My dissertation research is a case study of how the presence of an area protected for wildlife conservation can alter the livelihood options available to nearby rural communities, and an examination of the livelihood strategies that villagers deploy to cope with these conditions. Protected areas have become the primary approach to conserving biodiversity across the planet. While the modern protected areas movement dates back to the nineteenth century, conservation scientists have recently become increasingly concerned with measuring the social as well as ecological effects of land set aside for conservation. The large and growing body of "people and parks" literature examines the costs and benefits of protected areas for local communities. However, the net impact of a protected area is context-specific and is not always clear, and question of how protected areas affect livelihoods and human development remains widely and contentiously debated amongst social and natural scientists.
Using a political ecology framework, I explain in this dissertation how the Chobe National Park has influenced rural livelihoods in the northern region of Botswana, a country that is notable for its status as a relatively well-functioning welfare state, and its long history of rural-urban socio-economic linkages. Specifically, I chronicle the agrarian livelihood strategies of smallholder farmers living on the edge of Chobe National Park in northern Botswana--a place where the state has prioritized wildlife conservation but also provides support to residents' livelihoods in a number of ways. In Chobe, agricultural production is becoming increasingly challenging even as the government increases its agricultural subsidies and support to small farmers. I show that it is conservation policy rather than the prioritization of commercial farming that hurts small-scale agriculture and causes some farmers to shift livelihood activities.
I also demonstrate how restricted-use rights over wildlife, limited ways to participate in the mandated community wildlife management regimes (called community trusts) and a dearth of realistic revenue-generating wildlife-based opportunities for villagers make wildlife a relatively inaccessible source of livelihood support. Norms regarding wildlife as the property of the state, in conjunction with sources of livelihood support that are easier for households to access - namely remittances from urban kin and state transfers - undermine the creation of effective community-based natural resource management regimes.
Throughout my dissertation I emphasize that the Chobe National Park and the Chobe Enclave villages do not exist as bounded insular units of analysis and instead are better understood as nodes in a web of social relations and connections that extend beyond the physical boundaries of the region. This recognition draws directly from insights made by critical geographers that provide a theoretical understanding of place that is extroverted and aware of its links with the wider world. Much of the people and parks research has focused on social and economic outcomes for communities living on the edges (e.g., buffer) of protected areas. However, the economic and social effects of protected areas are not limited to their borders and can affect human dynamics hundreds of miles away. I discuss linkages between rural and urban communities to create a more complete picture of the way in which protected areas can affect human populations, even those living far from park borders. I show that the overall net growth around Chobe NP's edges does not preclude out-migration from certain buffer areas. Human movements towards, away from and within the Chobe National Park buffer zone have altered the demographic composition of rural villages and contributed to a new spatial patterning of people and associated livelihoods.
Ultimately, this study looks at how a park affects who lives where, and what the implications of such settlement patterns are for livelihoods, land use, and social relations in a web of interconnected geographical areas. In illustrating these dynamics, this work contributes to a rich body of literature that examines the context-dependent mechanisms through which a protected area can alter socio-economic development and in turn, the ecology and biodiversity of a rural landscape.