World Migratory Bird Day 2015

As Prepared For Delivery | May 16, 2015 | Orapa

I’m delighted to be here today to celebrate World Migratory Bird Day with you.

Congratulations to BirdLife Botswana for hosting this event for the 7th year in a row.

Congratulations as well to your many partners, including the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Forest Conservation Botswana, and Debswana Orapa and Letlhakane mines. The U.S. Embassy is likewise proud to be among BirdLife’s long-time supporters. Allow me to also thank our hosts, the Letlhakane Senior Secondary School and the people of Letlhakane. To these partners, and to all of you, especially the children, please accept my sincere appreciation for making this day a reality.

We are not alone. When I say that, I’m not referring only to the crowd here today.  People around the world gather during this time, at the beginning of winter, to celebrate World Migratory Bird Day. People in Asia, in America, and in Europe organize bird festivals, education programs, and bird watching excursions. And many of the birds that our colleagues are celebrating in Europe are the same birds that we see here in Botswana.

Why do people all over the world celebrate birds? We admire birds for their beauty, for their song, and because they symbolize independence. We have a saying in America, ‘Free as a bird’.

I understand you have a similar saying in Setswana: “go phuthologa jaaka nonyane tsa loapi”

In fact, people around the world admire birds so much that watching them is big business. The global bird watching industry is worth some $80 billion dollars – 800 billion pula – annually. That’s over four times as large as the entire economy of Botswana.

One of the things I most admire about Bird Life is their work with local communities to bring some of that $80 billion to Botswana by developing bird watching tourism here.

I admire that activity because I am convinced that Botswana’s future economic prosperity lies in the sustainable use of its wildlife. Just as diamonds helped build the Botswana of today, sustainable use of wildlife can build the Botswana of tomorrow.

Already today, eco-tourism generates 8 billion pula per year and employs almost 50,000 Batswana. And the value of Botswana’s wildlife and its importance to the average Motswana will only continue to grow. By 2022, tourism-related activities are projected to almost double to bring in over 15 billion pula – but that will only happen if we all work together to preserve Botswana’s environmental wealth. And this is vital because it will determine the success of Botswana’s efforts to develop the economy in sectors outside of diamond mining and address unemployment. As a long-time partner to Botswana, the success of these efforts is a priority of my government.

But for Botswana to prosper sustainably the country’s environmental wealth must not only be preserved, it must also be well distributed.

Efforts to preserve Botswana’s bounty of environmental treasures must be well distributed geographically. It is critical to preserve Botswana’s better known ecotourism sites, such as the Okavango Delta, which boasts a wealth of bird and animal life. Studies show, however, that unless protections are put in place, the Delta will cease to exist as we know it in less than ten years. We hope to build a partnership between the Okavango Delta and a similar wetland in America called Everglades National Park. We failed to adequately protect our Everglades National Park and are now spending US$19 billion to restore the ecosystem. We believe Botswana can learn from our mistakes and avoid this devastating result.

The benefits of natural resources also need to be shared throughout society. The rural communities that live with wildlife must benefit. And the best way to make that happen is to empower and organize communities to manage local natural resources.

Botswana pioneered the concept of Community Based Natural Resources Management, with U.S. Government support, back in 1989. Together we’ve learned a lot about CBNRM. To succeed, communities need long-term training and support. Government must provide oversight, but also know when to let communities take the lead. Communities must generate sufficient income for the entire community to benefit, and must reinvest a portion of their revenues back into the resource.

We still believe CBNRM is the best way to preserve natural resources such as wildlife while reducing rural poverty. And that’s why BirdLife Botswana’s projects to identify important birding areas, to train birding guides, and to help communities set up tourist infrastructure are so important. Communities that profit from the presence of birds will protect birds and their habitats.

Ladies and gentlemen, BirdLife Botswana and their partners, including the U.S. Embassy, are commemorating this day to expose children to the linkages between migratory birds, biodiversity conservation, and sustainable development.

We are especially delighted with the presence of the orphans and vulnerable children, who are often left out of events such as this, and hope they will take today’s message to heart. The wonders of the natural world are for everyone – young and old, rich and poor. We can all marvel at the beauty and diversity and resilience of nature – and we can all enjoy the birdsong that surrounds us whenever we step outside here in Botswana.

But the children present today are not here just to listen – they are the stars of today’s event! We look forward to your singing, your drama, and your poetry. Let me then conclude by again congratulating BirdLife Botswana and their partners for the important work they are doing. Not only do you make a difference in the communities in which you work, but you set an example for others to become active in protecting Botswana’s bird life. I wish you luck, great success, and always happy birding.

Thank you.