The University of Arizona

Elephants, safety nets and agrarian culture: understanding human-wildlife conflict and rural livelihoods around Chobe National Park, Botswana

A. Clare Gupta


Resolving conflict between agricultural livelihoods and wildlife conservation requires a sophisticated understanding of both wildlife ecology and human livelihood decision-making. This case study extends the literature on human-wildlife conflict in Africa by using a political ecology framework to understand how and why farmers in areas of high wildlife disturbance make their farming decisions, and how their strategies are affected by a broader socio-political context that includes, but is not restricted to, wildlife conservation policy. Specifically, this article chronicles the livelihood strategies of smallholder farmers in a village on the edge of Chobe National Park in northern Botswana. This is a place where the state has prioritized wildlife conservation but also supports residents' livelihoods. Because of disturbance from wildlife, especially elephants, protected under conservation law, agricultural production in Chobe is becoming increasingly challenging, even as the government increases its agricultural subsidies and support to small farmers. This results in unexpected farming strategies that reflect the interactive effects of conservation policy and other relevant macro-economic policies that structure the livelihood strategies of rural communities living near protected areas. Future human-wildlife conflict studies must take into account these multi-scalar and multi-dimensional dynamics in order to accurately explain the livelihood strategies of people living in wildlife-populated areas, so that appropriate conservation and development policies can be designed.

Keywords: Botswana, wildlife conservation, rural livelihoods, human-wildlife conflict, political ecology

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