TFO - The Future Okavango

The Okavango ranks among the longest rivers in southern Africa and its volumes of water are imperative for the existence of many people. Overexploitation and privatisation are however threatening this fragile ecosystem. German researchers are in the process of trying to prevent this from happening. They are implementing their expertise locally by providing models for alternative uses.

The Okavango is in no hurry: In several tributaries it slowly crosses the mountains running through the middle of Angola, marking the border to Namibia for over 400 kilometres, before its volumes of water seep and evaporate after 1,600 kilometres into the swamps of the Okavango Delta in the northwest of Botswana – an area known to be the world’s largest in land delta. For approximately one million people the water catchment area of the Okavango is the most important life support system. For centuries they have been living off what nature has had to offer: they catch fish, grow crops, collect fibrous materials, firewood and building materials and use medicinal plants – all in harmony with nature. 500 bird species, 128 species of mammals as well as 150 species of reptiles and amphibians have so far been recorded by researchers for the river delta alone in Botswana. For a long time nature here was in a stable equilibrium, but recently it has been disturbed. »Nature is being irreversibly threatened by overexploitation and privatisation«, says Norbert Jürgens. The Professor of Biodiversity from the University of Hamburg is the spokesman of the research group »The Future Okavango« (TFO). This network of six universities and two research establishments from Germany as well as three African partner countries (Angola, Botswana and Namibia) are investigating the use and exploitation of natural resources in the Okavango region in ten sub-projects. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research is funding the project until 2015 with 7.5 million Euros as part of the grant programme ›Sustainable Land Management‹.

Global problems are feared

To get an idea of just how fragile the Okavango ecosystem is, you only have to take a look at the upper reaches of the river in Angola where 37 years of civil war brought chaos and devastation, causing inhabitants to flee from the region. These refugees are now returning to their old homeland and as a result the total population in this region could increase to two million over the next 40 years, estimates Jürgens. This would have alarming impacts: Savannahs and grasslands would be used much more intensively and forests of ecological significance would be cleared and converted for agriculture. Moreover, there would also be negative global impacts: habitats such as savannah forests for example are known to sequester a substantial amount of the world’s carbon reserves. Jürgens wants to create ecological awareness about these issues and interactions through this research project based on scientific expertise. »The goal is to provide instruments and scenarios for how people in the region representing different interests could sustainably use and preserve a multitude of natural resources«, he says.

Within the TFO project several datasets about climate change and agriculture have been collected and will be created. An overview of the resulting datasets can be reviewed in the application below.

Further information

Detailled information are available on the project website:
The TFO science portait and a short project description is available on the
Sustainable Land Management Website.
Detailled information about TFO datasets and web services are available in the
GLUES metadata catalog.