The Bechuanaland Reserves were by and large very arid, and prone to drought and pestilence, such as locusts, which invaded the area especially in 1925 and 1933. Outbreaks of foot and mouth were common as well. As resources in the Reserves were limited a number of the black residents moved onto adjacent white farms as tenants. Occasionally, this led to skirmishes between the reserves-based baTswana and the white farmers, which the colonial and Union administration had to find ways of resolving in an amicable way. The lack of adequate fencing, and long distances and inhospitable terrain complicated this task for the local officials.
There was also considerable competition between the residents in the reserves, again due to a shortage of arable land and water sources. For example, two baRolong factions, the Ratshidi and Rapulana fought over control and '"ownership" of a fountain at Lotlhakane about 25 kilometres south-east of Mafikeng . The government had to adjudicate who had rightful possession of this water source, eventually the Supreme Court in Bloemfontein ruling that the Rapulana, as the "senior" faction of the baRolong, were the legal owners. It was a cause of bitterness between the two Rolong factions for several decades. Similarly, west of Mafikeng, the baThlaro living at along the water course at Disaneng fought with the Ratshidi baRolong over control of the area. The baThlaro challenged the right of the baRolong to extract tribute from over rights of occupation. The matter also had to be resolved through legal means. Though the circuit court in Mafikeng ruled in favour of the Tshidi in 1913, it was not the end of the affair. The baThlaro under Jan Masibi instigated an aggressive policy against Ratshidi overlordship. Tensions flared up again in the early 1940's when Masibi ploughed land in the vicinity of Ratshidi cattle posts. In these disputes the British tended to to support the Ratshidi.
Despite the environmental hardships and political friction, the inhabitants of the Bechuanaland reserves made some modest economic improvements between 1885 and the mid-1950's. In some districts herds of cattle and sheep increased in numbers, In good seasons the land could produce reasonable yields; for example n 1959 the Ratlou at Setlagole had 1 558 non-irrigated morgen under cultivation which ultimately yielded 559 sacks of white maize and 221 kilograms of sorghum. The Union government also tried to improve the situation by sinking boreholes in the reserves, by running demonstration plots on which they introduced modern farming methods and by introducing a better bred of animals into the reserves. A number of baTswana agriculturalists, such as Morara Molema and E. Gaboutloeloe were involved in these schemes.
Inevitably, though the South African Department of Native Affairs tried to make the reserves self-sufficient, many men and women were forced to find work outside the reserves in the mining areas of the Transvaal or Griqualand West or in the large urban conglomerations on the Rand. In the mid-1950's Bantu Authorities were established in the Bechuanaland Reserves as a cornerstone of the apartheid policy. Seven different "authorities" were created in the Molopo/Setlagoli reserves alone, further dividing the communities living there. Ultimately, the African population living in the reserves lost whatever economic resilience and political independence they still enjoyed.