Desertification in Botswana


by Michael B.K. Darkoh

Department of Environmental Science, University of Botswana, Private Bag 0022, Gaborone, Botswana

In terms of desertification, Botswana is one of the most seriously affected countries in the Kalahari Region of Southern Africa. Problems include overstocking, large-scale vegetation depletion and changes, especially around water points, and accelerated soil erosion by wind, sheetwash and gullying. Part of the desertification problem is natural in such a semi-arid and drought-prone environment. But the greater part is due to pressure of commercial exploitation of a fragile ecosystem. Owing to the increasing pressure of the already crowded communal grazing areas of the east, owners of large herds have, in the last three decades, been moving westwards, establishing permanent cattle posts in the Kalahari sandveld and spreading conditions of overstocking and degradation of vegetation on a large scale.

The move into the Kalahari sandveld has been facilitated by the Tribal Grazing Lands Policy (TGLP), introduced in 1975, which encouraged owners of large herds to move them out of the crowded settlement areas, to the sandveld where they would be given exclusive rights to land to establish fenced commercial ranches. Impetus was also provided by the impact of modern science and technology that provided veterinary care and new sources of water by means of deep drilling boreholes. Recent satellite imagery reveals that there has been considerable uncontrolled development of cattle posts in areas set aside for wildlife management, resulting in the emergence of land use conflicts and extensive degradation of the tree savannas.

The arid and semi-arid lands of Botswana have undergone marked socio-economic and environmental change. This paper has pointed out that as a result of the development of the livestock sector and the utilization of the country’s grazing resources, a complex relationship between people and environment has developed, giving rise to dryland degradation or desertification. While considerable progress has been made in combating desertification, the results of most anti-desertification efforts have not yet
achieved the expected results. The constraints against combating desertification include climate, government policy and population growth. But, perhaps, the greatest constraint is the void and confusion created by the breakdown of traditional structures and the lack of adequate institutional capacity and mechanisms for implementing community based natural resource projects (Pilane 1997). Also, there are influential sceptics who currently believe that the nature and extent of desertification in the
country have been exaggerated, a factor that could influence the pace of development, especially, of government’s action in fully implementing appropriate policies such as those outlined in the country’s blueprint, the National Conservation Strategy (NCS). However, given the strength of the economy, the political will, the democratic governance and the environmental consciousness prevailing among the political leadership and educated elite at present, there appears to be good prospects for sustained effort and possible success in containing the desertification problem in the country in the near future.

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Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.