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2028 Botswana - Building Local Capacity for Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity in the Okavango Delta

2028 Botswana - Building Local Capacity for Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity in the Okavango DeltaPhoto: Nik Sekhran / UNDP

Situated in northern Botswana, the Okavango Delta is a globally important wetland ecosystem and the largest Ramsar Site in the world. Ecosystem processes (and their structure and functioning) are critical to the livelihoods of the human populations dependent on the ecosystem goods and services provided by the dynamic wetland systems of the Okavango Delta—such as nutrient enrichment for livestock grazing, provision of food, medicinal plants and building materials for local communities, and the sustenance of wildlife populations, on which the economically important tourism sector rests. However, direct and indirect use of wetland resources, unless carefully managed, threaten to undermine ecosystem processes—and could lead to a loss of species richness in the wetlands as well as the destabilization of beneficial ecosystem services

While the ecological integrity of this wetland remains largely intact, gradually rising anthropogenic pressures—including impacts of water resource use, tourism and fisheries—are slowly eroding that integrity. The potential impacts from these sectors include: disturbance and depletion of wildlife; invasion by alien species; and indirect impacts (such as from poor waste management).

This GEF-funded project was designed to create the governance systems, institutions, economic incentives and know-how to configure production practices within the Okavango Delta in three sectors—tourism, water resource use, and fisheries—to ensure that they are compatible with sound biodiversity management objectives. The project is pursuing its mainstreaming objectives first by removing barriers to good governance at the systemic and institutional levels, and then by demonstrating good field management practices for the target sectors. These efforts are supported by the GEF, the Government of Botswana, Parastatal, and a number of NGOs and private sector entities.

Since the project began in 2006, many significant achievements have been made. There has been good progress in institutional capacity-building, notably within the Tawana Land Board (the District body vested with responsibilities for land use planning and management) and the placement of a Biodiversity Advisor with that Board. The project’s creation of an effective multi-institutional partnership to address Salvinia molesta (an invasive alien species) is also a crucial, noteworthy achievement. In addition, significant progress has been achieved in getting the tourism sector to contribute directly to biodiversity conservation in the Delta and in getting biodiversity-friendly management methods inducted into the fisheries production system. Other specific and notable results include:

Ecotourism. The project, in partnership with Botswana Tourism Board (BTB), has recently completed the development of the Botswana Ecotourism Certification Programme. Through the programme, ecotourism standards were created and a voluntary certification system will be implemented by BTB. During the development of the standards, 19 tourism establishments volunteered to test the standards. Six camps and lodges in the Delta participated in the country-wide pilot study and were inspected in line with the standards. Based on that study, three levels have been adopted: Green, Green+ and Ecotourism. While the certification programme is voluntary, it is expected to attract at least ten percent (60) of tourism establishments in the country. Gauging by the response of the industry to the pilot phase of the eco-certification programme, many companies appear interested in the scheme.

Resource-related conflict resolution. The existence of conflicts over access to resources and opportunities in the Delta has been an important barrier to effective biodiversity conservation in some areas. The project has initiated interventions to bring parties together to resolve conflicts, with promising results. The project has helped to establish Joint Management Committees to support implementation of sustainable fisheries and veld product use. This work has been an important achievement in that it has created an instrument to deal with future conflicts.

Improved waste management. The project has been involved in a number of interventions to improve waste management of the tourism sector in the Delta. With the project’s support, the Government of Botswana funded the refurbishment of the constructed wetland liquid waste polishing system, hosted by Thuso Lutheran Rehabilitation Centre in Maun. With the wetland polishing system now functional, the project has been collecting samples once a month to verify its efficacy. Thus far, the data are promising. Preparations for the construction of a second wetland system are underway. The construction will be a joint undertaking between the project and the owners of the Mbiroba tourist camp, the Okavango Polers Trust. Additionally, an assessment on the supply and generation of hazardous substances in the Delta has been concluded by the project. The project used the results of that assessment to produce a draft Best Practice Manual for transportation, handling and storage of hazardous substances, which is now under discussion within the Environmental Health Department of North West District Council. Once adopted, the Manual will be publicized to reduce the risks for biodiversity—and for the communities of the Delta—associated with the release of hazardous substances.