One evening in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, YALI Network member Mavis Nduchwa attended a dinner with the late South African conservation pioneer Ian Player. The founder of the Wilderness Foundation in South Africa and the United Kingdom, and of the WILD Foundation in the United States, “made me realize the important role I can play in helping to conserve nature,” Nduchwa recalls.
Now a manager of Planet Baobab, a travel lodge at the edge of Botswana’s Makgadikgadi salt pans southeast of the delta, Nduchwa helps guests appreciate and protect their surroundings.
“I cannot imagine my life without wildlife,”
she says. Linking conservation with her livelihood, she stresses that her park job has allowed her to build a house and to send her nieces and nephews to school.
The Makgadikgadi pans, in the middle of northeastern Botswana’s dry savanna, are the remains of an enormous lake that once covered an area larger than Switzerland. The area makes up one of the largest salt flats in the world. During the harsh dry season, the salty desert has little plant life. But following the rainy season, the pans become a critical habitat for migrating animals, including wildebeest, zebra, white pelicans and greater flamingos.
While the government of Botswana is addressing threats to the environment like deforestation, erosion, and illegal hunting, Nduchwa feels more can be done. She suggests training educators about conservation so they can teach the public about what everyone can do to use natural resources carefully. She says conservation outreach to people who live in rural areas and don’t have access to radio messaging is particularly needed.
“People should understand that it is our responsibility to look after our environment,” Nduchwa believes. “They should understand why they should not walk past a plastic bag or a can in the wild. With the right knowledge of the damage that does to the environment, individuals can do a lot. We need to empower them with knowledge.”
Nduchwa is doing her own part. She volunteers at local schools, helping students understand “the importance of looking after our environment.” And she teaches local women about farming methods that are safe for the environment, like using crop stems to feed pigs and chicken manure instead of chemicals to fertilize gardens.
Nduchwa adds that businesses, too, can partner with communities to help conserve natural resources and protect wildlife. Planet Baobab, for example, has adopted conservation practices like having guests and employees refill their plastic water bottles instead of disposing of them when they are empty.
Nduchwa says that using environment-friendly practices can be good for businesses’ bottom lines. “More companies and individuals would want to associate themselves with such businesses,” she notes, adding that she prefers to buy from businesses that sell products made from recycled materials like paper and plastic.
That recycling also generates jobs, she notes, pointing to the women weavers who make and sell hats, mats and even greeting cards out of recycled materials.
“I always like to see a clean environment around us,” Nduchwa says, adding that her village won an award for being the country’s “most clean village.”
Nduchwa suggests that teachers can get young people involved in conservation by organizing them to collect discarded cans and bottles for recycling or for use in their school science projects. “Make the experience as fun as possible,” she suggests.
“Let’s teach our kids to conserve while they are still young,” she says. “Let’s all go green.”