Mafinga Hills Landscape Conservation

Typical montane forest patches in the Mafinga hills forest reserve in Zambia

Mafinga Hills (Mafinga mountain) are found in Mafinga district of Muchinga province in the North-Eastern part of Zambia. The mountain range extends to about 23,000 hectares (230Km²). Around 67% of the mountain range is designated as a protected forest reserve hosting dozens of endemic plant and bird species. On a global scale, the Mafinga hills are designated as a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA).

The Mafinga hills belong to an ecoregion known as tropical and subtropical savannas and grasslands. The Mafinga Hills are a critical landscape to the hydrology of the Luangwa river headwaters as they host the source of the river which drains Muchinga Eastern and part of Northern provinces. Downstream, the Luangwa River is a major (and in some cases the only) source of water for domestic use and irrigation. The river is also a wildlife “sanctuary” in Zambia as it hosts some of the world’s endangered animal species and is home to the highest population of hippos in the world.

Over the years, both the Mafinga hills and the Luangwa river have come under threat from human-related (anthropogenic) activities such as extending agricultural activities into the fragile riparian margins, rampant and uncoordinated cut and burn type of cultivation for finger millet, and frequent fires in the montane grasslands.

To address the threats to the Mafinga Hills Landscape, WECSZ and its partners led the development of a 10-year Conservation Action Plan which would be implemented from 2016 to 2025. With support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, in  September 2016,  WECSZ 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 empowering local people through enhancing their participation in conservation activities and improving their livelihood through beekeeping. A series of projects have been implemented since.

Commenting on the 2016 project, chief Mwenichifungwe said his people had received the project with excitement and would commit to ensuring its success. The traditional leadership in Mafinga and other opinion leaders have continued to partner with WECSZ in ensuring that initiatives aimed at supporting Mafinga Hills landscape restoration and forest-friendly livelihoods are implemented successfully.