Transformative Scenario Planning Workshop 2: Bobirwa Sub-District, Botswana

Submitted by Nicholas Reay | published 2nd Mar 2018 | last updated 29th Mar 2018

Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR) Annotation

By Julia Davies


Photo report of workshop

One of ASSAR’s southern African study sites is located in a very rural town, Zanzibar, in the Bobirwa Sub-District of south eastern Botswana. The second of two Transformative Scenario Planning (TSP) workshops was held at the Oasis Lodge, Zanzibar on the 24th and 25th January 2018. 

This region of Botswana, which historically has a harsh, semi-arid climate, is considered a ‘hot spot’ in relation to climate change. Local communities are highly susceptible to the impacts of this change as they depend significantly on rain-fed agriculture to support their livelihoods. Augmenting their vulnerability to climate is a range of other issues including high levels of poverty, inequality and unemployment rates, a lack of access to basic services and high levels of HIV and AIDS.

Also of substantial concern to these communities is the problem of human-wildlife conflict, as well as issues around the (non-) optimal utilisation of land. TSP1 (by Reos) is one methodology that can be used to help vulnerable communities think more critically about what the future might look like, and how they might adapt under different scenarios. In this photo essay, Julia shares what happened on the most recent trip to Botswana.

Before making the 6 hour trip from Gaborone to the Bobirwa Sub-District, the team spent an afternoon in the capital city. They met the team of technical experts and government representatives who have been selected by Botswana’s Rural Development Council to develop a National Drought Management Strategy. With the view of influencing this strategy, ASSAR-UCT, in collaboration with Oxfam-UK, has spent the last few months putting together a ‘Background Paper on Botswana’s Draft Drought Management Strategy’. In the photo ASSAR’s southern Africa lead, Dr. Dian Spear, presents the key findings of the background paper to the technical team.  

ASSAR-UCT arrived at the Oasis Lodge, Zanzibar, in the early afternoon on the 23rd January. There was no electricity or water until late that night, but at least they could enjoy a beautiful sunset in the bush. 

Ironically, Botswana was in the grips of a severe heat wave that week. Despite the discomfort of the 40° plus weather, the TSP workshop got off to a positive start.

Most of the stakeholders from the first TSP workshop (featured download on this page, held in October 2017) had returned. This meant that there was less ice to be broken, and the reunion between participants left a tangible buzz in the atmosphere...

The ASSAR team enjoyed reconnecting with Mr Masalila, an active and engaged participant throughout the TSP process. He is a former board member of the Mmadinare Trust – a body that holds in its care the communal land in the Mmadinare area. Despite being formally retired, Mr Masalila continues his work as a caretaker of the Trust, meaning that he is a steward of all natural resources that fall within the boundaries of the communal land. He is well-known and respected within his community and his church, and is often requested to help with local issues such as resolving domestic conflicts and assisting with administrative tasks. 

There were a few new faces as well, including these ladies who weave baskets out of palm leaves for a living.

The workshop aimed to build on the main issues that had been identified in the first TSP workshop, namely the (non-) optimal utilisation of land and human-wildlife conflict. The grievances around land use stem from the widely-held belief that private (freehold) land is more fertile than communal land. However, it emerged that there is actually no difference in the type of soil in villages compared to freehold land. Rather, any difference in soil quality is a result of how the land has been used and managed over the years. In terms of human-wildlife conflict, stakeholders agreed that there is a need for both wildlife conservation and a more concentrated effort to protect people (mainly small-scale and subsistence crop and livestock farmers) who are adversely affected by wildlife. Of particular concern among locals is the problem of elephants destroying crops and endangering villagers.

A herd of elephant were refreshing themselves in the Limpopo River which ran right alongside the ASSAR team chalets.

What was particularly novel about the TSP in Botswana is that the entire workshopping process was run in both English and Setswana.

This translation was essential for allowing some of the more vulnerable, less educated and usually less outspoken members of the group to understand and engage thoroughly in the process.

Also key to enabling equal participation was the encouragement given to all stakeholders to remove their ‘hats.’ Or, in other words, to put aside any stereotypical norms or preconceived ideas that they might have about one another, as based on their position or occupation, and to break down any power hierarchies. The extent to which the stakeholders were able to achieve this was impressive, and is illustrated in the following anecdote, which was relayed to plenary during a group feedback session:

The 70-year-old man told the youngest man at the table to go and get him some water. The young man obeyed. While he was gone, the old man remembered that the young man was Kgosi Ezekial – the presiding Chief of Bobirwa! So, when the young man returned, the old man said: ‘Sorry Chief.’ And then they laughed and continued with their discussion about how cultural and traditional norms and values should be respected.”

The man pictured below is the well-respected Chief, who was able to ‘remove his hat’ and engage on the same level as all participants.

Whereas the first workshop had helped the group to imagine the different ways in which human-wildlife conflict and land use might unfold over the coming years in Bobirwa, the objectives of this TSP workshop were:

  1. To lay the groundwork for response strategies by participants to changes in human-wildlife conflict and land use;

  2. To clarify what this group can, and must do, together around these issues; and

  3. To build the group’s capacity for longer-term collaboration around these and other issues, including climate variability and change.


The participants went on paired ‘dialogue walks’ to discuss what concerned them about the different scenarios of the future, and also what excited them (i.e.: what opportunities did they see that they hadn’t seen before?).

Then they drew their desired future and explained where they pictured themselves within that image.

One lady from the grassroots envisioned a future in which food and resources are so abundant that all of the people of Bobirwa are as big and as fat as the elephants that roam the land.

With their desired future in mind, the stakeholders were asked to think carefully about what they themselves (as individuals and as a group) could change, what and who they could influence in their broader networks and what, realistically, was out of their control or sphere of influence.

After all that hard work, the stakeholders needed to stand up and stretch to regain their energy...

When the group came together again, they discussed the main issues that they had identified and what actions they needed to take to prevent certain things from continuing in the future. A major theme that emerged from these discussions was around the role of communities, and the manner in which Oxfam interact with them. It was agreed that this should be done with respect; that communities should be notified well ahead of time about any meetings or workshops; that when engaging with communities, a commonly-understood language should be used; that those in positions of power should not look down on communities or give up on them easily; and that the feedback of community members should be incorporated into decision-making processes. This was deemed essential as it is these local communities that are the most vulnerable to human-wildlife conflict and issues of land use.


Given the solutions-oriented atmosphere of the workshop, stakeholders were asked to identify some key actions going forward, to explain what initial steps they would take to move toward their desired future once the workshop was over, and to suggest what tools they might need to do so. The following list highlights some of their responses:

  1. Stay in touch with one another

  2. Encourage communities to lease out unused portions of their land

  3. Conduct a community debriefing in each of the villages that are represented at the workshop, and then have a follow-up meeting

  4. Develop and disseminate a policy brief highlighting the key messages and recommendations from the TSP, then arrange for feedback meetings

  5. Visit the villages and teach them about what methods they can use to keep elephants away from their crops

  6. Engage communities and push for government support in addressing their needs

  7. Encourage communities to adopt new and improved farming methods such as Climate Smart Agriculture 


Although ASSAR intends to conduct some “post-TSP” activities (the format of which remains to be determined), the way forward ultimately rests in the hands of the stakeholders and the local authorities that are mandated to serve them.  It is therefore our hope that the energy and passion that was demonstrated in the TSP is maintained beyond the workshop, and is directed toward mobilizing the action points that were identified by stakeholders. If the following reflections are anything to go by, then I would say that there is hope:

  • “I have learnt about the power of unity and teamwork, and that together we can change the world.”

  • “In the past it was thought that only people of influence in society can change things. But now we also understand that grassroots people can do influential things to change oneself and society, for example by using indigenous knowledge.”

However, it was also understood that “it is critical to have encouragement, commitment and capacity to ensure that dreams become a reality.” The TSP was an initial step towards building the capacity of local communities and helping them to begin thinking and working together in a more collaborative, equitable and sustainable way

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