'Wildlife managers don't respect our opinions' - communities, farmers
Local communities don't trust wildlife managers
'Extension agents display a laissez-faire disposition to work' - research
Researchers have uncovered a growing disconnect between wildlife managers and local communities in the Okavango Delta, which is hindering effective program diffusion leading to failure to resolve rampant human-wildlife conflicts.
The research findings are published in the Journal of Rural Studies 61 (2018) 216-226 in an academic paper titled "Wildlife officials only care about animals’: Farmers' perceptions of a Ministry-based extension delivery system in mitigating human-wildlife conflicts in the Okavango Delta, Botswana". The research was carried out by Sekondeko Ronnie Noga, Olekae Tsompi Thakadu, Gaseitsiwe Smollie Masunga, from the Okavango Research Institute (Maun) of the University of Botswana and the Department of Agricultural Research, Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security, in partnership with Oluwatoyin Dare Kolawole from the College of Health and Social Sciences (CHSS), Eastern University, USA. They found that local leaders e.g, Village Project Committee (VPCs) and individual farmers believe extension agents fail to respect their opinions, and appear to not care about their total wellbeing. "This may lead to farmer or community people's resistance in supporting any development initiative or even sabotaging it. Indeed, this situation creates a hostile environment such that even if a new participatory mitigation strategy were to be created, it becomes less likely that local people will support it, thus lessening its success rate," the researchers extensive study revealed.
Findings from the research revealed that there was a disconnect between DWNP and the local community. Extension agents displayed a laissez-faire disposition when dealing with VPCs (and indeed the farmers); implementation of project-related activities, particularly advocacy was left to the VPCs. Yet, control and the decision-making power lied entirely with the extension agents who only ‘consulted’ the VPCs. Overall, it is concluded that failure to realise the full potential of the initiatives could be, in part, attributed to the skewed power relations and hierarchical control between the participants of the project.
The research paper examined how government intervention influences community participation and behaviour in participatory wildlife management in selected rural communities in northern Botswana. Findings showed that local participation was instrumental to the participatory extension delivery system in the area. Although not legally binding, the VPCs were given the responsibility to implement the mitigation project, and through peer support and their advocacy for ECDIs, they were found to be influential in deciding the direction of ECDIs adoption.
It is widely recognised that government intervention in development issues can shape people's perceptions and experiences. This study examined the influence of a Ministry-based extension system on community-based, problem animal control and perceptions among local arable farmers at the eastern Okavango Panhandle in northern Botswana.
Using a survey of 388 arable farmers and key informant interviews, our results showed that
participation of local people in the implementation of the participatory project was vital for improving people's perceptions and gaining adoption of the innovations, and significantly contributing to project outcomes. Lack of people participation in decision making, the extent to which farmers perceived extension agents as trustworthy, the number of extension agents and extension delivery methods were found to be important factors explaining farmers' perceptions and adoption decisions. Analyses also indicated that knowledge development alone (which is a form of community empowerment) was not enough to encourage participation and innovation adoption.
VPC members' and farmers' remarks about their socioeconomic hardships suggested that they preferred economic incentives over any other incentives. This suggests that community's immediate needs for livelihood and food security are among the locally pressing needs that should be addressed to drive people's commitment to the project. From a policy perspective, our results underscore the need to implement comprehensive interventions that address wildlife management and community development, and actively involve local people in management and decision making to achieve sustainability in human elephant conflict management. There is need, therefore, for government (particularly the wildlife departments) to provide an institutional structure for supporting community-based governance for the purpose of ensuring effective and
sustainable wildlife management and conservation.
Although communities were capacitated through skills and knowledge transfer in addition to the provision of some resources for ensuring that they deliver and adopt ECDIs effectively, this appears to not have aroused much enthusiasm among communities to implement the project. There were complaints that DWNP did not provide sufficient resources to enable the VPCs carry out their work plan or activities efficiently. There were also issues surrounding remunerations, suggesting that the social component of the project did not significantly contribute to poverty alleviation, which the project primarily desired to address in its five years of implementation plan. This also appears to have given rise to certain distrusts between the two parties.
There is a growing concern regarding the relationship between wildlife managers and the local community, which is hindering effective program diffusion. Local leaders (i.e., VPCs) and individual farmers believe extension agents fail to respect their opinions, and appear to not care about their total wellbeing. This may lead to farmer or community people's resistance in supporting any development initiative or even sabotaging it. Indeed, this situation creates a hostile environment such that even if a new participatory mitigation strategy were to be created, it becomes less likely that local people will support it, thus lessening its success rate. While opinions may differ on the matter, it is necessary to achieve some measure of consensus between the stakeholders to guarantee the success of any interventionist initiatives in a given locality (Head, 2007).
The researchers concluded: "Our findings, in conjunction with the previous research, underscore the need for equitable partnerships and collaboration between local communities and wildlife officials to achieve project sustainability. In an area with multiland- use system, it is only rational to involve local stakeholders in addressing the HEC problem. The role of local communities is indispensable for finding solutions which are appropriate for their specific contexts, implementing and sustaining them".