Bridging the Gap between People and Nature
Strengthening Transfrontier Conservation Area Management in Malawi and Zambia

Harmonising conservation and rural development

Functioning ecosystems are essential for sustaining biodiversity and people’s livelihoods; however, population growth, wildlife crime, and ineffective institutional governance increasingly threaten the sustainable use of natural resources. To tackle these challenges, the Member States of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) established Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs). TFCAs aim to foster cross-border natural resource management and harmonise nature conservation and socio-economic development of rural communities.

In 2016, the SADC Secretariat, in cooperation with Peace Parks Foundation (PPF) and the German Development Cooperation through the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) , selected three regional TFCAs for the establishment of support projects. One of them was located in the Kasungu-Lukusuzi component of the Malawi-Zambia TFCA. The project’s aims were to reduce the threat of unsustainable natural resource use by strengthening the management capacities for the two national parks Kasungu (Malawi) and Lukusuzi (Zambia) and to promote alternative livelihood opportunities for communities residing around the parks. The following multimedia story is a result of a project evaluation done by an interdisciplinary team from the Centre for Rural Development (SLE) of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin in collaboration with graduates from the Southern African Wildlife College (SAWC) in 2019.

Starting a dialogue helped to build a bridge between park staff and communities

In the past, the Departments of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) of both Zambia and Malawi, which are responsible for the management of the national parks, had distant and sometimes even hostile relationships with adjacent communities. Natural resource usage restrictions in national parks, poaching incidents, and human-wildlife conflicts fuelled the dispute between the two parties. The project partners created regular dialogue between traditional leaders, communities, and rangers of the DNPW and coordinated awareness-raising meetings, which established a common ground for nature conservation and sustainable rural livelihoods. As a result, relationships improved significantly over the past three years.

"Nowadays, if wildlife comes into our village, we call DNPW for help. Before we used to kill the animals, but the contact with the rangers from the department improved our relationship with wildlife.”
- Malawian community member living inside the TFCA

Another challenge for TFCA management in this area was the lack of cooperation between the staff of the two national parks. Since wildlife and illegal activities cross national boundaries, the contact between Zambian and Malawian park staff has been crucial to improve the effectiveness of nature conservation and law enforcement efforts. The project fostered close communication between rangers and strengthened their capacities to conduct cross-border operations.

Local communities are the custodians of nature

Through the establishment of community-based institutions such as Community Resource Boards (CRBs) in Zambia and Village Natural Resource Management Committees (VNRMCs) in Malawi, people living adjacent to the national parks in both countries have been given a voice in natural resource management. The CRBs and VNRMCs represent the local communities in the governance structures of the TFCA so that they can better engage in shaping the future development of the conservation area.

“The more you involve the communities, the more conservation you will achieve.”
- Manager of the TFCA Support Project

To secure the sustainability of the CRBs in Zambia, income generating activities were funded through the project. The premise was that they should not only provide revenue for the CRBs, but also benefits for the communities. As a result, one CRB decided to build a hammer mill for grinding maize kernels. It was highly welcomed by surrounding farming families as it is significantly closer to their homes than the existing mill.

No success without the provision of alternatives

Unsustainable use of natural resources was common in the project region prior to the interventions by the SADC GIZ project. Residents were often in conflict with authorities over poaching in the national parks, illegal logging, and charcoal production. Wildlife numbers declined heavily over the last decades. Similarly, the national parks suffered from encroachment and a lack of pristine habitats which could link the parks and serve as migratory routes for animals such as elephants. Unlawful acts continued to occur as local smallholders were dependent on additional income from the parks to sustain themselves.

“People do not destroy their natural resources unless they have no other choice.”
- Dale Lewis, founder and CEO of COMACO

The support project involved the locally grounded social enterprise Community Markets for Conservation (COMACO) on the Zambian side, and the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Catholic Development Commission (CADECOM) in Malawi on the Malawian side to address the lack of economic alternatives to illegal and resource-destroying activities. These NGOs not only provided training in conservation agriculture and agroforestry but also agricultural inputs such as livestock and seeds for a variety of vegetables and legumes.

“Poaching and livelihood activities are very much interlinked, because poachers just want to eat. This is a root cause of poaching and addressing a root cause is crucial.”
- DNPW Malawi

Beekeeping was also introduced to provide farmers with additional income and economic incentives to protect and extend local woodlands. COMACO and CADECOM distributed beehives to farmers and provided training on beekeeping and honey harvesting. COMACO, having its own brand of organic products, also provided a market for the harvested honey, which is processed and sold across Zambia. Women were equally engaged in this activity, which is traditionally conducted by men.

To increase the efficiency of their agricultural training, COMACO and CADECOM used lead farmers from local cooperatives to pass on their newly acquired knowledge of sustainable practices to other farmers. Thereby, lasting community structures which complemented agricultural extension services were established.

The alternative income opportunities successfully reduced the need for local communities to use illegal means to support their livelihoods. Farm revenues are likely to increase in the future by the new agricultural practices and crops. Together with the continuous environmental awareness-raising, the interventions triggered a significant change in people’s habits and mindsets towards a more sustainable use of natural resources.

“If livelihoods are improved, the people can start conserving nature and spread the knowledge.”
- COMACO Project Manager for the TFCA Support Project

© Photos and Videos: SLE 2019

Media Development
Christian Kuhn