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.
A big thank you to Peter and Vicky Stevens of Morama Trust for their kind donation towards our community conservation work out in Western Ngamiland. All donations received go a long way to help fund the costs of travel to and engagement with communities on vital livelihood and conservation matters. Our ongoing work is focussed on humanitarian support, community wildlife conservancy development, human-elephant conflict mitigation and craft development. Morama Trust's unfenced conservancy project 80km Northwest of Gumare is similarly also highly dedicated to supporting local communities and conserving wildlife habitat and migration routes linking Western Ngamiland with the Okavango Delta. Their presence is vital too, so please also pay their website a visit!
Great news for remote Kalahari Communities deprived of easy access to clean drinking water! Thanks to the generous support of the COMANIS FOUNDATION, we have finally received our first sponsorship for the manufacturing and installation of 10 X 3000 litre-capacity portable rainwater harvester (a.k.a "PRH") units. Our own unique invention - the PRH safely and efficiently captures and stores any amount of natural rainfall, protecting it from evaporative loss. Fully portable and easily cleaned and maintained by the end user, we believe the PRH has the potential to revolutionaize drinking water security in rural areas: In semi-arid regions globally, surface and ground water may be severely lacking or extremely costly and problematic to extract, transport and safely use. In high rainfall regions, water supplies are frequently exposed to contaminants which can cause life threatening diseases. The PRH dramatically reduces these risks as well as the total costs and time associated with the provision of drinking water by:
1. Enabling extremely cost-effective transportation and installation, on account of it being able to be folded up into a carry bag, allowing for low-cost mass transportation. Installation can be done by the end-user after basic training, without the need for any skilled labour or special tools.
2. Being easy to operate, clean and maintain - and at zero cost - thus cutting out the need for end-user dependency on the regular importation of costly, skilled maintenance crews.
3. Empowering communities to locate water supplies at or close to where they actually live, thus enabling full end-user quality control and dramtically reducing the time and energy expenditure involved in obtaining drinking water. The competition, stress and health risks associated with increasingly unreliable and overused centralised water supplies - all of which are being exacerbated by climate change - can be largely avoided in this way.
The prototype units will be installed in a number of identified Kalahari community areas around Botswana where their operation will be monitored as part of our ongoing research and development program in partnership with the University of Connecticut Engineering Department. At only 400mm of rain per year, these units will generate enough clean drinking water for up to 130 people per year, on an ongoing basis.