By Theresa Chapulapula:
Rebecca Chimvina had a way of invading Lifupa Dam in Kasungu National Park to fish. It was illegal and she knew it.
But her family was struggling financially. Her husband’s earnings were not enough to sustainably keep the family on its knees.
“So, I had to look at alternatives. Fishing was the most convenient one,” the 32-year-old recounts.
Lifupa Dam is the only all-year-round source of water in Kasungu National Park. A bloat of hippos inhabits it while other wild animals such as elephants pay the dam regular visits, making it extremely unsafe for people.
Chimvina, who is chairperson of Lifupa Women’s Group at the park, says she had no choice but to put her life at risk of being attacked by the dangerous animals that lurk in the national park.
Almost all the women staying in the park were idle or short of money and they say that is why they went fishing in the dam.
The arrival of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) changed their story. They are busier today—doing something else, not fishing.
“Ifaw, through the ‘Combating wildlife crime’ project came to our rescue by implementing various income-generating activities for all the women involved in illegal fishing at Lifupa Dam,” Chimvina says.
The women formed their group and are now implementing various activities that have improved their incomes.
“The group, made up of 46 people, was established in 2017. The main aim was to stop illegal fishing in the dam. Now, we run a maize mill, a tuck shop and a tailoring shop all of which are generating money and have transformed our lives,” Chimvina explains.
She adds: “Through these businesses, we are generating income that is supporting our families. We now have something that keeps us busy. We have acquired various skills such as tailoring and how to run businesses.”
Through the tailoring shop, they produce merchandise such as bags and hats and have orders from organisations, local and international.
Chimvina says her family has improved financially since she joined the group.
Secretary for the group, Chikondi Sauti, says they share the proceeds from the businesses two times a year.
“We share the profits equally after every six months. Our lives are no longer the same. We are able to support our families,” she says.
She adds: “When a member is leaving, we calculate the profits and share with her. If a woman wants to join, she invests a capital amount of K2,000. The amount is small so that every woman joins the group.”
Sauti encourages fellow women to take part in various businesses and be dedicated in their ventures.
Patricio Ndadzera, who is Chief of Party for Ifaw’s Malawi-Zambia Trans-Boundary Landscape Project, says illegal fishing at Lifupa Dam was putting lives of people and animals at risk.
“We wanted to find sustainable ways of dealing with this problem; that is why we decided to empower the women economically. We want people and animals to thrive together. We are glad that women around Lifupa Dam in Kasungu National Park are now safe because they have stopped illegal fishing,” he says.
According to Ndadzera, apart from empowering the women economically, other community members are also benefiting from the project through approximately $130,800 that was invested in them.
Through the project, Ifaw is also providing vocational skills training to the community, mostly unemployed youth.
This, he says, ensures that the fight against wildlife crime is won as no progress can be made if communities are sidelined.
“We are making sure that communities living near protected areas participate in decision making around wildlife management. Collaboration with communities is critical to preventing wildlife crime. Without addressing the socio-economic drivers that motivate wildlife crime, strengthening law enforcement will be less successful.
“Building trust among communities, civil society, business and law enforcement has been critical in helping to develop community-oriented crime prevention approaches and support investigation of wildlife crimes as well as information gathering and sharing,” he states.
Ifaw is working with various stakeholders such as Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, Wildlife Crime Prevention in Zambia and departments of Parks and Wildlife in Malawi and Zambia to ensure that wildlife species are preserved.
The project is also making sure that there is effective and credible deterrence to continued illegal use of wildlife.
The Malawi-Zambia Trans-boundary Landscape Project, with support from the United States Agency for International Development, targets Luambe National Park and Lukusuzi National Park in Zambia and Malawi’s Kasungu National Park.
In Zambia, the project is helping secure the two national parks where poaching has wiped out populations of most wild animals, including elephants.
The works have been active in the targeted reserves since 2017, virtually halting poaching, upgrading infrastructure and supporting livelihood projects for communities living in the parks.
Wildlife trafficking is a multi-billion dollar transnational organised criminal activity and a critical conservation issue where countries lose a lot of revenue.
Malawi and Zambia are some of the countries facing pressure in the poaching of elephants and other wildlife species for illegal gains.