Accepted paper:

Walking on Eggshells: Tensions between Conservation and Development in rural Botswana


Annette LaRocco (Florida Atlantic University )

Paper short abstract:

Government officials in Botswana promote the commodification of San material culture as a means of rural economic development. However, efforts to integrate heritage and economic development are confounded by national conservation policies.

Paper long abstract:

Among Botswana's San people living in rural areas, ostrich eggshell beads are used to make jewellery and decorative embellishments on bags and aprons. This represents an opportunity for a potentially lucrative, culturally specialised, and relatively small-scale industry to flourish in rural areas. Government officials have long promoted the commodification of San material culture in the tourist craft market as a means of economic development, especially for poor women. San women recognise their unique ability to market commercially-appealing artefacts of their material culture, and express a preference to meet the development goals laid out by state actors. However, they are stymied by a set of conservation restrictions that limit their access to the necessary raw materials. The gathering of eggshells, which are easily found in and around rural communities in western Botswana, is prohibited. Under current conservation law, citizens need to purchase a trophy dealer's license in order to possess ostrich eggshells. The end impact is that poor, rural women—who often live in closest contact with the natural resources—are the least-equipped to take advantage of the environment around them, regardless of state rhetoric emphasising rural transformation, economic development and resource beneficiation. This and other barriers to entry keep the poor out of the commercial craft market, and alienate San women from sale of commodities that are representative of their culture heritage and skills. This paper, which draws on twelve months of empirical fieldwork, highlights the disconnect between an emphasis on heritage-based economic development and the policies of biodiversity conservation.

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Knowledge contest: global development and local survival