Involving local communities in wildlife management in Malawi

Malawi’s national parks and its wildlife generate important revenues for the Government. Nature-based tourism has been estimated to contribute to 2.7% of GDP and is one of the principal foreign exchange earners for the country according to an economic valuation of natural resources in Malawi (2011) supported by the UNDP-UN Environment Poverty-Environment Initiative.

With this in mind the Government of Malawi is taking sustainable wildlife management and protection seriously. This is also important for the local communities living around the national parks. The national parks generate local jobs in beekeeping and tour guiding, particularly for youth. State revenues from wildlife are used for road construction and maintenance as well as ensuring national supply of drugs benefitting the communities. Malawi’s wildlife is currently under threat from poachers especially in hills and forest areas where animals no longer have places to hide due to increasing rates of deforestation and forest bush fires.

While the communities living around Liwonde National Park, located in the southern part of Malawi near the Mozambican border, are well aware about the importance of protecting wildlife resources, they explain that some people resort to poaching as a means of generating income. By selling bushmeat to villagers and foreign tourists or ivory to international traders, money is generated. According to Senior Chief Liwonde, in whose area the park is located, people in the communities are often also disturbed by elephants terrorizing them and destroying their gardens at night.

“People know that poaching is illegal,” says Joseph Saidi from Liwonde. But they will still go into the park and kill animals,” adding that “poaching is continuing despite meetings organized by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife around the area aiming to sensitize communities to the benefits of protecting wildlife resources.”

Striking a balance between the needs of local communities and wildlife is one of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife’s top priorities. Community involvement in managing wildlife resources is critical in protecting wild animals, however, it is also challenging. A fence put up around the national park to prevent wild animals from disturbing the communities has been repeatedly vandalized. Park officials blame the communities for destroying the fence; on the contrary, claim the local chiefs, it is the game rangers that are destroying it so that poachers easily can enter the park.

Despite the outcry from local communities in Liwonde, poaching still remains the main cause of wildlife decline in many parts of Malawi. The Minister of Information, Tourism and Culture Kondwani Nankhumwa believes that replenishing wild animals in protected areas where they are in decline would help to improve the situation. To this end the Ministry has budgeted MK300 million (USD 613,000) to replenish wild animals in game reserves and national parks.

The national wildlife policy is an important tool to promote sustainable wildlife management that also considers the interest of local communities. The Poverty-Environment Initiative Malawi Programme, whose overall aim is to support the Government of Malawi to reduce poverty while promoting sustainable use of the environment and natural resources, is currently supporting the Government to review its wildlife policy.

On 17 November 2014, a series of community consultations to discuss the draft wildlife policy kicked off in Liwonde before proceeding to the districts of Balaka, Machinga, Zomba and Mangochi. In this process, communities and traditional chiefs as well as the District Environmental Sub-Committees have the opportunity to discuss and contribute to the revision of the policy to ensure that it reflects the interests of local men and women. The linkages between poverty-environment and climate change are central in these discussions and will be well captured in the revised national wildlife policy.

For further information on Malawi’s Wildlife Policy Review, see the Press release issued by the Ministry of Information, Tourism and Culture, in November 2014.

Authored by: Raphael Mweninguwe, Michael Mmangisa and Moa Westman

(Photo courtesy of MMM International Projects 2013, University of Aberdeen and University of Edinburgh Masters Students Forum)

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