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Citation Information

Type Thesis or Dissertation - Doctor of Philosophy
Title Conservation's Complexities: A Study of Livelihoods and People-Park Relations around Chobe National Park, Botswana
Author(s)
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2012
URL https://escholarship.org/content/qt2bc0h1zz/qt2bc0h1zz.pdf
Abstract
My dissertation research is a case study of how the presence of an area protected for
wildlife conservation can alter the livelihood options available to nearby rural
communities, and an examination of the livelihood strategies that villagers deploy to cope
with these conditions. Protected areas have become the primary approach to conserving
biodiversity across the planet. While the modern protected areas movement dates back to
the nineteenth century, conservation scientists have recently become increasingly
concerned with measuring the social as well as ecological effects of land set aside for
conservation. The large and growing body of “people and parks” literature examines the
costs and benefits of protected areas for local communities. However, the net impact of a
protected area is context-specific and is not always clear, and question of how protected
areas affect livelihoods and human development remains widely and contentiously
debated amongst social and natural scientists.
Using a political ecology framework, I explain in this dissertation how the Chobe
National Park has influenced rural livelihoods in the northern region of Botswana, a
country that is notable for its status as a relatively well-functioning welfare state, and its
long history of rural-urban socio-economic linkages. Specifically, I chronicle the agrarian
livelihood strategies of smallholder farmers living on the edge of Chobe National Park in
northern Botswana—a place where the state has prioritized wildlife conservation but also
provides support to residents’ livelihoods in a number of ways. In Chobe, agricultural
production is becoming increasingly challenging even as the government increases its
agricultural subsidies and support to small farmers. I show that it is conservation policy
rather than the prioritization of commercial farming that hurts small-scale agriculture and
causes some farmers to shift livelihood activities.
I also demonstrate how restricted-use rights over wildlife, limited ways to
participate in the mandated community wildlife management regimes (called community
trusts) and a dearth of realistic revenue-generating wildlife-based opportunities for
villagers make wildlife a relatively inaccessible source of livelihood support. Norms
regarding wildlife as the property of the state, in conjunction with sources of livelihood
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support that are easier for households to access – namely remittances from urban kin and
state transfers – undermine the creation of effective community-based natural resource
management regimes.
Throughout my dissertation I emphasize that the Chobe National Park and the
Chobe Enclave villages do not exist as bounded insular units of analysis and instead are
better understood as nodes in a web of social relations and connections that extend
beyond the physical boundaries of the region. This recognition draws directly from
insights made by critical geographers that provide a theoretical understanding of place
that is extroverted and aware of its links with the wider world. Much of the people and
parks research has focused on social and economic outcomes for communities living on
the edges (e.g., buffer) of protected areas. However, the economic and social effects of
protected areas are not limited to their borders and can affect human dynamics hundreds
of miles away. I discuss linkages between rural and urban communities to create a more
complete picture of the way in which protected areas can affect human populations, even
those living far from park borders. I show that the overall net growth around Chobe NP’s
edges does not preclude out-migration from certain buffer areas. Human movements
towards, away from and within the Chobe National Park buffer zone have altered the
demographic composition of rural villages and contributed to a new spatial patterning of
people and associated livelihoods.
Ultimately, this study looks at how a park affects who lives where, and what the
implications of such settlement patterns are for livelihoods, land use, and social relations
in a web of interconnected geographical areas. In illustrating these dynamics, this work
contributes to a rich body of literature that examines the context-dependent mechanisms
through which a protected area can alter socio-economic development and in turn, the
ecology and biodiversity of a rural landscape.

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