Jewels of the Kalahari

01 October 2011 | News story

For poor people living in the drylands of Southern Africa, sustainably harvesting and marketing a range of valuable natural products could help lift their fortunes.

IUCN is working to better understand the contribution of dryland goods and services such as medicinal plants to poverty reduction, livelihood security and the national economy of Botswana. A wide range of Veld products such as firewood, foods and medicinal plants are provided by the country’s drylands.

The IUCN study was carried out in Khawa and Struizendum, settlements in the Kgalagadi District of the Kalahari Desert that are home to the San, a poor and marginalised people. For a local economy that is otherwise dominated by livestock production, the study highlighted the importance of a range of Veld resources.

Previous studies have been mainly limited to direct use values, thereby undervaluing dryland resources. Gathering Veld products is the most undervalued activity even though it is critical for low-income households and for efforts to reduce poverty.

Approximately BWP 480,000 (Botswana pula) was generated from Veld product sales in 2005. Some of these include Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens), a medicinal plant found only in the drylands of Southern Africa. It is the most important commercially-exploited medicinal plant in Botswana and has the highest priority for the livelihoods of rural communities in Kgalagadi South.

Nationally approximately 20 tons of dried material with a value of BWP 130,000-170,000, were harvested and marketed in 2005. For the Kgalagadi District sales have been estimated at 5-10 tons with returns of BWP 45,000–80,000. Likewise, Hoodia goordonii, a succulent plant used for its appetite suppressing properties, growing only in the driest parts of the country, provides a unique opportunity for livelihood diversification. The first cultivation trials in three communities in Kgalagadi South were initiated by the Department of Forestry and Range Resources in 2006.

As well as these high value medicinal plants, a wide variety of other medicinal plants are harvested and marketed locally including various herbal teas. The Morula tree and the candle bush (Sarcocaulon sp) from semi-arid areas of Botswana contain ingredients such as waxes and lipids, which are used by the cosmetics industry.

In April this year, IUCN began its Kalahari Namib Project: ‘Enhancing decision-making through Interactive Environmental Learning and Action in the Molopo-Nossob River Basin’ in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. The project is being implemented in the Molopo-Nossob region in the southern Kalahari which suffers continual degradation and loss of biodiversity. Straddling three countries, each with its own policies, this fragile ecosystem is under pressure from various land uses.

One of the project’s aims is to boost the resilience of people’s livelihoods by offering alternative income sources to agriculture and providing commercial advice such as how to market their products. Advice is also given on how to manage the land sustainably. It is hoped that involving communities at the household level in decision making over resources should lead to greater ecosystem stability.

The study carried out in Khawa and Struizendum villages showed that there are many livelihood alternatives which can be used to lift people out of poverty. A wealth of opportunities for growth lie in Veld resources and the tourism industry. All that is required is market incentives to support them and for national economic planners to target these areas for poverty reduction strategies and other necessary policies.

For more information contact:
Cathrine Mutambirwa, Senior Programme Officer, IUCN South Africa Office: cathrine.mutambirwa@iucn.org