Crossing frontiers for development and tourism

It is early afternoon at the Twee Rivieren gate to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park that straddles Botswana and South Africa. Receptionist Betty Jonkers is welcoming visitors. Jonkers is one of many Northern Cape residents to whom the increasingly popular park offers employment.

“Jobs are scarce around here,” says Jonkers, adding that working at the park also allows her to do what she enjoys most: “I love tourism.”

The area surrounding the frontier is remote with few opportunities for economic development and employment.

“Members from local communities are employed in various aspects of conservation, tourism, technical services and finance,” says South African National Parks Tourism Manager, Ben Van Eeden.

“I think all the local communities in this area depend on the job opportunities provided by the park. And I think that the economic benefit from the Kgalagadi is critical in terms of the livelihood of communities in this area.” The Kgalagadi Park covers about 3.2 million hectares in Botswana and South Africa with the majority of land in Botswana.

The park also has an exit to Namibia through the Mata Mata gate. As with the other Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs) in the SADC region, the park offers much more than just employment and economic opportunities.

The TFCAs represent a regional approach to biodiversity conservation and tourism development. TFCAs were founded on the “realisation that natural resources that straddle international boundaries are shared assets with the potential to meaningfully contribute to conservation of biodiversity and the socio-economic development of rural communities,” notes SADC’s Programme for Transfrontier Conservation Areas.

This is essential as biodiversity in the region is under pressure due to climate change, desertification, expansion of human populations and settlements and wildlife poaching, among others.

“In terms of conservation, you get an open system to wildlife management, you get a research base that you can share. In terms of expertise, we can share information between the two countries,” says Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park manager Steven Smith.

“It makes it a bigger area to manage in terms of the movement of game and movement of visitors to have a great experience in different types of environments in the park.”

A number of Protocols and strategies provide an enabling environment for the establishment and development of TFCAs in the SADC region.

These include the SADC Protocol on Wildlife Conservation and Law Enforcement (1999), the SADC Protocol on Forestry (2002), the SADC Protocol on Shared Watercourses (2002) and the SADC Regional Biodiversity Strategy (2006).

There are currently 18 TFCAs within the region. These are defined in the SADC Protocol on Wildlife Conservation and Law Enforcement as large ecological regions that straddle the boundaries of two or more countries. As such, these areas provide testing grounds for regional integration as they are transboundary and multi-sectoral by nature, with a focus on conservation and development for local people in and around them. This drives regional integration on a practical level by promoting the harmonisation of policies and developing new ways of dealing with critical issues such as transboundary law enforcement to combat poaching. Income from entry to the parks is shared by South Africa and Botswana. The improvements in access to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park have increased the potential for tourism and local economic development. After processing their passports at the Twee Rivieren rest camp, tourists can enjoy the park and then exit via any of three countries – Botswana, South Africa or Namibia.

“The road that you can use runs from Twee Rivieren all the way up to Mata Mata on the Namibian border. There is a tourist access facility there where they process visitors traveling in either direction,” explains Van Eeden.

Tourists have to spend at least two nights in the park before exiting through another country to prevent Kgalagadi being used as an alternative route by transport companies.

“We have seen a significant increase in tourists visiting the park … increasing from about 20,000 to 30,000 visitors a year,” says Smith.

Tourism and resort operators in all three countries have noted the increased numbers with approval. Obenne Mbaakanyi, Head of Marketing for the Botswana Tourism Organisation, says the park has led to increased stays within the country and expanded their offerings for tourists.

Lodge management on routes leading to the park report an increase in tourists using their facilities as part of their transfrontier and diverse wildlife experience. “Botswana tourism is a thriving industry that greatly contributes to the national economy. It is the second contributor to the country’s GDP after mining,” says Mbaakanyi. –

l The story was excerpted from SADC@35 Success Stories, produced by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre in partnership with GIZ.

November 2015
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