The primary objective of the Okavango Delta Management Plan – known throughout Botswana as the ODMP – is to balance the often conflicting needs of a multitude of stakeholders in the Delta. Considering the different levels of scale and stages of stakeholder development, this is an ambitious mandate by anyone’s standard.

[The stakeholders] all demand what they perceive as being their right to the benefits of the Delta,” says Sekgowa Motsumi of Botswana’s Department of Environmental Affairs.

Although Motsumi is newly appointed in his post as Coordinator for the implementation phase of the ODMP, he is well versed in the expectations of the users of the Delta. Motsumi has worked on the planning phase of the ODMP for the past three years and, in his mind, is clear on what is needed, namely: communications, partnerships, vision and a proper review of existing legislation and policy.

The whole plan is about balancing stakeholder interests. The problem is that environmental issues are seldom at the forefront of people’s thinking, especially if these problems are trans-boundary in nature. How do you get a subsistence farmer in Angola to be thinking about the downstream ecological health of the Okavango Delta in Botswana?” he asks.

These questions are being debated on a daily basis by Dr Nkobi Moleele and his team at the BioOkavango project, a natural resource research project hosted by the University of Botswana’s Harry Oppenheimer Okavango Research Centre.

Moleele shines a stark light on the coordination challenges of river basin management. Under the auspices of the ODMP, the BioOkavango Project is engaged in outreach work on stakeholder conflict over fishing rights in the northern panhandle sections of the Delta. It is at this region that the Okavango River slows, drops its load and the nutrient build-up of the Delta begins to take place. Different people think it is, naturally, a good area for fishing.

An estimated 3 200 people are engaged throughout the Delta in fishing activities of various kinds and many have historically depended on fish as a supplementary food source. Today, however, some have escalated their fishing effort into commercial activity as nearby markets have developed. Under Botswana’s 1968 Tribal Land Act every citizen theoretically has the right to access natural resources for subsistence purposes. This gives birth to a tension between what Moleele refers to as those fishing “for the pot” and those who fish to “catch and sell”.

It is just very difficult to draw the line between the two,” explains Moleele.

Add on to this a further layer of complexity in the form of high-end commercial tourism ventures who offer sport fishing (for tiger fish and bream) as an exclusive activity, and you have the potential for a volatile potpourri of natural resource conflict across cultural, development and geographical divides.

The tour operators accuse the communities of over-fishing, and the communities complain that the tourism enterprises deny them access to important lagoons and fish breeding grounds.

In the spirit of the ODMP, and under Moleele’s tutelage, BioOkavango has brought the various stakeholders together in a pilot project aimed at devising a stakeholder-led management plan to guide the fishing activities of the panhandle. Included in the discussions is the Fisheries unit of Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks.

Both Moleele and Motsumi are aware of the difficulties ahead of them. Moleele believes success lies in stakeholder ownership of the concept.

They will be the ones who will have to enforce this,” he says, referring to the shared responsibility the stakeholders have in turning the plan into reality.

For Motsumi, communications is critical. All levels of stakeholders need to be properly informed of the process and the benefits thereof.

We have to tailor communications tools to different levels of education, culture, tradition and power,” he says.

It is essential that all these efforts are mobilised to ensure buy-in is achieved by all impacted parties, and that the ODMP is ultimately recognised as a plan “for the Delta, by the Delta”.
Written by Alex Hetherington