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Government’s move to save natural resources

Local communities in Botswana who trade in natural resources say a new regulation by the government might force them to re-think, if not regulate their business. They say the regulation will negatively impact on their lives, as most are reliant on trading in natural resources for survival.
Mqondisi Dube

The Botswana government last month introduced legislation, which requires commercial harvesters of natural resources to apply for permits to carry out their businesses.

Most local communities feel that the process of applying for permits will be tedious and discourage them from venturing into business.

Some villagers say those without permits will fear venturing into business as they risk being arrested.

A Francistown resident, Kebeilwe Morobe says the only source of income for many locals particularly those living in the rural areas is mainly from selling products like wild fruits and the mopane worm.

"The government will have to come up with measures to ensure that rural communities are prioritised in the issuing of the permits," Morobe says.

She says the move by the government was premature as most of the communities were not aware of the regulations.

Kennedy Madibela, who works at a customary court, says since the regulations are meant to control the exploitation of natural resources, the number of those issued with permits will be lower.

“It is clear that the government will try and reduce the number of people who trade in natural resources. By so doing, few people will be issued with permits yet the majority in the rural communities rely on selling veld products,” Madibela says.

He says issuing permits to a few locals will mean that most communities who survive on trading in natural resources will have to look elsewhere for a source of income.

During a tour of villages and remote areas last month, the Assistant Minister of Presidential Affairs, Olifant Mfa assured communities that the regulations are meant to control the exploitation of natural resources and not punish them.

Most villagers, during meetings with the minister, expressed fear that they might be arrested if there were found with no permits.

Michael Mogalajwe, from Mathangwane, a village near Francistown fears there might be discrimination in the issuing of permits by village leaders.

"Transparency might be compromised as this will be done at village level. They might be favouritism in the issuing of these permits. The government should re-think the whole process," Mogalajwe, a 60-year villager says.

But Mfa says the government will ensure that the process is done in a transparent manner and that no locals intending to trade in natural resources will be disadvantaged.

Those found without permits under the new regulations will be arrested and brought before customary courts.

Morobe although applauding the move to control the exploitation of natural resources, feels the issuing of permits will take a long time, and in the process inconvenience those who are dependant on selling particularly the mopane worm, wild fruits and firewood.

Residents of Gweta and Zoroga, villages west of Francistown, say the risk of getting arrested was very high if they harvested wild products without written permission.

During a meeting with Mfa, the residents said they were no longer allowed to harvest firewood or thatching grass without a permit.

Residents say since most people in rural areas are unemployed, they depend on harvesting and selling veld products to make a living.

They say they would now suffer as government has made it difficult for them to assist their families with the introduction of permits.

The residents say getting a permit is not easy and that most Batswana in remote areas are not aware of the new requirement thus they might end up on the wrong side of the law.

Veld products, they argue are provided by Mother Nature and that humans have relied on them for survival for many years.

Mfa reiterates that the regulations were not meant to punish them but to conserve and control the rate at which veld products are harvested.

Botswana’s Agricultural Resources Board (ARB), acting secretary, David Mmui says permits will only apply for commercial purposes and not for domestic use.

Mmui says some natural resources have economic potential and that local and international companies have been exploiting the resources on an unsustainable basis hence the need for regulations.

Under the new system, ARB will establish and register all buyers and exporters in an effort to better monitor the exploitation of resources.

The arrangement in rural communities would be that members of village development committees or chiefs would issue such permits on behalf of the ARB.

He says the Ministry of Wildlife, Environment and Tourism through ARB is currently developing regulations that will ensure that products such as thatching grass and firewood are not commercialised without the consent of authorities.

For locals, the worm, a blue, spiky caterpillar of the nocturnal Emperor moth, is a free and easily accessible source of protein, iron and calcium.

Foreigners, particularly from neighbouring Zimbabwe, who come in large numbers to sell the edible worm, will also be affected by the new regulations.

Villagers from Zimbabwe’s western parts bordering Botswana, regularly cross into Botswana to harvest the mopane worm for re-sell, in most cases, in Francistown.

The Botswana government says the harvesting of natural resources, particularly the mopane worm, leads to destruction of the mopane tree.

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