Vegetation of Botswana
Around the countryside, there are lots of large, open plains covered in tall grass and interspersed with dry established thorny thickets. Among these are dense stands of Leadwood trees, Combretum imberbe, and Knobthorns, Acacia Nigrescens. The latter are so numerous that their beautiful, creamy flowers combine to form a powerful perfume.
Perhaps as the result of fires in the past, there are large areas of chest-high wild sage, amidst occasional ‘islands’, typical of the Delta, where termite mounds are dotted with African mangosteens, rain trees, marulas, sausage trees, and jackal berry. Amongst the larger stands of trees are umbrella thorns, Acacia tortillas, and real fan palms, Hyphaene Petersiana. But these islands of forest are relatively infrequent and quite poorly defined.
In the far north, the concession has a short boundary with Moremi, the Boro River, which is one of the Delta’s best-known channels and is lined in parts by mature riverine forest.
Overall the mixed environment contains a wide variety of tree and plant species, though it doesn’t have the beauty of some of the more mature, established forests or floodplain areas.
The current status of the vegetation resources of Botswana’s savannahs is evaluated. However, a lack of systematic data providing sufficiently detailed information on vegetation cover has meant a reliance on site-specific data making national level aggregation difficult. At the national level, the importance of vegetation resources in the subsistence livelihoods of the largely poor rural population is evidenced by the large percentage of rural households below the poverty datum line (PDL). This is despite Botswana having the second-fastest rate of economic growth in the world in 2000, after Mozambique, mainly as a result of a shift from an agricultural to a mineral-based economy. The continued reliance of the rural population on the savannahs has resulted in an increase in the woody biomass component of the vegetation cover that appears to have occurred through the processes of bush encroachment in response to reduced grass cover. This change in vegetation cover has resulted from changing land use, which in turn is primarily the result of the very large increase in the number of grazers (predominantly cattle) and the related decrease in the number of browsers (predominantly wildlife, antelopes). The process has been continuing over the last 40 years at least. In addition, complex changes have resulted from the increased use of boreholes which have allowed the colonization of previously uninhabitable areas. Population growth has also had a significant impact even though the preliminary results of the recent population census showing a reduced growth rate of 2.38% compared to 3.25% in the previous census in 1990 (Botswana Government, 1991 and 2002).
Despite the importance of the savannas to the people of Botswana, most of the services provided by Savanna’s to their inhabitants are not valued and hence do not exist in national or international accounting systems designed to assess sustainability. Therefore, many of the critical services provided by the Savannah vegetation of Botswana are largely or totally ignored in policymaking. This is primarily important to the local inhabitants who continue to see either policy failures or a complete lack of policy development aimed at successfully improving their welfare. The rural poverty in Botswana is clear evidence of the continuing failure of developmental policy in sub-Saharan Africa to make progress in assisting it’s rural and often even urban populations, to achieve significant levels of development even when national wealth may be increasing. The lack of rural development may partially be a result of the under-investment in the stocks of the natural capital of which Savannah is an important component. It is important for Botswana and other countries in the region to understand how to value the services provided by savannas properly and in doing so develop balanced policies that will allow Savannah vegetation to be sustainably exploited and developed.
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