The Zambezi River, the fourth largest river in Africa, has been a part of many different indigenous people’s identities for decades gone by. Today, it remains a lifeline for many who live on its shores. The Zambezi is responsible for contributing to millions of people’s livelihoods as they continue to make a living from fishing, selling canoes and seasonal riverine subsistence farming. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that this river is protected for future generations.

In Zambia’s Simalaha Community Conservancy, Tapi Team Patrol Leader Daniel Sampondo is meeting with some local traders to learn more about their journey selling canoes on the Zambezi River. These canoes, which are typically made from teak, remain one of the most relied-upon forms of transport for fishing or transporting people and goods around the Zambezi basin. They become handy for navigating small waterways that form during the wet season when the river bursts its banks, and large areas become inaccessible.

The Canoes

In the past, these trees would have been painstakingly hollowed out using basic tools, a task that would have taken up a lot of time, but now using metal tools, the process is somewhat sped up. Yet even with technology’s help, the process of meticulously crafting a single canoe typically takes a trader about a month to complete. Because each tree they work with is unique, the canoes vary in size and shape. The prices of the canoes range anywhere between 1 000 and 4 000 Zambian Kwacha, which is approximately US$63 to US$250.

More Than Just Canoes

Once the canoes are completed, the traders will leave their homes and set off down the Zambezi, stopping at the main villages along the way. Their dangerous journey on the hippo and crocodile-filled river usually takes them just over a month to complete.

But these crafty individuals’ talents go beyond the manufacturing and selling of canoes. Daniel explains that they also depend on agricultural activities for their livelihood, sustainably growing maize, sorghum, wheat and beans through nature-friendly agriculture techniques. You can find out more about what that entails here.

People have been living off the Zambezi River for centuries, adapting their lives according to the rise and fall of its waters. Peace Parks Foundation works alongside these communities to protect the natural and cultural heritage for generations to come.