Re-imagining boundaries

13/07/2015

By Bruce Mead

Bornface Sezuni lives with his family on the Chobe River in Namibia. On the south bank, less than a kilometre from his home is Botswana’s iconic Chobe National Park. To his west, across the rich flood plain is an up-market ecotourism lodge. To the east is a large, flat grass plain. In November, before the rains arrive, this plain is filled with herds of zebra that wade over the Chobe River at a crossing point close to his house.

Bornface lives in the middle of the KAZA Transfrontier Conservation Area: a wildlife-rich region where the international borders of five countries converge. He should be delighted as he is sitting right in the middle of an ecotourism, biodiversity and wildlife mecca. Within sight of his home, a lodge hosts tourists from many countries around the world. It attracts people who are willing to pay good money to share Bornface’s world.

But he is not involved; he is a bystander. Bornface is a subsistence farmer, eking out a living from rain-fed crops and communal cattle production. He is not part of the formal economy, and does not benefit from ecotourism or conservation.

So, Bornface looks over the game-filled flood plains every day, but the wildlife is of no direct value to him. Instead, it costs him dearly. Elephants raid his crops, and occasionally kill or maim people in surrounding villages. Hippos come out at night and cause significant damage in his fields. Large predators – lions, leopard and hyena - endanger his community, and kill and eat his cattle.

Bornface’s also lives in an area of considerable climate variability. Rains in this part of southern Africa have always been unreliable, and he has to deal with drought and flooding. He is particularly susceptible to unpredictability because he is a subsistence farmer - relying on irregular rainfall to produce crops to eat and support his family.

Thinking it through

Is it possible to conceive a future where Bornface’s inclusion in the tourism industry leads to a more climate-resilient future for both subsistence farmers and formal economies in areas of high climate vulnerability? Could KAZA become a test-bed for sustainable, trans-boundary economic development?

Bornface currently lives in the wildlife dispersal zone, where he moves between two homes annually. During the dry months crops and cattle are close to the Chobe River, as the seasonal pans in the interior are then dry. The result of this is severe human-wildlife conflict. In the wet season, Bornface moves away from the river to a temporary ‘wet season’ home; grazes his cattle and plants his crops, where he has a temporary water supply from seasonal pans. When the water dries up, he moves back to the river.
Funded by the UK’s Department for International Development, the Climate Resilient Infrastructure Development Facility (CRIDF) is helping KAZA Transfrontier Conservation Area to develop a strategy for the provision of small-scale productive water infrastructure to encourage development adjacent to transboundary wildlife dispersal zones. Bornface is happy to remain in his wet-season home if he has permanent water for his family and cattle.

Bornface’s neighbours are also keen to move if it can be shown that the water supplies (away from the river) are reliable all year round. But this will take serious capital investment if it is to be done at scale across KAZA. CRIDF is therefore assisting KAZA to design an ‘infrastructure development financing strategy’. This will enable KAZA to identify, as part of their own sustainability strategy, sources of finance to take the concept to scale and provide water infrastructure adjacent to all transboundary corridors in all five countries.

CRIDF and KAZA want to unlock the potential for more climate resilient, sustainable, equitable models of economic development in an area of high (and increasing) climate variability. Encouraging the local production of supplies, such as food and amenities for tourists, will reduce expensive imports and boost the local economy. This will provide the platform for a stronger local economy, enabling farmers such as Bornface to better mitigate the effects of climate change.
If Bornface is able to participate and benefit from wildlife, conservation and tourism he will become a key part of the regions’ climate resilient development future. If the opportunity passes, he will continue to live in a trans-boundary wildlife corridor: a less secure future and increasing vulnerability to climate change. The cost to regional wildlife, conservation and tourism is a lost opportunity to develop the full potential of KAZA. If he stays outside the tourism economy, we all lose. If Bornface is persuaded to participate, everyone wins.

Bruce Mead is a guest contributor and Deputy Technical Director on CRIDF and Technical Director at Ecorys.

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