Our new President, His Excellency Mokgweetsi Masisi, has declared that he wants his tenure as leader of Botswana to be characterised by the uplifting of the poorer people of our country. By far the poorest live in our rural areas and must eek out their living from the land.
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This fact demands that if His Excellency’s ambitions are to be met, we must focus on our rural areas.
Our country is characterised by large areas of marginal low rainfall rangeland that is only capable of supporting extensive livestock production at low stocking rates.
Intensive crop-based agriculture is not possible except in very limited patches. To make a difference, impact has to be on a far wider scale. Land tenure in over 90% of our rangelands is communal so any plan for upliftment has to be accepted by and through tribal processes.
Potential of game ranching as a land use General principles
It is worth pointing out that utilisation of our rangelands simply involves converting the foliage that it produces (grass, leaves etc.) which has no market value, into meat and/or aesthetic/tourist use – both of which have economic value. Clearly, game offers a greater diversity of marketable product than domestic stock.
The productivity of our rangelands is ultimately dependant on our management of soil and water conservation and our game animals have adapted to Botswana rangelands over millions of years and, as such, are the most productive utilisers and convertors.
They are therefore potentially by far the easiest to manage and offer the greatest chance of success. Compared with domestic stock they need no veterinary medicines, vaccines, dips, anthelmintics etc. They do not infect humans with parasites to the extent of domestic stock.
Game animals have incredible fecundity – for example, Impala & Wildebeest numbers will increase at about 22% compound per annum, which means that their numbers will double in five years.
They also offer a far wider marketable product base and far higher revenues per Ha than domestic stock.
They are unique to Africa and in a few instances almost unique to Botswana (Chobe Bushbuck) so enjoy an almost brand specific product.
Incredible productivity of game ranches
Recently, there have been reports of declines in the numbers of game animals in Botswana’s national parks and wildlife areas. In contrast to this since 2000; game ranches have steadily increased their game numbers to the extent that game ranch returns show that they now have more Impala, Wildebeest, Kudu, Eland and Waterbuck than our national protected areas.
At least half of the Rhino in Botswana are owned privately! These figures are incredible when game ranches constitute about 1/10 of the area of Botswana’s national parks and game reserves.
The most telling statistic is that South Africa (SA) passed legislation enabling landowner ownership of game animals in 1964. A national census of game in SA in that year showed the national herd to be 557,000 game animals. A similar census in 2005 (40 years later) counted 18.5 million – an increase of 33X or compound growth of nine percent per annum. The numbers of rare and endangered species are even more impressive. There were 34 Black Wildebeest in 1964; by 2005 they had bred up to 26,000!
These facts mean that if we increase the area of game ranches on marginal land 3X to three million Ha (out of an estimated total area of rural marginal grazing land – excluding national parks etc, of say 45 million Ha) we will have only seven percent occupied by game ranches and a projected doubling in our national herd of game animals in 10 years.
Not only this but game can be ranched in conjunction with domestic stock given the correct management.
The example has already been set in Kenya where the Lewa conservancy was created. (See http://www.lewa.org for details). Cattle are part of the production and are grazed alongside predators. It just takes management!
Actual revenue and benefits
South African figures show that extensive domestic stock farming in marginal areas returns between one and two percent on capital while game on the same areas comes in at three to six percent – about 3X!
Comparing the Sabi-Sands private wild life area bordering on the Kruger National Park – KNP. In 2012 this 65,000 Ha area employed 1,200 people or one person to 54 Ha.
The KNP employed 10,300 or one per 388 Ha! This is not at all surprising, as private enterprise, given the right national (government/legislative) support is always the initiator and driving force behind development and wealth creation.
Game ranching & the future of our wildlife/tourist industry
Botswana’s Okavango Delta is a truly incredible natural resource and generator of wealth and employment and the market it serves is growing almost exponentially.
Our wildlife and wild areas offer a unique draw-card to tourists and present an obvious opportunity for poverty eradication and driving our economy.
But the Okavango will suffer ecological malaise and lose its attraction if it is saturated with tourists and over-utilised.
Our wildlife tourist industry needs to expand out of the Delta and spread throughout Botswana. This is vital to the development of the industry and the future of our national economy, as well as the desperate need to uplift our rural communities.
Game ranching, on both freehold and tribal land, presents the most obvious opportunity to achieve this goal.
*Anthony Johnson is a game rancher in the Francistown area, long-time member of the Botswana Wildlife Producers Association and one time chair of the Kalahari Conservation Society in Francistown. Johnson is semi-retired and has managed Lesegolame Game ranch for 18 years, from when it was changed from being a cattle ranch