Wednesday, August 11, 1999 Published at 17:28 GMT 18:28 UK
Botswana's villagers fight for tourist dollars
The wilderness of Okavango attracts thousands of visitors
By Africa Correspondent Jane Standley
Ever since he was a boy, Osimilwe Tshubelo has known the waters of the Okavango.
"This is a good place," he says.
"I like the Delta because we get fish here - fish, birds, and lots of trees. When it starts to rain the Delta is very, very beautiful."
It formed when the Okavango River hit the sands of the Kalahari Desert.
As the water spread out over the desert floor, it formed one of the largest inland deltas in the world, a wilderness of thousands of different species of birds, animals and plantlife.
Osimilwe has now begun sharing his vast fund of knowledge about the land he grew up in with foreign visitors, as a member of a unique community trust which has taken control of its own rich resources.
In areas like this, where jobs are scarce, tourism has been a lifeline. Across Botswana, about two in five people work in the holiday industry.
The members of the Trust have had to learn from scratch how to make their tiny tourism venture work.
A telephone line - rare in this remote area of northern Botswana - has made all the difference.
It brings in bookings, and helps the Trust to cope with the complicated bureaucracy so that it can secure hard-to-get permits to operate and expand.
"Anything that allows rural people to have an income, keep some of the young people here instead of heading off to the capital city, that's a good thing," enthuses John Auffrey, one of Osilimwe's customers.
But the future isn't all guaranteed. Osimilwe hasn't yet got enough tourist bookings to give all of the Trust's 70 members work every day.
High income, low impact
The vast majority of tourists who come to the Okavango Delta are extremely well-heeled.
The foreign-run lodges most tourists stay in do not quote their prices in local currency, but in dollars and pounds - several hundred for each night in their exclusive and luxurious surroundings.
Against financial giants like these, fledgling outfits like the Okavango Community Trust pale into insignificance.
For the first time, the people of the Delta are in charge of the way its priceless beauty is shown to foreign visitors.
It is a low-key start, but the popularity of such small-scale tours is growing.
The people of the Delta have begun to take back control of the land they have lived in for centuries.