Ecotourism is a subset of nature-based tourism that is strives to be sustainable as well as environmentally conscientious and culturally sensitive (Wood 2002; Scholes and Biggs 2004). Nature-based tourism, and its subset “ecotourism”, are some of the fastest growing sectors in southern Africa.

The Limpopo River basin includes a large number of national parks and private game reserves, which is reflected in contribution that travel and tourism contributed 9 % to the economy of SADC GDP in 1999 (Scholes and Biggs 2004). There is also potential for growth in this sector; with estimates of ranging from 2 to 6 % per year. If the higher estimate becomes a reality, then tourism will contribute approximately 28 % to the SADC economy by 2015.

Table: Ecotourism totals for Limpopo River basin states.

Nature tourism arrivals (thousands) Income from nature tourism (million US$)
Non-African African Domestic Non-African African Domestic Total
Botswana 110,4 362.5 - 30,6 100,6 - 131,3
Mozambique 6,0 36,0 - 1,2 7,2 - 8,4
South Africa 1 203,3 3 425,6 5,6 504,4 1 436,0 358,4 2 298,8
Zimbabwe 358,4 1 136,0 - 34,4 109,1 - 143,5

Sources: Adapted from the following: (1) WTO (2001), (2) Botswana Tourism Development Programme (2000), (3) KPMG (2002). Expenditure figures extracted from the African Development Indicators Database (Worldbank 2003). Found in Scholes and BIggs 2004.

In the Limpopo River Basin, land use related to tourism is mostly for wildlife tourism, crafts, and agri-/rural cultural tourism - whereby a tourist can see and experience how rural people in the basin live (FAO 2004). There are a number of conservation areas in the basin including the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLTP). Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe signed a formal treaty in November 2002 that allows for selected bordering conservation areas in each country to be joined (Spencely 2006). When complete, the park will cover an area of 35 000 km² and will join the Limpopo National Park (formerly the Coutada 16) in Mozambique, the Kruger National Park in South Africa, and the Gonarezhou National Park, the Manjinji Park Sanctuary and the Malipati Safari Area in Zimbabwe. The park will also link an area located between the Kruger and the Gonarezhou, the Sengwe communal land in Zimbabwe with the Makuleke region in South Africa (SANParks 2010). The park is part of the peace parks dream that facilitates the establishment of transfrontier conservation areas by joining existing areas of close proximity (Peace Parks 2010).

Conservation areas and national parks across the Limpopo River basin. Source: Peace Parks 2008


One of the greatest challenges in implementing transfrontier parks is overcoming the disparities between countries. Law enforcement, tourism infrastructure, biodiversity conservation, approaches to natural resources management and finances vary greatly between the three countries that share the GLTP (Spenceley 2006). The Kruger National Park and Makuleke region in South Africa have established tourism infrastructure and are financially more secure than the other countries. South Africa will therefore act as a springboard to encourage further nature-based tourism in the park (SANParks 2010).

A community development program that encourages employment and the involvement of community members in the vicinity of the park is an integral part of the establishment of the GLTP and other conservation areas in the basin. Examples of community development programmes in the GLTP and Botswana are given below.


Most of the private game reserves in the SADC region include an ecotourism aspect, usually with respect to research or conservation. In addition to standard ecotourism activities, some of the game reserves are undertaking community outreach programmes. Children in the Wilderness is an environmental and life skills educational programme designed to foster the next generation of rural decision makers. The programme hosts children from rural communities close to existing Parks and Nature Reserves, and teaches them about wildlife and the importance of conservation. In doing so, develops environmental leaders who are inspired to care for their natural heritage and become the custodians of these areas in the future.

In May 2010, Mashatu Tented Camp, in Tuli eastern Botswana, hosted a group of 16 children from the village of Mothabaneng located near the Northern Tuli Game Reserve, for five nights for the first Children in the Wilderness – Limpopo Valley camp. Examples of similar activities can also be found at Mokolodi Game Reserve, just outside Gaborone.

Their experience enabled them to learn about the benefits of environmental and wildlife conservation, and help them understand the links between conservation, tourism and job creation. Children in the Wilderness – Limpopo Valley aims to reduce the conflict between the communities and the wildlife in this region, by instilling a better understanding of wildlife and the role it plays in creating sustainable community income (Children in the Wilderness 2010).


The Covane Community Lodge covers an area of 7 024 ha and is located 7 km from Massingir Township in Mozambique. The lodge was financed by USAID and the Swiss NGO Helvetas but is owned by the Canhane community (Spenceley 2006). Without any assistance from the private sector, the community chose 20 people to develop the lodge and its facilities between February 2003 to November 2003. Two chalets, three tent-accommodations, a restaurant and a seating area were built and 9 members of the community were chosen to be trained so that they would be qualified to work at, and manage, the lodge. The lodge provides indirect employment for a further 40 people. As per the initial agreement with the donor agencies, 50 % of the lodge earnings are to be spent on community infrastructure and the rest on investments for the lodge.

Between May and October 2004 the lodge accrued R260 000 and has been able to rehabilitated two wells and construct a classroom (Spenceley 2006).

Dancers from the local community perform at Covane Community Lodge, Mozambique. Source: Covane Community Lodge 2008


Visiting children in Canhane Community, Mozambique. Source: Covane Community Lodge 2008


South Africa

In 1995, the Makuleke tribe returned to the land it had been expelled from in 1969 and applied for repossession (Khan 2009). The Makuleke people had occupied 23 700 ha of land in the Limpopo Province for over 200 years and after 30 years of resisting were forced from their land so that the Pafuri Game Reserve could be created and incorporated into the Kruger National Park. Under the Restitution of Land Rights Act (1994) and the Communal Property Associations Act (1996) the Makuleke fought for their land with support from a consultant, lawyer, developer and German development funds (Khan 2009). Following two years of negotiations, an agreement was finally reached whereby the land would remain part of the park but the Makuleke could build and operate a lodge on the land through a partnership with the private sector.


CAMPFIRE Programme in Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, the CAMPFIRE programme targeted sparsely-populated communal lands adjacent to national parks or game hunting areas. It demonstrated that the economic returns from sustainable use of the wildlife (largely through trophy hunting) exceeded the returns from marginal cultivation or cattle ranching, both of which were in increasing conflict with elephants and large predators. Schemes were devised to return the proceeds to the community as a whole. The concept spread rapidly to northern Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, and expanded to embrace other high value resources, such as timber and ecotourism. In some places it has become a victim of its own success: in cash-strapped Zimbabwe, the state has taken back ownership of what are now seen as lucrative resources, and the local communities have been invaded by people seeking to share in the spoils.

Source: Scholes and Biggs 2004

Current ongoing initiatives.

LIMCOM's current ongoing interventions being undertaken