Zambia’s Simalaha Community Conservancy is a shining example of what can be achieved when a community becomes invested in conservation. These 180 000 hectares of communal land nestled in south-western Zambia are fast becoming a shining example of what successful community-led conservation should look like. Local people are lifting themselves out of poverty and transforming their lives for the better, all whilst letting nature thrive.

Peace Parks Foundation’s CEO Werner Myburgh sits down with Communication Coordinator, Lésa van Rooyen to chat about some of the highlights from the Simalaha Community Conservancy and Sioma Ngwezi National Park in 2022.

Conservation-Friendly Fishing Practices

Hundreds of thousands of people depend on the Zambezi River for survival, and it is no different in Simalaha, where Africa’s fourth largest river flows right through the Conservancy. 

The river is home to more than 200 species of fish which is a valuable source of protein for people living here. It is also a source of income for fishers who sell their catch at the local markets.

Due to an increase in human populations and unsustainable fishing practices, the fish stocks in the Zambezi River have plummeted. This does not only impact communities but the ecosystem at large. Many birds and other animals are dependent on fish for survival. The people of Simalaha have recognised this problem and are working with Peace Parks Foundation to implement solutions.

To help replenish the stocks, the community identified 11 fish sanctuaries. These are shallow bodies of water where fishing is not permitted. A decision was also made to ban the use of tightly woven monofilament fishing nets which can catch anything from aquatic animals to fish eggs which is incredibly detrimental to the recovery of fish stocks. Peace Parks has assisted with replacing these monofilament nets with larger, eco-friendly, legal nets that do not remove fingerlings or eggs from the river.

Cooking With Cookstoves

Many rural communities throughout the world do not have access to electricity. This forces local communities to cook on open fires, which poses health risks and contributes to alarming levels of deforestation.

To help mitigate this, Peace Parks Foundation and partners have been distributing a nifty invention called the cookstove. This small wood-burning stove only requires small branches and twigs to generate enough heat for cooking. On average, 60-70% less wood is used to prepare the same meal when compared to the traditional open-fire method of cooking. To date, nearly 10 000 cookstoves have been distributed to families within the Simalaha Community Conservancy.

What started as a hopeful pilot project has now become a certified carbon credit programme registered by Gold Standard. These funds raised through the sale of carbon credits are being reinvested into building more resilient communities, lifting the local people out of poverty.

Conservation Agriculture and Food Security

There are several ways to improve food security. One method that has proven to be highly effective within Simalaha is the implementation of environmentally-friendly farming techniques or conservation agriculture. This method replaces unsustainable, labour-intensive farming practices that often lead to poor yields and land degradation.

Through these nature-friendly practices, the land is being looked after, and local farmers are reaping the health benefits of producing a greater variety of crops. Surplus produce is also being taken to local markets or the commercial agri-hubs, providing families with a means of income that they never had before and a place where community members can buy seedlings, plants and fresh produce.

Boots On The Ground

This year on Peace Parks TV, you would have met a few of Simalaha’s unsung heroes and the backbone of conservation in the Conservancy – the Simalaha scouts.

These wildlife scouts, who also happen to be community members, have dedicated themselves to protecting the conservancy’s wildlife. They have been instrumental in seeing the wildlife numbers grow. Not only do they patrol and help to keep the wildlife safe, but they are also involved in community matters, helping to bridge the gap between the local people and the animals that call this place home.

Sioma Ngwezi And Elephants

Sioma Ngwezi National Park lies within the Zambian component of the largest terrestrial protected landscape in the world, the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area. It plays an essential ecological role in wildlife movement along the Kwando and Zambezi rivers, particularly for elephants who are quickly running out of space due to rapid human expansion and the destruction of natural habitat.

To help manage this area as effectively as possible, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Department of National Parks and Wildlife in Zambia, Peace Parks Foundation and WWF Zambia, which outlines guiding principles on collaboration in the management and development of Sioma Ngwezi National Park and surrounding areas.

Although still in its initial phases, this tri-party agreement will undoubtedly bring a lot of positive change for local communities, the landscape and all those that depend on it.