CHIPATA, ZAMBIA, Nov 1 (IPS) – As we approach the village forest to appreciate Andrew Mbewe’s beekeeping business, a bee from a hive near the edge of the natural forest stings him on the plays.
He quickly backs away, keeping everyone away from danger, as he grimaces and grunts in pain while trying to remove the stinger to keep his face from swelling.
“It’s one of the tasks they do,” he says through gritted teeth about his 18 hives in this forest.
He examines the tips of the nails of his index finger and thumb to see if he has removed the bee’s poisonous beard.
“These bees are the guardians of this forest,” he says. “They protect it from invaders. This is one of the reasons why this forest is still standing today.
Through the villages along the Chipata-Lundazi Road, which passes through a landscape that stretches between Kasungu National Park in Malawi and Lukusuzi and Luambe National Parks in Zambia’s Eastern Province, a feature is likely to attract attention: impressive stands of natural forests between the villages. and small farms.
In Mbewe village, Chikomeni chiefdom, Lundazi district, these indigenous forests are home to more than 700 beehives belonging to more than 140 families.
The duty of bees to protect the forest is an unintended consequence of the beekeeping business. Basically, communities suck money out of the honeycombs of these hives by selling raw and processed honey, some of which finds space on the shelves of Zambian supermarkets.
It is one of the livelihood activities that Community markets for conservation (Comaco), in partnership with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)are implemented as part of a broader wildlife conservation strategy in the Malawi-Zambia landscape.
Comaco’s driving force is that conservation can work when rural communities overcome the challenges of hunger and poverty.
These problems are often linked to agricultural practices that degrade soils and lead to deforestation and loss of biodiversity.
Therefore, Comaco works with smallholder farmers to adopt climate-smart agricultural approaches, such as the manufacturing and use of organic fertilizers and agroecology to revitalize soils so that farmers achieve maximum agricultural productivity.
It also helps small farmers add value to their products and give them an attractive brand so that they are competitive in the market.
With the rise of carbon trading as another source of income, this wildlife economy brings in promising sums for both individual members and their groups, communities say.
The cooperative to which Mbewe belongs used part of its income to buy two vehicles – 5-tonne and 3-tonne trucks – which the group rents out to earn money. The money is invested in community projects such as building teachers’ houses and hospital shelters.
Luke Japhet Lungu, deputy project manager for the IFAW-Comaco partnership project, tells IPS that these activities are making people less and less dependent on the exploitation of natural resources to make a living.
“You won’t find a bag of charcoal here,” Lungu disputes.
“Thanks to the agricultural practices we have adopted, people realize that if they destroy the forest, they are also destroying the productivity of their land and their income will suffer,” he says.
Along the way, people also learn to live with animals.
“Animals are able to move from one forest to another without being disturbed. For larger animals, like elephants, that could damage our crops, we have a rapid communication system through our community scouts who work with government rangers.
“We have opportunities for elephant invasions in all three parks. However, we have learned to manage them better to minimize conflicts. It’s a process,” says Lungu.
Mbewe himself is a man who has learned to manage the animals he once hunted.
A fighting-frightened poacher for nearly a decade starting in the 1980s, he terrorized the 5,000-square-kilometer conservation area on poaching missions.
For his operations, he used rifles that he had rented from certain Zambian government officials, he claims.
“They were also my main market for ivory and other wildlife products,” he says.
Apparently, without knowing it, Mbewe was actually supplying a much larger transnational market.
For more than 30 years, beginning in the late 1970s, the Malawi-Zambia Conservation Area was a major source and transit route for ivory to markets in China and Southeast Asia.
Elephant poaching has disrupted the landscape, leading to the decline of the species. In Kasungu National Park, for example, according to data from Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife, elephant numbers fell from 1,200 in the 1970s to just 50 in 2015.
In 2017, IFAW launched a five-year wildlife crime project that aimed to see elephant populations stabilize and increase across the landscape through a reduction in poaching.
The project supported fleet management operations and built or rehabilitated necessary structures such as vehicle workshops and offices.
He trained game wardens and law officers in the investigation and prosecution of wildlife crime.
It provided game wardens with uniforms, decent housing, land allocations, vehicles and patrol equipment.
It has supported community livelihood activities such as beekeeping and climate-friendly agriculture.
This has also placed communities at the center of planning wildlife conservation measures.
Erastus Kancheya is the Area Director of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife for the East Luangwa Area Management Unit where Lukusuzi and Luambe National Parks are located.
He says he sees these measures as allowing degraded protected areas like Lukusuzi National Park to “emerge from the long-forgotten dust awakening onto the long road to meaningful conservation”.
Kancheya says that involving communities in the co-management of protected areas also proves effective in the landscape.
Today, IFAW leverages this community partnership to sustain the achievements of the Combating Wildlife Crime project through its flagship program. Space to move around initiative.
Patricio Ndadzela, IFAW director in Malawi and Zambia, describes Room to Roam as a broad, people-centered conservation strategy.
“This is an initiative that addresses land use and planning, promotes climate-smart agricultural approaches and ensures the coexistence of humans and animals,” he says.
The approach aims to bring benefits to climate, nature and people through the protection and restoration of biodiversity.
Room to Roam intends to build landscapes in which animals and humans can thrive.
In doing so, some people are transformed. Mbewe is one of these people. From a former notorious poacher, he is now a conservation advocate as president of his region’s community forest management group. The cooperative applies wildlife conservation and sustainable land management practices.
It’s not an easy job, he admits.
“There are hardened attitudes to change, and it takes patience to teach. Sometimes income from subsistence activities is insufficient or irregular. For example, we don’t harvest honey every day or every month,” he says.
Still, he says, the outlook is good and the challenges he now faces are nowhere near those he faced when he was a poacher.
An incident still makes him shudder: while one day he was tracking a herd of elephants at their watering hole in Kasungu National Park, he came under unexpected fire from the rangers.
“I was an experienced poacher. I knew what time of day to find the elephants and where. But the rangers saw me first. I was dead. I don’t understand how I escaped,” he said.
Today, upon reflection, he regrets having once lived the life of a poacher.
“I got into poaching for selfish reasons,” Mbewe says thoughtfully.
“Poaching only benefited me; the conservation work I am doing now benefits the entire community and future generations,” he tells IPS, rubbing the spot from the bee sting and looking relieved.
Report from the UN IPS Office
© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service