing supply points, in their case an unreliable borehole. For this particular community, the PRH unit shown - under average annual rainfall conditions (450mm) - will yield around 10,000 litres of clean drinking water per year on an ongoing basis - at zero cost to the community and with no outside maintenance support required ever again! For this community it amounts to the equivalent of 700 litres of clean and easy-to-obtain drinking water per person per year, or 2 litres of clean drinking water per person per day.
Whilst out in the area, we also initiated training of 8 selected community members in spoor surveying methodology, in preparation for our planned Community Wildlife Monitoring program, which will assist KWT, the communities and other stakeholders in better understanding wildlife population distributions and movement dynamics in Western Ngamiland, and in terms of cross border movements between Botswana and Nambia. Needless to say the superb tracking abilities of the Ju/hoansi San team members and their enthusiasm for protecting the wildlife populations of their envisaged (fencing-free) conservancy, all bodes well for the monitoring programme and their capacity to perform as custodians of their traditonal lands, which also will earn them additional income. Thanks also to Steve Huebsch of SC Projects in Maun for the discount on boots and other apparel for the trainees.
On the 31st of January, Sandi Albertson coordinated her third Kgotla (meeting) for the Boro1 Comunity, North of Maun. These engagements aimed to identify: talented art and craft producers (both young and old); individuals for mentorship and training of those interested in acquiring specific skills; and viabe products for further development. Now that the people and products have been identified, the intiative aims to develop the capacity of the Boro1 and other surrounding communities, to sustainably produce high quality and marketable products. So far truly amazing talent amongst the community has been revealed and there is great potential for income genertion from passing trade along the Sir Seretse Khama Road which Boro1 lies adjacvent to.
In December 2017, with the support of the Kalahari Peoples Fund, we initiated the recording of unique and endangered traditional knowledge at one community locality. Thanks to the support of Steve Stockhall and Robyn Currell of Earth Ark Photo Safaris, who kindly donated towards this cause in December 2018, our work on this has resumed and we are in the process of finalizing the first phase of the interview transcripts from 2017. A second phase is being planned for February, which will follow up on some fascinating cultural knowledge aspects. Amongst the aspects we are assessing and documenting include:
Traditional territories, place names and their meanings; historical movement patterns; personal histories and life experiences; use of medicial plants not yet documented (e.g. cures for snakebite, arrow poison antidotes); other unique skills and phenomena etc.
As follows is an intriguing sample extract from one of the elders interviewed, concerning a first hand encounter with a group of San who reportedly had the ability to change their form into lions at will and reportedly also used it as a hunting method:
"He said to the people who changed themselves into lions: "I know you really are people! Why did you change yourselves into lions?" And then they began to close their eyes and change back into human beings. They then came closer to the fireplace and they asked for tobacco."
There are in fact several elders who have personal knowledge of the shapeshifting phenomenon, regard it as historically integral to their culture, and claim to have personally witnessed its manifestation on numerous occasions including in relatively recent times. This is an example of one of the more mysterious aspects we aim to document in more detail, as agreed and supported by the elders concerned.
The San represent humankinds oldest and purest genetic lineage (it is at least 150,000 years old), and the skills and knowledge still posessed by the few surviving elders today are truly ancient and have been passed down largely unchanged over many thousands of years. It has now literally become a race against time to document these unique knowledge systems before the opportunity to do so disappears forever, which tragically will be in only a few years from now.
Urgent funding support is needed to expand our knowledge recording efforts to include as many elders as possible, within the over 30 dialect groups comprising the San in Botswana, as well as other groups with unique traditional knowledge (e.g. Bakgalagadi). Our aim is to record unique and endangered traditional knowledge, at the request of those Communities that have expressed concerned about loss of knowledge and lack of inter-generational transfer. Of paramount importance is to uphold their exclusive intellectual property rights, safeguard sensitive information and disemminate information only in close consultation with the communities concerned and the elders in particular. We will also focus on getting the recorded materials back into the Communities to foster custodianship and transfer to the younger generations.
Heritage Trail update:
In November, Arthur and KWT community liaison officer Sefako Chumbo facilitated consultative meetings at 7 villages scattered across Western Ngamiland as part of the Heritage Trail project (see post below). Of the populations encompassed within the project area (see map in post), these villages are amongst the most remote and marginalized in terms of lack of livelihood opportunities and involvement in tourism. Our main aim, apart from gathering base-line data, was to assess opportunities for developing tourism facilities, products/activities and the required spatial linkages. This vast sandveld area currently sees virtually no tourist traffic, despite having excellent widerness landscape, wildlife and cultural attributes. In collaboration with our project parners, Botswana Predator Conservation Trust, we plan to finalize a feasibility study by February 2019, which will identify priority activites for the envisaged pilot 4X4 heritage trail, which will link up these remote communities and adjacent habitats with the self drive and mobile safari markets. A plentiful supply of "Monkey Oranges" ("Mogorogorwane" Strychnos cocculoides) from the Shaikarawe community provided our team with much needed refreshment against the scorching heat!
Kagusi Wilderness Campsite update:
In December the Botswana Department of Tourism granted a tourism enteprise licence for the Kagusi Wilderness Campsite, a joint collaboration between Athur and Sandi Albertson and a remote Ju/hoansi San community in Western Ngamiland. Initiated in 2010, the project has faced many challenges, mostly delays associated with the administrative prerequisites to the tourism licensing application. As a unique low-impact cultural / wilderness experience, this low-volume tourism activity will generate much-needed income and other benefits for the community. It will also compliment the work of KWT in the area, which is aimed at assisting the communities to protect their ancestral lands, rehabilitate local migratory wildlife populations, conserve endangered cultural skills and knowledge, and secure livelihood income on an environmentally sustainable basis.
In early October, we travelled down to GH11 - a remote Wildlife Management Area located west of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve - where we installed the first of 10 Portable Rainwater Harvester ("PRH") devices we've manufactured so far this year, from sponsorship received from the Comanis Foundation. The PRH device (our own invention) will provide vulnerable, water-stressed communities with an extremely useful adaptive coping mechanism, at a time when the effects of global climate change are already showing signs of accelerating. One of these devices can yield enough drinking water to sustain up to 11 people for a year, at annual rainfall as low as 350mm (typical drought condition). Its effectiveness lies in its ability to efficiently capture any amount of rainfall and protect it from contamination and evaporation - a critically important feature, considering that evaporative water loss in Botswana often exceeds 2000mm per year!
Amongst its mutiple benefits, the PRH will help the San and other similar communities by facilitating their access to useful natural habitats - situated away from the settlements - that are still unaffected by livestock overgrazing, as well as those areas that are naturally richer in supplies of wild plant food species. Such areas have become difficult to access due to the lack of surface water and the required travel distances, as compounded by the difficulty in transporting drinking water, which makes it extremely impractical to undertake effective gathering expeditions for effective plant food harvesting.
Rural settlements and cattleposts - where water supplies are currently located - are characterised by widespread overgrazing by livestock and the depletion of most of the surrounding natural plant food resources on which the original occupants of these areas historically relied, thus compounding dependencies on foodstuffs sold in local shops, which are typically too pricey to be accessible to most residents and at any rate are extremely limited in variety and deficient in essential vitamins and minerals. By contrast, over 100 species of wild, drought-tolerant, plant food species are potentially available for use in natural Central Kalahari habitats, often with nutritional qualities far exceeding that of processed foodstuffs.
The PRH therefore has the potential to impact positively on the food security of many struggling and malnourished rural dwellers, in particular the San. It also has good potential for promoting the preservation of traditional knowledge and culture through skills transfer and as a water supply alternative for remote tourism operations in dryland areas where potable ground water extraction is prohibitively expensive and impractical. The primary advantage however lies simply in improving the overall reliability and supply of clean drinking water for people - wherever they may live - and in freeing water-stressed communities from their current over-dependence on centralised water supply points that are costly to maintain and ultimately unsustainable due to the lack of recharge taking place in the deep fossil underground water acquifers they extract from.
The PRH essentially dramatically reduces the daily personal health risks and energy expenditure involved in accessing conventional, centralised water supplies as users can install it at optimal and conventient locations (e.g. right where they live) and it empowers users to independently manage - by way of a single device - their own drinking water provision, on an ongoing basis and from source through to supply.
On the 25th of September, we conduted a 512km aerial survey over a vast tract of wilderness considered to be a vital spatial linkage in plans to re-establish - through the KAZA TFCA (transboundary conservation area) initiative - a major historical wildlife migration route between Botswana's Okavango Delta and Namibia's Kaudom National Park and Nyae-nyae Conservancy. Area "NG3" in Botswana is one of KWT's primary project focal areas, and the flight was valuable in deepening our understanding of this sparsely populated area. The survey was particulary valuable in:
1. Furthering our understanding of where some of the primary east-to-west elephant movement paths are located.
2. Obtaining further photographic evidence of illegal use of an abandoned mineral prospecting borehole by a members of a suspected crime syndicate under investigation for elephant poaching.
3. Verifying the location of new cattle post developments threatening core wildlife habitats and proposed community based tourism initiatives.
4. Verifying habitat conditions and changes (relative to our previous ground observations) in various parts of NG3 and southern NG2 for community based tourism and habitat conservation planning purposes.
We would like to thank Wilderness Safaris for making the survey possible through their kind sponsorship of the cost of the flight. Thanks are also due to Rhino Conservation Botswana for making their specilaized "husky" survey aeroplane available for the work (at a discounted rate), and last but not least to their pilot, Mark Flatt, for his expert flying skills.
Move cursor over photos below to see captions:
Since our previous activity update on this matter in October 2017, all indications are that the Department of Veterinary Services has now abandoned its 2016 plans for the construction of a new 68km "protection zone fence" along the eastern boundary of wildlife management area NG5 (see Map). KWT, on a completely unsupported (pro-bono) work basis, has played a crucial role in achieving this outcome: As the only conservation organization that actively participated as an interested party in the environmental authorization application process for this proposed development, as overseen by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), KWT provided crucial input by way of its independent submitted reports and contributions to DEA reference group meetings, relating to, for example:
- Inadequancies in the stakeholder consultations and environmental studies related to the EIA undertaken on behalf of DVS by their appointed Consultants;
- Data on the movement of wildlife across the existing, dilapidated Setata Fence, by way of intensive spoor based surveys (February and June 2017) carried out in partnership with Round River Conservation Studies and Wildlife Act respectively, proving the likelihood that the new fence would severely constrain and injure migratory wildlife;
- Evidence of impacts of fencing on wildlife from the previous alignment of this fence across NG5, which was partly dismantled in 1998 and then fully removed in 2004 due to the lobbying efforts of KWT's founding Trustee;
- Evidence of lack of monitoring of livestock movements across the existing Setata Fence and the ineffectiveness of fencing in this area as a disease control measure, especially considering that the western portion is situated in a waterless wildlife habitat area far from any cattleposts.
Throught these technical inputs and regular advisory support to DEA, the Consultants were effectively compelled to "go back to the drawing board" in terms of the conceptualization of the project and have been unable to generate the revised studies requested by DEA since October 2017. The elapsed time has now expired the EIA process and DVS has abandoned its efforts to obtain authorization. The outcome of this is that a major environmental catastrophe has been averted, as the development, inter-alia, would have resulted in:
- The deforestation of at least 170 hectares of natural vegetation by way of a 68km X 25m bulldozed cutline;
- Movement obstruction of elephant, giraffe, zebra, eland, gemsbok, kudu, ostrich and many other species, and physical stress due to the inability of wildlife to move freely to food and water supplies within their territorial ranges;
- Injury and mortality of potentially hundreds of wild animals due to entanglement with the new fence in attempting to run, jump or crawl through it;
- Further loss of wildlife due to poaching along new roads that would be located on either side of the new fence-line, in an area that is currently protected from most human disturbances by having no access roads.
With the support of WWF-Namibia, and together with our project partner, Botswana Predator Conservation Trust, we have initiated the consultative stage of our Heritage Trail project. The 12 month project is primarily a feasibility study for the development of a tourist transit route through the Botswana portion of the Kaudom-Ngamiland Wildlife Dispersal Area (see Map). This is the most westerly of the six WDAs comprising the Kavango-Zambezi (KAZA) Transfrontier Conservation Area. The envisaged Trail will provide regional adventure-seeking tourists with access to the unique wilderness and cultural heritage attributes of this largely unknown but impressive wilderness landscape, thereby creating opportunities for community based tourism enterprise development and wildlife habitat conservation.
What the project will aim to do:
1. Improve accessibility to, and spatially connect - via a marketed 4X4 adventure route - both known tourism facilities and heritage sites with some relatively unknown wilderness and community areas, thus catering to the growing demand for new and more authentic wilderness and cultural experiences. The geographic expansion and diversification of tourism is also an important strategic tourism development imperative for Botswana.
2. Improve regional tourist flows and local community access to the tourist markets, thus creating much needed income streams (e.g. camping fees, craft sales) to help combat poverty in this remote region, whilst diversifying livelihoods and incentivizing the preservation of wildlife and traditional culture;
3. Improve the sustainability of land-use in this vital wildlife corridor and create an enabling environment for low-impact and culturally-sensitive tourism development that will also help to re-establish historical wildlife migration routes between Botswana and Namibia.
4. The project will aim, within 12 months, to kickstart the planning and authorisation processes for priority community tourism enterprises along a viable trail route, and will identify the required support processes for the trail as a marketed product. The project is also expected to serve as a platform for identifying and planning other future funded projects, the long-term goal being to assist as many communities as possible in their endeavours to achieve sustainable livelihoods and become meaningful participants in the tourism sector.