WASHINGTON, DC, Nov 24 - People must have incentives to protect resources, Mogae says. Botswana's successful efforts to preserve its natural resources, notably by working with neighboring countries, drew praise November 13 at an international conservation symposium held in Washington.
"It would be hard to find a country which has been more successful in establishing a transparent, active, professional governance in the last several years than Botswana has been in dealing with their assets and in dealing with their problems," Senate Africa Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Alexander told the "Conservation Is Good Business" symposium, held at the Ronald Reagan Building.
The symposium was sponsored by the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA).
Joining Alexander at the opening session were Botswana's President Festus Mogae, AWF officials, and CCA President Stephen Hayes.
Alexander, who had returned in August from a two-week visit to Africa led by Senator Bill Frist, was "excited" about a conservation initiative in the area where Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe meet. Under the Four Corners Trans-boundary Natural Resources Management Area Initiative, AWF has joined the four countries and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to preserve the natural resources in the Chobe-Hwanage-Mosi-au-Tunya-Caprivi-Kafue area, which covers an estimated 220,000 square kilometers.
The Four Corners Initiative promotes increased cooperation in managing shared natural resources, particularly water, migratory wildlife, and critical ecosystems, Alexander said. Speaking to President Mogae, he said, "I want you to know that there are a number of us in the U.S. Senate and government who want to encourage this kind of union."
Responding to Alexander's praise for Botswana's good governance, President Mogae said his government considers renewable natural resources, especially wildlife, important to the economy and believes "they must be conserved and harnessed for the benefit of the people." In land-use planning, he said, "we accord conservation the priority that reflects its importance to the national economy."
It was obvious to listeners that Botswana's government has taken wide-ranging and innovative steps to both preserve their natural resources and provide an investment-friendly environment.
"Local communities can only assume responsibility and take interest in the sustainable management of their natural resources when accorded the right to derive benefits from the resources," Mogae said. In this regard, he said, about 10 years ago his country started community-based natural resources management programs that enable communities to benefit from the natural resources within their areas.
Mogae admitted, however, that the communities have had problems in administering these programs, notably "inadequate" accountability.
He added that "other communities feel that they too must have preferential access to resources in their areas, including minerals ... if those in wildlife areas benefit preferentially from their wildlife.
"A key aspect of our conservation effort is acceptance of the reality that wildlife know no boundaries," he said. "In this respect, a number of countries in east and southern Africa share those mobile wildlife resources where there are no barriers to prevent their movement." He said the countries work together to harmonize policies and strategies for managing shared resources.
"In April 1999, Botswana signed a memorandum of agreement with South Africa for the joint management of the Kgalagadi Trans-Frontier Park," Mogae said. "This resulted in unfettered movement among wildlife to have access to resources which they could not reach previously. Consultations are ongoing regarding the possibility of establishing another trans-frontier conservation area with South Africa and Zimbabwe on the central northeastern corner of Botswana. The area is rich in wildlife resources and has important ecological sites."
He said that countries in the region "are enthusiastic about the potent benefits" possible with trans-boundary management of natural resources. Advocates have identified 22 areas in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region where trans-boundary conservation areas can be established, offering "enormous opportunities for investment" in the future, he said.
Mogae said a significant portion of Botswana's wild land has been devoted to conservation of natural resources. "The wildlife estate is about 37 percent of the surface area of Botswana. That's national parks and game reserves," he said. "This is a huge area by any standard [and] ... even more so considering the fact that most parts of Botswana are arid or semi-arid."
In addition to setting aside vast expanses of land for conservation," he said, "financial and human resources have been allocated" to this effort. "We have an efficient and effective law enforcement program," he said. "We have permanently deployed Botswana's defense force personnel in some conservation areas to assist the Department of Wildlife and National Parks in anti-poaching operations."
The combined efforts of the army and game scouts keep poaching levels low, he said. "While some countries in Africa experienced declining elephant populations due to excessive poaching in the 1980s, the elephant population in Botswana was growing and, in fact, it doubled during that time," he noted.
Mogae pointed out that government policy in Botswana also ensures that utilization of wildlife resources is sustainable. "Our [hunting] quotas over the years have been conservative, while enabling business to derive substantial returns. In cases where we thought a particular species could not sustain the off-take, such species would be taken out of the hunting quota. This was done in 1983 with elephants, and hunting was only reinstated in 1996," he said.
"Recently, when we were concerned that lions and cheetahs were being killed in large numbers by farmers in defense of their livestock, the government took the unpopular decision of prohibiting the killing of these species," he added.
"It is for this reason that we hold important populations of some of the most threatened species of wildlife in Africa. We have some of the largest populations of lion, cheetah, statunga [gazelle found only in this part of Africa], wild dog, water crane, and antelope. It is not by coincidence that one of the most important sites for the migration of the flamingo is found in our Sua Pan [one of the large pans that make up the Makgadikgadi] in Botswana."
The Makgadikgadi Salt Pans in northern Botswana are one of the most important breeding sites for greater and lesser flamingos in Africa. "This bestows upon us the responsibility to conserve this species in sufficient numbers and to ensure the protection of their habitat," Mogae said, adding, "An important part of our conservation strategy is the recognition that a growing human population and untended human activities result in increased demand for land."
One institution in Tanzania -- the College of African Wildlife Management at Mweka -- has had a hand in teaching many Africans the techniques of successful natural resource management. "Hundreds of Africans, including from my own country, have gone through the gates of Mweka College," Mogae said. "The government and people of Tanzania deserve our deep appreciation. It was their well-known generosity, hospitality, and spirit of pan-African solidarity that made it possible for Batswana and Africans in general to study and graduate from Mweka College."
The African Wildlife Foundation helps to support the college.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)