21 February 2020GABORONE – Wilderness Safaris has invested over P800 000 into a local conservation farming project that aims to mitigate human-wildlife conflict and generate income for community members of the Okavango Community Trust (OCT) villages adjacent to the Vumbura Concession. Together with Ecoexist and the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security, Department of Crop Production, they will guide the farmers on developing communal plots into cluster farms to produce staples such as beans, maize, millet and sorghum.“We’re proud to work with organisations that share our values and want to make a tangible difference to local communities. The project will not only mitigate human-elephant conflict, with the addition of 35 elephant-aware farmers on the peripheries, but will also help the farmers earn a living. Wilderness Safaris is offering to procure the produce at full market rate plus 10%, while assisting with entry into a bigger market. The surplus received will be channelled directly to the 127 participating community members, enabling them to support their families”, says Wilderness Safaris Botswana Cultural and Community Relationship Manager, Lesh Moiteela.To start the project, Wilderness Safaris used its heavy machinery from the Vumbura Concession to destump a large plot at Eretsha village – a process that took over three months. Thirty-four farmers then attended a conservation-agriculture training workshop in order to learn how to operate the new Agriculture ministry-endorsed ploughing implements. Having started in December, the Eretsha villagers are now expecting their first harvest in May 2020.Wilderness Safaris’ financial commitment to the project includes P150 000 for the agricultural machinery use, P280 000 for the ploughs, and at least P250 000 on staff salaries. Another P150 000 was sponsored for tractor use, drivers and the transportation of goods around the country. The milling machines will be utilised by the OCT villages of Beetsha, Eretsha, Gudigwa, Gunotsoga and Seronga, as well as Sankoyo, where Wilderness Safaris currently has another conservation farming project underway with its community partners.With their love of all things fresh and nutritious, it is predominantly elephants that invade village farms, which often have no solid structures to help prevent such encroachment. “We anticipate the project will make a big difference when it comes to reducing human-wildlife conflict, as it is easier to secure one big plot as opposed to many scattered plots. This ensures that as little of the produce as possible is lost. In the near future we’re also looking to erect an elephant-proof fence to further secure the plot”, notes Lesh.“More and more people in Botswana are starting to understand what it's like living with elephants in their back yard,” says ecologist and Ecoexist Director, Dr Graham McCulloch. “The 127 farmers of Ghando Cluster live with thousands in their backyard; elephants are part of their daily lives. They already coexist with elephants. But it’s HARD! And farmers here suffer significant loss and stress. Through this important partnership, we are continuing Ecoexist’s long-term efforts to assist farmers in the Okavango Panhandle to live with elephants by reducing conflict with, and increase benefits from them. This exciting partnership has combined forces, expertise and resources to bring innovative technology and equipment to ensure improved protection of farmer’s fields, with effective elephant-deterrent fencing, whilst assisting farmers to practice more sustainable farming that increases yields and offers opportunities to additional markets. Farmers like these need to be recognised as custodians of elephants, but considerable efforts are required to support them offset the costs they incur and assist them link to diverse value chains that will generate improved direct benefit. This project is a model partnership that aims to do just this”.“We will continue to use our ecotourism model to forge better economic upliftment in local communities, with an additional group of five women running the subsequent milling project to help with the production of cereals, etc. We look forward to giving these communities the necessary guidance to help ensure the best outcome for the project”, concludes Lesh.ENDS.