On Our Committment to a Symbol of Pride in Malawi

Jewels such as Liwonde have the potential to contribute enormously to Malawi’s economy and reputation as one of southern Africa’s tourism gems. IFAW is committed to helping Malawi protect one of its pockets of pride and prosperity.IFAW EVP Azzedine Downes in Malawi.

I love flying into national parks.  From the air, you really get a sense of their importance as refuges of biological diversity.  On a recent trip to Malawi’s Liwonde National Park, I was once again struck by the contrasting portrait of a national park as an island in a sea of people.  While it is easy to become disillusioned by this picture, it does highlight the extremely important ecological role that protected areas play, especially in a world dominated by man. The hour-long flight from Lilongwe to Liwonde National Park had me wondering how land-use practices in Africa have gone so horribly wrong. 

I have witnessed the same thing, to varying degrees, on previous travels in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Mozambique.  But, in Malawi, given its small size and the intense human pressure, it is far more striking.  Slash and burn agriculture continues.  Deforestation continues. The signs are all there.  But, Liwonde is intact, hanging on by a thread. 

A symbol of hope, pride and prosperity for a nation riddled with continuing socioeconomic troubles. As competition for space and associated resources continues to escalate, conservation agencies in Africa are fighting an increasingly difficult battle to balance the demands of human pressure with that of their conservation mandates.  While there are numerous good examples of where national parks systems are flourishing, both in ecological and economic terms, for example in South Africa, Botswana and Kenya, the reality is that the majority of countries in Africa are unable to adequately support their conservation objectives and will not be able to do so for a very long time to come, as they (understandably) confront pressing socioeconomic challenges. 

Hence, the resultant pressure for conservation agencies to fulfill humanitarian and development objectives, a tale doomed for an unhappy ending. It is in this light that the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) started a project last year, in collaboration with Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), to secure Liwonde National Park, Malawi’s most important wildlife haven, and to develop a model for future sustainability, which includes a framework for identifying partnerships with the development sector to assist with community development efforts. 

In recent times, we have seen too many community projects fail where conservation agencies have tried their hand at the development game.  The key is in case-specific and meaningful partnerships where the two sectors find common ground in providing appropriate services, not in the schizoid muddling of agendas. We have to get this right for a number of important reasons:

  • for the sake of the wildlife in the park and the preservation of a vitally important ecological system
  • for the sake of the people living alongside the park, who are often caught up in conflict with wild animals, notably elephants, and who are primarily engaged in subsistence livelihoods
  • for the sake of Malawi and its economic prosperity

Jewels such as Liwonde have the potential to contribute enormously to Malawi’s economy and reputation as one of southern Africa’s tourism gems.  IFAW is committed to helping Malawi protect one of its pockets of pride and prosperity. -- JBL

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