Conservation and Forest Management in the Mafinga Hills Priority Key Biodiversity Area of Zambia
The Mafinga Hills are located in the North Eastern part of Zambia. They host the source of the Luangwa River, the largest tributary of the Zambezi river and one of the four main watersheds of the country. Over the years, the Luangwa has come under threat from anthropogenic activities such as extending agricultural activities into the fragile riparian margins and unsustainable shifting cultivation (known locally as Chitemene).
The Luangwa river and the Mafinga Hills form part of what is known as the Eastern Afromontane biodiversity hotspot. The term Afromontane refers to the plant and animal species common to the mountains of Africa. Other than being a source of the Luangwa river, the Mafinga Hills are home to a variety of endemic flora and fauna species (e.g Nyika Dwarf Toad).
A research done by the Wildlife and Environmental Conservation Society of Zambia (WECSZ) in 2015, revealed that the critical ecosystem in Mafinga has come under growing threat of degradation, especially with regard to the Luangwa river headwaters. As earlier mentioned, the threats were largely arising from human activity. In order to address the identified threats, WECSZ with support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, in September 2016, commenced a project dabbed "Conservation and Forest Management in the Mafinga Hills Priority Key Biodiversity Area of Zambia."
The project would aim at not only conserving the critical Afromontane ecosystem but also empower local people through enhancing their participation in conservation activities and improving their livelihood through beekeeping. The target communities are namely Sichitambule, Malungule, Mulekatembo and Nachisitu villages, which all lie astride the Mafinga Hills in Mafinga District of Zambia.
As of January 2017, the project had trained a minimum of sixty people from Malungule, Mulekatembo and Nachisitu villages. The people in the three villages are mostly traditional pastoralists who also act as guardians of biological diversity. They play a critical role in the preservation of the headwaters of the Luangwa River.
Commenting on the project, chief Mwenichifungwe said his people had received the project with excitement and would commit to ensuring its success. WECSZ has made strides to help communities in the critical ecosystem of Mafinga to come up with nurseries for trees which are indigenous to the area. The resulting seedlings are expected to be planted along degraded riparian zones of the Luangwa river headwaters. This initiative is being carried out with the help of experts from Forestry Department and the Department of Agriculture.
Additionally, the local communities are currently unaware of the existing legal framework that is designed to provide a protection mechanism for this critical ecosystem. Having not been adequately communicated to the local community, the project will reinforce government’s efforts of communicating key policies and laws that protect this key biodiversity area by holding community sensitisation events. These events will supplement a policy sensitisation workshop that was held for traditional leaders in November 2016.
As an environmental action group, the Wildlife and Environmental Conservation Society of Zambia seeks to work with communities in all areas around the country. As not for profit organisation, WECSZ endeavours to supplement national efforts to promote healthy environments and sustainable livelihoods.