Until around 1997 this was a hunting area, but then Wilderness Safaris started Vumbura, Little Vumbura and Duba Plains camps.
For several years there were two small, seasonal hunting camps running in the northeast of the Vumbura concession (one of which was on the site of Kaporota). These had closed by 2001 and while the reserve is designated by the government for ‘mixed wildlife utilisation’, hunting is no longer practised in either area; both are now used solely for photographic safaris. (As an aside, Dereck and Beverly Joubert, the wildlife photographers, are closely involved with the Vumbura concession.)
As is increasingly the case with reserves in Botswana, both Duba and Vumbura have an element of local community involvement. Five local villages – Seronga, Eretsa, Betsaa, Gudigwa and Gunitsugwa – have some control over the concession, and derive considerable benefit from its success. Most of the staff for the camps come from these villages too, thus there’s a flow of revenue from these camps going back to the communities by way of wages. (See The anatomy of a community partnership
, below, and comments on NG12.)The anatomy of a community partnership
Though ‘community-based natural resource management’ is recognised as one of the main strategies for achieving sustainable development in the rural areas of Botswana, really good examples of it are few and far between. Wilderness Safaris have a strong track record with successful community projects in other countries, like Damaraland Camp in Namibia, and here in Botswana their flagship community project is the Vumbura and Duba concessions. The camps in these private reserves or concessions started in 1997 when the safari company and their partners made an agreement with the community to which the government had given management of concession areas NG22 and 23.
The community, in this case, consists of five villages to the north of the Okavango Delta: Seronga, Eretsha, Betsha, Gudigwa and Ganitsuga. The villagers had to set up a trust, with a fully constituted board to represent all the villages and people of the area (NG22 and 23) in their dealings with the government, the Land Board and with the safari companies. The ten-person board is made up of two elected people from each of the five villages. Wilderness pays a six-figure US-dollar lease fee each year to the board (this is a lot of money in rural Botswana). The board decides how to use that money for the benefit of the community. Further, as part of the deal Wilderness has to employ at least 118 people from the villages (though they actually ended up giving jobs to around 150), and to deliver on a number of community projects. These projects have resulted in the setting up and supporting of a number of secondary cottage industries in the villages, like basket-weaving and vegetable gardens; in addition they have sponsored an inter-village soccer tournament; helped with transport problems; and set up village shops, mortuaries etc.
Perhaps the most difficult issue about this kind of agreement for any safari company is the short duration of the leases; the community can swap their safari company after the first year if it wishes to, then again after the second year, the fifth year and the tenth year. Given the huge investment in infrastructure and the long-term nature of the marketing, this is difficult for most safari companies to contemplate. However, Vumbura and Duba are now six years into the project, and Wilderness Safaris are slowly starting to reap the benefits of a stable, long-term relationship with the community as their partner. Equally, guests to these camps know that their safari is actively benefiting the communities in the area – and so know that they’re helping the villagers and the wildlife by coming to these camps.