Spotlight Malawi: saving Liwonde National Park – one fish at a time

In the video above, IFAW CEO Azzedine Downes discusses why the opening of the Chikolongo Community Fish Farm is so important to the protection of local Malawian wildlife.

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Liwonde National Park is one of Africa’s lesser known gems. Tucked away in Malawi – a tiny country best known to many Westerners as the place from where the pop star Madonna adopted two of her children - Liwonde is one of Southern Africa’s most important biodiversity hot spots.

And it is under threat.

Poachers fishing on the Shire river in Liwonde National Park. c. IFAW/Riccardo GangaleThe park and its animals – hundreds of elephants, rhinos, hippos, grazing mammals and over 600 species of birds – battle it out daily within the dense human communities that surround Liwonde, for access to food, water and grazing space.

Commercial poaching threatens the survival of rarer species, and illegal fishing in the Shire River – a nursery for catfish and bream - has reduced fish stocks upstream in Lake Malawi, affecting the fishing industry and taking its toll on the availability of a key source of protein for local communities.

SEE ALSO: In Africa, historic agreement for elephants in the creation of the Kitenden Corridor

The Malawi Voice: Balaka's Chikolongo village now safe from elephant, crocodile attacks

This weekend I joined the Honourable Mrs Rachel Mazombwe-Zulu, Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Culture for Malawi; Ms Tressa Senzani, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Culture,  Mr Brighton Kumchedwa, Acting Director of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife; and Dr Peter Woeste, Ambassador for the Federal Republic of Germany at the opening ceremony of the Chikolongo Community Fish Farm, just outside the western boundary of Liwonde NP.

Construction underway of the Chikolongo Fish Farm Project. c. IFAW/Riccardo GangaleThe community of Chikolongo, who built the farm, turned out in the hundreds to celebrate a project that will bring long-lasting economic prospects to them and their families.

Chikolongo Community Fish Farm is an important alternative livelihoods project of the Liwonde NP Conservation Programme, for which IFAW partners with Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW). This programme includes community outreach as a key part of its work. If Liwonde NP is to survive as a safe place for wildlife then ways must be found to ensure the communities enclosing the park thrive.

You might be wondering how this project is going to help. Here is the situation; the river in the National Park of Liwonde is the life line for both animals and people and when I say "lifeline" I don't mean it in a literary flair, I mean it literally.

Local women and children fetching water from Shire river. c. IFAW/Riccardo GangalePeople live along the border of the park, they go into the park to poach fish and other animals, and to fetch water. As a result, people are often killed; sometimes by elephants but more often by the crocodiles. Community residents know that many of their family and friends could easily die hunting for food and still they go because they have no choice; they need the fish and they need the water.

Every project in which we engage is different and, in this place, we need the cooperation of the local community. We need the community as a partner.

Our mission at IFAW is to keep the animals in the park safe; we can do that by helping to keep the people who live around the park secure in their livelihoods. Ignoring the needs of this community would guarantee that the poaching and the snaring would continue.

Other partners in the fish farm include the Government of the Republic of Malawi, the Federal Government of Germany, through their mission in Malawi, IFAW, DNPW and the Microloan Foundation. Funding for the project was made possible by the German Embassy and IFAW through the generosity of our donors.

Liwonde NP is truly one of Africa’s most beautiful, sacred places. IFAW works here to safeguard elephants and other wildlife affected by human-wildlife conflicts in the park and along its borders. The creation of this fish farm will help us in our mission to protect Liwonde and serves as a potential model we can replicate to help protect wildlife through other alternative livelihoods projects around the world.

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Experts

Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Cynthia Moss, IFAW Elephant Expert
IFAW Elephant Expert
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
Regional Director, East Africa
Jason Bell, Program Director, Elephants Regional Director, South Africa
Program Director, Elephants, Regional Director, South Africa
Peter Pueschel, Director, International Environmental Agreements
Director, International Environmental Agreements
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
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