Veld Products, Botswana. Veld Product Research & Development - Protecting Africa's Forests.

The Community Based Management of Indigenous Forests (CBMIF) Project

Objectives and strategy

The Community Based Management of Indigenous Forest Project is a collaborative effort of SNV Botswana, GTZ through the SADC/FSTCU in Malawi and VPR&D.

It started in 1996 in the villages of Motokwe, Khekhenye and Tshwaane, Western Kweneng Sub-District, with the objective:

"To improve the living standard of rural communities in Botswana through sustainable and equitable utilisation of veld products."

The project strategy is based on two assumptions:

  1. People will only be interested in management of veld resources if they can derive a reasonable and sustainable income from it.

  2. Most veld products are found in communal lands and therefore should be managed by the relevant communities.

In order to maximise benefits for the people from veld products, the project has chosen to address issues related to four aspects of veld product management: management of the indigenous vegetation, domestication, processing and preservation and marketing. While working on these more technical issues, the project attempts to establish mechanisms at community level in which the different uses of natural resources are discussed and decisions are made with sustainability, equity and gender integration as major guiding principles.

Communal management of veld products for commercial gain, as opposed to random utilisation for subsistence, is a relatively new concept, for VPR&D well as for the communities. In order to make sure that lessons are learned, the project uses an annual consultation cycle. Every year the project plans activities together with the communities, monitors progress and provides support to the communities in the course of the year, and, at the end of each year, evaluates progress and problems, again together with the communities.

Activities up to date

Most progress in the initial phase of the project has been made on domestication and sustainable utilisation of veld products. Through subsidised provision of seedlings and nursery materials and training sessions, the project has succeeded in developing awareness and a keen interest among the communities in cultivation of indigenous fruit trees and veld products, agroforestry and bee-keeping. To date almost 4,500 seedlings of fruit trees and veld products have been distributed. Survival rates of the indigenous tree species are 60 - 70 %, which is encouraging given the harsh environment. Also, through involving other projects and organisations in this activity, this activity can now be sustained with a minimum of effort on part of the project. One weakness associated to this activity is that sometimes, because of the low intensity of the follow-up from the project, people do not always adhere to guidelines. Another weakness is that, unlike the activities under the other project components, there is no clear prospect of income generation potential of the species used. The interest of the communities shows however that they are willing to take the risk.

The project has approached the issue of management of the veld products in the wild, processing and marketing, through organising activities around the products which are currently available in the wild and which are being commercially exploited. In an early stage of project implementation the communities identified the four most potential veld products for income generation:

  • Moretlwa (Grewia flava; Raisin Bush)

  • Sengaparile (Harpagophytum procumbens, Devils Claw)

  • Mahupu (Terfezia pfeilii, Kalahari Truffles)

  • Motsikiri (Eragrostis pallens, Thatching grass)

Although the specific activities for the different products differed a similar strategy was used. Main steps in the process were raising awareness on availability and ecology through participatory resource assessments, community meetings to agree on harvest areas and quota and working on community organisation for the purpose of quality control and marketing. Participation levels in these discussions ranged between 40 and 70 % of all households, depending on the product and community.

The activities under this component were implemented in close collaboration with the Agricultural Resources Board, the government body responsible for regulating the extraction of indigenous plants, which gave legal backing to community decisions. A local NGO was asked to assist with community organisation and institution building.

Although the products we are dealing with are indigenous, the yields still depend on the rainfall, which is highly variable. Last year, 1997, showed high yields of e.g. thatching grass and grapple, whereas this year the yields were far less, both in terms of quality and quantity. The raisin bush did not give any significant yields in 1996 and 1997, because of unfavourable timing of rainfall. Because of these limitations income generated through these products has been relatively low.

Another problem is that traditional utilisation of the veld products was geared towards subsistence in stead of commerce.

People know the plants and the properties of those species, which they have used, but do not have a real notion of quantities available and market dynamics. In 1997 for instance the project asked the communities whether they had truffles in the area. All three communities reported back that this year was a bumper year and they would be able to supply large quantities. In the end the project was only able to collect 200kg, which hardly paid for the expenses of the trip. On several occasions the project and the communities had tough discussions on issues such as prices, handling and transport cost and quality. Communities are slowly learning, but it takes time.

In 1998 a marketing study was conducted to identify additional marketable products and markets. The results of the study indicate that only a few products have potential for income generation, mainly because the limited quantities available of most species does not warrant commercial exploitation. Also, especially for the medicinal plants and wild foods, sophisticated tests and quality control are required, which reduce the possibilities of community based processing. Together with three other NGO's, the project intends to test market indigenous teas, which seem to be available in abundance and the processing of which is fairly simple. Hopefully this collaboration will contribute to the establishment of a marketing network, which will improve the transparency of the market demands and the supply.

One of the reasons why veld products were selected as the main focus of the project was that it was assumed that veld products were important especially for the more marginalised groups, such as Bushmen and female headed households. The project has monitored participation levels of the different socio-economic groups and discussed the issue with the community groups found that especially these groups are active in the project: Apparently the work involved and the relatively low returns make veld products a last resort. In terms of equity, the project is therefore more focusing on the internal dynamics of the veld products groups.

These groups were established already in an early phase of the project around the management of group plots. Later the groups became active in other areas as well, such as tree planting and resource assessments.

The project has supported these groups through regular workshops and training sessions. However, probably mainly because of the variety of activities engaged in and the marginal returns generated so far, these groups have not developed into strong entities. Hopefully the herbal teas will prove to be a viable and profitable enterprise, which would contribute to a stronger organisation. However, if this would prove to be wishful thinking, we may have to draw the conclusion that veld products are not the most appropriate resource around which to build a strong community organisation.

A more informal community consultation mechanism may be more appropriate for the management of resources with limited income generation potential.

Way Forward

The project currently is preparing a second phase project document. The lessons above will be incorporated in the process. Several rounds have been planned to properly consult with the communities and other stakeholders. Also the project is looking into the feasibility of alternative natural resource management activities, such as eco-tourism and, crafts production. The results of these assessments combined with the experiences of the first phase will help to make deliberate choices. However, there still are a big number of unknowns and uncertainties regarding the resources and it's management, and the communities and the project will have to continue the process of learning by doing which started in the first phase of the project.

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