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Reserve, villages reap from good relations

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On a regular basis, the country’s wildlife reserves and the surrounding communities are in conflict. In these cases, both are the losers. But good relations between the two end up benefiting both and also the country, as CHARLES MKOKA found out when he travelled to Thuma Forest Reserve in Salima

On the banks of Linthipe River, Lunia Jamisoni and her colleagues from Mphinzi Village seek shelter under a tree to explain how vegetable production has turned out to be a source of their livelihood, promising them a good future.

Jamisoni recalls how a vibrant Linthipe used to run the whole year round such that it was difficult for children to cross in the absence of parents.

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She remembers how the thriving river provided an enabling environment for Lake Salmon, a fish species locally known as Mpasa, to breed and multiply before swimming back into Lake Malawi.

Today, the Salmon is a rare sight.

The communities blame it on wanton cutting down of trees. They believe that this has caused severe erosion and siltation that has chocked the river.

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Then, as if that is not trouble enough, elephants have also been causing havoc. In the absence of a strong barrier to prevent them from coming out of Thuma Forest Reserve, the jumbos have been a cause of worry especially during rainy season when crops are in the field.

It would be hard for the people to reverse the state of Linthipe River in the immediate term. But with the guidance of the Wildlife Action Group (WAG) which manages the forest reserve, the communities are able to make use of the remaining pools in Linthipe river in producing vegetables, an activity which somewhat takes away their reliance on natural resources around the area.

And thanks to the solar electrical fence which WAG, a local non-governmental organisation, installed around the Thuma Forest Reserve, the elephants have been put on the leash, as it were.

These two initiatives have enabled residents to be food secure.

They are now able to engage in winter cropping through which they are producing maize, sweet potatoes and a range of other vegetables.

“Elephants are no longer a problem here. We are now able to grow crops and harvest them without problems,” said Traditional Authority Kambwiri.

In particular, women won’t be left behind in the new initiatives.

In the past, they would wait for their husbands to bring food on the table and money in the house. Now, working in a group, they have shaken off whatever shackled them and are taking the lead in the production and selling of the vegetables and managing their earnings.

Denitsa Gendala, chairlady of group explained: “We carry the fresh vegetables around the villages for sale. But some of our clients travel all the way from as far as Lilongwe and Salima boma to buy the vegetables here. This is proving to be a worthwhile enterprise for us.”

From their initial tomato sales last year, the 13 women in the group then realised K156,000 which they shared among themselves to invest in their farming enterprise.

This year they expect to make K115,000 from the cabbages and onions they have grown.

“Some of us have bought goats and iron sheets for our houses from the money we are making from vegetable sales,” said Anne Mataya, secretary of the group.

In this community empowerment initiative, WAG is working in partnership with an Irish organisation, Tuesday Trust

Apart from constructing the 55-km solar-powered electric fence which now keeps out elephants and other animals from people’s fields, WAG has been supporting the Department of Forestry in the management of the reserve which covers 197 square kilometres.

Tuesday Trust provides seed to the women farmers for free.

Lynn Clifford, WAG Manager, said her organisation together with Tuesday Trust bring income generating activities among communities surrounding the reserve to help improve relations between staff in the protected area and the villages.

“As WAG we are operating in the same way of the Public Private Partnership agreement in management of the reserve by supporting communities. We now have sustained good relations and we come to one another for assistance when there is need.

“We offer transport to villagers but also take some of those that are sick to hospital for free. This makes the management of the reserve to be collaborative,” said Clifford.

Due to these relations, communities are now allowed to harvest bamboos that are in abundance in the reserve.

The locals are permitted to harvest the bamboos which they use in making cane furniture, winnowing trays and baskets.

Lingson Machete is one of the beneficiaries of the bamboo plantations from Thuma. He lauded WAG for the conservation approach taken to ensure the resource is utilised in a sustainable manner and that there is order among the local communities.

“There is now order in the utilisation of the resource. This is a commendable development for sustainability purpose,” Machete said.

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