Community-led conservation success in the western Okavango Delta

Joseph “Jay” Haikera, from the little town of Etsha 13, has been a professional Mokoro and boat guide on the western side of the Okavango Delta since 2011. Jay has numerous projects in his home village where he works closely with the village development council to find exciting ways to engage the young people with his greatest love, the nearby Okavango Delta World Heritage Site.

In the past, Jay has volunteered with Birdlife Botswana and enjoys sharing his love of birding with young people in his area, taking them out to do bird counts and identification lessons.

Jay recently sat down with the Okavango Watch team at Nguma Island Lodge, where he works as a guide, to share some of his knowledge.

OW: If you were going to give advice to the young people who live around the Delta, what would it be?

Jay: I would advise the coming generation to get involved in conserving their own area for the generations still to come. Get trained, and learn about the nature around them, this is our treasure! They must work hard, and get involved in any level of research they can afford in order to get involved in the kind of long-term conservation projects that can keep our Delta safe because it is the only one like it.

OW: There is renewed talk about extending the Okavango Delta World Heritage Site up into our neighbors, Namibia and Botswana, where successful tourism projects can learn from you all here who have been doing this for decades, do you welcome this expansion and sharing of knowledge?

Jay: The Okavango River’s flow comes from three countries.. If we join these three countries together, and bring our community-run trusts together to share our knowledge, to share our own research and support the scientists who we rely on to help us make informed choices and we commit to working together for the rest of our lives, then it will make it possible to safeguard the wonders and joys of our shared resource, the Okavango. That way communities from all three countries can benefit from the World Heritage Site.

OW: Your village development council has been working on some plans that they hope will help alleviate human wildlife conflict, can you tell us a bit about that?

Jay: As our livestock is close to the Delta right now, they get killed by crocodiles when they go to drink water, they can also get so stuck in the mud that they die. So we are working on different land uses in order for our cattle not to come into conflict with the wild animals from the Delta. We are planning to drill boreholes, more than 10km away from the seasonal floodplain, so that they have good water to drink away from the wild animals So in this way we are trying to change our land use, putting our homes closest to the Delta, then our plowed fields, then the cattle farthest away – away from possible harm We are also mapping out corridors where the wild animals can go safely from the dry land areas back to the Delta, without coming into contact with our farms. This is our vision.

OW: We saw that just north of here, in Shakawe there is a big new solar farm, but also we saw in Etsha 13 village that many houses are using solar energy, how does your community feel about renewable energy like this?

Jay: You find that before, we used to get energy from far away in Namibia, so you would find that the lines would break in storms and get cut off, but now with solar energy homegrown here in Botswana, we have much more energy security. Right now the Shakawe solar farm is helping our clinics with power, which is nice. Even the boreholes we plan to drill for our cattle and irrigation for our fields will be solar-powered, making it much cheaper to run them.

OW: What would you all like to see happen in Etsha 13 in the coming ten years? What would make these ideas work the best?

Jay: What we would like is to be a team working for the Okavango. To have growing cooperation between us, the government, and outside funders. It is difficult for us, as a community, to be able to afford the right science, and the right research needed to make these solutions work in the future. We are ready, we have the skills for the projects, and I think it is going to work but we need everyone to assist.

OW: If the Okavango World Heritage Site were going to extend, up through Namibia and into Angola, would your community, who has already been working on sustainable tourism projects for decades be willing to help teach people upstream?

Jay: Myself and my community would be very willing to do that. We just have to look at the river. This river started by connecting our three countries, and now it is up to us to share what we know so that others can enjoy this knowledge and benefit from it in their daily lives. We have history, you see me, I am from the Hambukushu tribe from Angola, and my parents came here generations ago. It would be good for me to go and reconnect, to visit Namibia and Angola because we are all still the same people, with a shared language. We need to rediscover that connection we have always had between us, that connection is the Okavango ecosystem.