If you drive along the highway through Kavango in June, a golden harvest of thatching grass is stacked at many points along the roadside, awaiting collection by dealers who transport the bundles as far as Angola.
A lorry load is worth fifty thousand dollars. The grass harvested in George Mukoya and Muduvu Nyangana conservancies, and throughout Kavango, usually sells for N$10 a bundle, and is an important source of income for local farmers.
Sebastian Kamwanga is typical. Just married and with two young daughters, he needs cash. He has only just started farming, but like many farmers in the area he can’t expect a good crop because of the drought. Most of his income comes from fishing and from building roofing frames from local wood. Harvesting thatching grass is a small, but reliable income. This year he sold 250 bundles and he wants to use the money to buy goats.
But it’s not all profit. Part of the income goes to the traditional authority, which charges N$500 per person every season to cut grass. The conservancies have a more complex system. Members can cut for their own use free of charge. Outsiders who want to cut grass for sale pay a fee of a thousand dollars. Conservancy members cutting grass to exchange for products pay five hundred.
Both of the Kavango conservancies overlap with community forests and adjoin Khaudum National Park, forming the Khaudum Complex. The deep sand of the area makes it difficult to access, which is a bonus for conservation. Trees in the complex include leadwood, various acacia species, Zambezi teak, tamboti and baobab. Ensuring that forest products are harvested sustainably is the task of the community forest and conservancy management. Neither conservancy has a reliable income from tourism or hunting, so the small fees collected for permission to harvest grass are an important contribution to the conservancies, which employ 19 community resource monitors.