The semi-arid landscape of the Kalahari eco-region in Namibia is characterized by a remarkable diversity of migratory birds and large mammals and a wide variety of plant species that provide an important source of food and water for both humans and animals. Flora and fauna synonymous with the region include the camelthorn (Acacia erioloba), gemsbok (Oryx gazella), sociable weaver (Philetairus socius) and the Kalahari lion (Panthera leo).
A considerable amount of the Kalahari is protected (18%) and the xeric savanna is recognised by the WWF as one of the world’s 200 ecoregions prioritised for conservation. Where not protected, overgrazing is degrading the natural habitat and fencing obstructs migratory routes and threatens the biodiversity of the region.
The Kalahari is home to the San, Africa’s oldest human inhabitants and other ethnic groups that include the Nama, Bakgalagadi, Herero and Tswana. In the past, these people´s understanding of the natural environment and associated skills enabled them to hunt and gather, engage in agropastoral activities and sustainably manage their natural resources.
Dispossession and displacement have resulted in former means of subsistence becoming increasingly unsustainable. Increased competition for natural resources has led to poor land management and these groups are some of the poorest and most marginalised in southern Africa today.
Otherwise known as the Bushmen, Khwe or Basarwa, the San are former nomadic hunter gatherers, whose dependence on the Kalahari drylands ecosystem they inhabit has led to a rich understanding of the wildlife and plant species, which are traditionally used for food, shelter, clothing, medicines and ritual. However, land dispossession, political marginalisation and cattle farming have significantly impacted their ability to forage and maintain a nomadic lifestyle.
Hunting is prohibited in the majority of the areas in which the San live, and the wild plants that have traditionally provided food and medicine are threatened by overgrazing and diminishing knowledge of their traditional use. Accessing a reliable food supply is a major concern for most San in Namibia.
GDF’s regional programme in Southern Africa ran from 2006 to 2010. Here we worked principally with San communities in the Omaheke region of Namibia to create home gardens, and promote San use of wild food and medicinal plants to promote healthy lifestyles in sedentary settlements. Through the programme, we implemented an integrative approach to conservation and development, balancing the need for increased livelihood opportunities, food security and education with the ecological considerations of the Kalahari eco-region.
GDF launched the Kalahari Garden Project in July 2007 to help San communities living in the Omaheke region improve their food security and nutrition through the development of home-gardens. The project also set out to help promote and preserve traditional environmental knowledge, and contribute to building the skills and opportunities necessary for creating a renewed sense of self-reliance within the community.