Sixty-eight year old Kenaope Tantsidi sits opposite leaders from Botswana’s development industry in her home village of Lerala, pen poised and an intense look on her face. With hair wrapped in the traditional style and a white collared blouse and blazer, she is the picture of community based natural resource management success. Mrs. Tantsidi means business.
She is Chairperson of Kgetsi ya Tsie Community Development Trust, which, among other activities, harvests and produces oil from marula trees. Along with the Trust Coordinator, Naesego Namipi, she is meeting with the project’s funding bodies and support organisations, the Kalahari Conservation Society, and two USAID funded programs, the Southern Africa Regional Environmental Program (SAREP) and the Resilience in the Limpopo Basin (RESILIM) program, to secure continued support for their project.
For this and other community based natural resource management projects around Botswana, the supporting organisations aim to encourage the sustainable use of natural resources by communities. It is hoped communities will be more committed to protecting and conserving their environment and will build their resilience to climate change impacts by deriving sustainable income from their surroundings.
Products derived from marula are especially well placed to achieve this, not only because marula trees have been protected by farmers for centuries because of their positive effect on the health of the soil, but also because they are expected to flourish in the face of climate change.
For Mrs. Kenaope and the community members who work for Kgetsi Ya Tsie, the goal of producing marula oil is to improve the socio-economic opportunities of women in the Tswapong area. “This project helps because it helps my family,” the grandmother of six says. “At first I didn’t know how to do any of it but I’ve learned a lot, I’ve learned knowledge and my family sees that.”
Production Supervisor Gaopalelwe Seroke walks us through the process of extracting the marula oil. After the fruits are picked and peeled, their pulp is made into sweets and juice. The seeds are then left in drying pans until the kernels can be removed. These are pressed to make the oil, which is then sold to an American company to make cosmetics.
Mrs. Seroke tells me she moved to Lerala from her home village to take up the position. “I saw an opportunity that would be good for me and for my family so I went to it,” the 57 year old says proudly. More sites where local communities can be empowered by producing marula products are being sought around the country. RESILIM Chief Scientist, Dr. Nkobi Mpho Moleele says the main challenge is to meet the demand for the marula oil. “The demand for natural products over synthetic is increasing,” Dr. Moleele says. “The market is out there; whatever communities are out there and ready, we just need to capacitate them. These projects are about tangible outcomes on the ground and about implementing climate change adaptation by working on projects that will deliver in a changing environment.”
Efforts to engage communities in sustainable resource management are extending and growing across Botswana. It is hard to deny their impact when Mrs. Tantsidi looks up from her notepad. “Now, I am a businesswoman.”