Traditional Herding

Humans and wildlife have coexisted for millennia in Botswana’s Okavango Delta region. Over the generations, unique cultural adaptations were developed to address the competing interests of wild animal populations and domesticated livestock.

Unfortunately, recent cultural shifts in values have meant that the lessons and wisdom from previous generations are being abandoned resulting in poor land management and human-wildlife conflict. The Great Plains Foundation seeks to reverse this trend by revitalizing indigenous knowledge and the successful approaches to livestock herding developed over many generations. Through a series of courses, led by subject matter experts, local farmers are re-introduced to the wisdom of their forbearers and encouraged to apply these lessons to their current practices.

Background

In 2017, the Great Plains Foundation launched a comprehensive initiative titled Land for Lions employing the same strategic and thoughtful approach as other Great Plains Foundation conservation projects; recognizing that without coordinated tactics that stress collaboration, conservation outcomes are limited. Land for Lions is structured in three parts: securing, expanding, and stewarding lion habitat in Africa. The Great Plains Foundation’s Traditional Herding courses are part of the larger Land for Lions initiative and conducted in partnership with subject-matter experts from the CLAWS Conservancy.

Similar to many other parts of the world, rural populations in north-western Botswana have been drawn to population centres in pursuit of jobs and modern amenities. The allure of professional jobs in cities has replaced the prestige of farming, leaving traditional pastoralist life to be viewed as a low-status occupation with little pay. Younger generations of herders now focus their attention on subjects that will lead them into new professions, rather than carry on the practices of former generations

This loss in work-force has meant livestock is left to roam unattended. The unattended livestock overgrazes and forces other herbivores, such as elephant and buffalo, into competition for resources. In addition, the livestock will frequently venture into lion territory where they fall victim to predation. Loss of cattle to predation means loss of an important source of income and savings in these communities further inflaming human-wildlife conflict and increasing the threat of retaliatory killing of lions in this critical location.

The Great Plains Foundation’s Traditional Herding Program with the CLAWS Conservancy brings facilitators from the African Centre for Holistic Management for a 1-week course on eco-literacy, rotational grazing, low-stress herding and livestock protection against disease and predators. Villagers are instilled with the knowledge that their traditional herding practices of the past were truly innovative and exceptionally designed for their environment.

A secondary goal of the program is to instil a sense of pride in the pastoralist life as the front-lines of conservation and the protector of the environmental health that the entire community depends upon.

Training courses are planned to be held twice annually, allowing for engagement from multiple villages within the region. Informal follow-up with the course participants and partner communities will occur on an on-going basis. The first joint Great Plains Foundation and CLAWS Conservancy Traditional Herding Course in Botswana occurred in August 2018.

The Traditional Herding Courses take place for a 1-week, twice a year. The courses are held in local villages bordering the north-western boundary of the Okavango Delta and attended by local residents. The course material is taught by experienced facilitators who work in partnership with the Great Plains Foundation and the CLAWS Conservancy.

Follow-up is conducted on an ongoing basis by conservation professionals and community liaisons working in the participating communities.

Goal

The goal of the Traditional Herding Training Courses is to celebrate and reinvigorate the innovative indigenous knowledge of the Northern Okavango Delta region that maintained healthy ecosystems and minimized human-wildlife conflict in the past. By revitalizing these traditional herding practices, the training program promotes healthy land and livestock management and reduces predation on free-roaming cattle, increasing herder income from cattle rearing and reducing human-wildlife conflict.

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