My name is Samuel C. Kamoto and I am the Extension and Environmental Education Coordinator for African Parks, Majete. I am responsible for community engagement in order to build a constituency for conservation for Majete Wildlife Reserve. My job responsibilities include but are not limited to:
- Increasing income of resource poor households through conservation related income generating activities.
- Promoting Environmental Education, raise general awareness and establish an in-depth understanding of opportunities which are created by sustainable management of natural resources outside and inside the reserve.
- Enhancing networking with other conservation groups and organizations undertaking extension and Environmental Education activities;
- Developing capacity of Education & Extension staff to enable better management, implementation and monitoring of the community Program.
- Mainstreaming cross cutting issues such as HIV, gender, human rights, climate change in the program in partnership with other NGOs.
- Contributing to raising literacy levels around Majete through the Majete scholarship program to orphans and vulnerable children.
- Mobilizing financial resources for Community Engagement program especially on IGAs.
African Parks is a non-profit organisation that takes on direct responsibility for the rehabilitation and long-term management of National Parks, in partnership with governments and local communities. By adopting a business approach to conservation, supported by donor funding, African Parks aim to make each park sustainable in the long-term, thereby contributing to economic development and poverty alleviation. We currently manage seven parks in six countries - Malawi, Chad, Congo, DRC, Rwanda and Zambia - with a combined area of 4.1 million hectares.
To find out more about Majete, visit the relevant African Parks website here - www.african-parks.org/Park_1_Majete.html
What is the name of your village/local community and what is your role within it?
My name is Samuel Kamoto, from Majete Mathithi Camp which is the Park headquarters. My Role: I am the Community Extension and Education Coordinator, (prior to joining AP, I worked with the department of National Parks and Wildlife for 20 years in park management and Education positions. Worked in Majete while based at Lengwe National park in the early 1980s.)
How are you personally involved with African Parks?
I coordinate Extension and Education activities. Working with 19 Community based organisation, (CBO), purposely established around the reserve to act as conduits for information exchange between the park and communities who are our prime stakeholders in the management of the Park. CBOs are also a channnel through which we implement various interventions to respond a number of issues such as poverty, illiteracy, health etc.
Historically, what did the Majete region mean to local communities?
The Majete area was historically used for agriculture, fishing and hunting. It was also a source of building materials. Although the soils of Majete Game Reserve are very shallow and stony and appear unsuitable for cultivation and settlement, fragments of pottery are found all over the reserve. It is possible that in the past the soils were better, and the area was heavily settled. As a result of poor agricultural practices the soils became poor and the people moved away and abandoned the area. Hence, as wildlife was exterminated and pushed from other parts of the lower Shire valley by increasing human population, the Majete area acted as a reserve for many species. In particular the elephant, once common throughout the Shire Valley and giving the name “Elephant Marsh”, was then confined in the Majete area.
It was to protect this remnant elephant population that the Nyasaland Fauna Preservation Society, (now Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi), pushed for Majete’s protection. Largely as a result of this pressure the area around Majete Hill was declared a non hunting area in 1951 and later in 1955, a 500 Km2 Game Reserve was proclaimed. Unfortunately this reserve took no account of the need for dry season water and so in 1969 the reserve was extended to 700 Km2 to include the perennial Mkulumadzi River, Shire River and the historical Kapichira Falls.
Prior to the African Parks organisation's involvement, how did the local communities benefit from Majete as a resource? I.e., collection of wood for fires, use of wildlife as a protein source etc?
Communities were collecting wood and thatch grass, hunting, logging, making charcoal and fishing though this was done illegally because Majete was still a reserve governed by the National Parks and Wildlife Act, despite it being poorly managed. It was this poor management and laxity in law enforcement that the local people took advantage of and they engaged in various illegal activities as mentioned above.
Growing up within the Majete area, how do you remember Majete from the past and what stories can you recall your parents/grandparents telling you about it? Can you share some of their memories, for example what wildlife they remember, what it used to be like hunting for food etc?
I remember Majete as a mass of rough, stony hills with poor Brachystegia, (Miombo), woodland with a number of small streams which were drying up in rainless months. The animals were obtaining their water requirements from a stretch of the Shire River which formed the north eastern boundary of Majete and also from a stretch of the Wankulumadzi River, (now known as Mkulumadzi). Water was also held in the “Miwawa’ waterhole in the Phwazi stream.
Majete was then regarded as a very difficult place to be developed as a tourist attraction because of its rugged nature but was nevertheless a sanctuary worth preserving for a number of reasons: being large enough to contain elephants and rhinoceros. The reserve was regarded as utterly useless for either agriculture or forestry. I learnt from the elders that Majete was a home of then rare Nyasa Klipspringer, (Oreotragus aceratos), which was found nowhere in Malawi but Majete. Other species which I remember seeing during my visits to Majete in the early 1980s were elephant, eland, kudu, water buck, zebra, warthog, bush pig, lion, leopard and hippopotamus. I also heard stories of wild dogs being found in the area.
How did African Parks first approach local communities surrounding Majete and what were your initial thoughts about a foreign organisation coming into the area?
Setting up collaborative management structures, (sharing accountability and decision making), was the first step together with sensitization meeting about the new management and what it intended to do to rehabilitate the park as well as its plans for building support and trust from the local communities. The structures were as follows:
- 19 CBOs established around Majete Wildlife Reserve as conduits for community engagement. All CBOs have boards and report to the boards.
- Majete Wildlife Reserve Association is an umbrella body for the CBOs. Reports to Joint Liaison committee. Meets quarterly. Aimed at sharing experiences, knowledge and challenges and receive reports from African Parks Majete, (APM).
- Joint Liaison Committee, (JLC), a multi-stakeholder technical committee plays an advisory role to APM and assists with conflict resolution and management affecting communities. Meets quarterly.
- Annual stakeholders meeting - attended by technocrats, tour operators and journalists. (APM makes a presentation of achievements and issues and seek inputs from stakeholders.)
The initial thoughts were that government had sold the reserve to foreigners to promote tourism for the benefit of government and its partners and not for the benefit of the local people.
From the beginning,how have local communities been integrated into the conservation decision making process and management of Majete?
Through the structures mentioned above which are functioning very well to date,
When Majete was first fenced, how were local communities affected? How quickly was the decision to fence and protect, what traditionally had been "your" area, accepted by local people and how much opposition was there initially?
The local communites knew very well that they were utilising the park illegally. They knew pretty well that they were taking advantage of a weak managment and therefore there wasn't much resistance. Those affected were the ones who were involved in illegal activities in the park.
What compensation was offered and by who?
No compensation was made.
And now, how important is it that Majete is fenced, both for surrounding communities and the wildlife and ecosystem within?
For the communities: no more crop raiding. For the park , the fence protects the animals from straying out of the park and cuts the risk of being killed by local communities. The fence also helps in ensuring that poachers find it difficult to enter and get out the park illegally. Yes, they can get into the park because some of the people who were involved in construction know well how the fence functions. For management again we have created a barrier that stops animals from free ranging and therefore Majete is not 100% pristine and hence the need for active managment.
How apprehensive were your communities when large animal species were reintroduced to the reserve? In the past, had such animals been a danger to local people, (whether to lives, farming, livelyhood etc.) through human vs. wildlife conflict? And what was done to reassure local people that such incidents what not occur in future?
Yes people were apprehensive. The fear of having elephants raiding crops, lions and leopard attacking livestock and eating people was expressed time and again during awareness meetings that were being held prior to reintroductions. Intensive awaress meetings were organised prior to all reintroductions to dispel the fears. People were also made aware of the effectivenss of the predator proof electric fence. With time people believed in the plan because when and if there has been isolated animal break aways they have been dealt with professionally before any loss is incured.
What changes have you witnessed to both the reserve itself and surrounding areas since African Parks involvement?
Vegetation cover has improved greatly in general. There has been regeneration of some wooded tree species. However, with the increase in numbers of elephants, we have also witnessed their impact - particularly to riverine vegetation with species like Umbrella Acacia, (Acacia tortilis), and Baobab, (Adansonia digitata), being affected most.
Animals that once lived in Majete but were poached to extinction have been re introduced. Majete is now a home to lions, elephants, rhinoceros, buffalo etc.
Majete is now one of the leading tourism destinations in Malawi and stands as an excellent example of how biodiversity conservation can go hand-in-hand with rural community development.
In the surrounding communites: Communites are more cooperative. No more antagonism, no more booing of scouts as they interact and walk in the surrouding villages. There are a number of sustainable community development projects being championed by communities themselves with AP just providing guidance or in some cases working capital.
What benefits do communities now derive from Majete and how are such benefits, whether financial or otherwise, equally distributed?
About 140,000 people live around Majete, (in roughly a 5 km band around the reserve), and it is vital that this local community derives real and tangible benefits from the Reserve in order to ensure its long term survival.
Sustainable resource harvesting, (e.g. harvesting of thatching grass and reeds), is permitted within the Reserve, whilst micro-enterprises such as bee-keeping, vegetable growing, arts and craft making have been initiated in conjunction with community members - setting them on a promising road to rural development. A community-managed campsite near the entrance gate provides a regular and sustainable source of income for the community projects.
AP has always placed emphasis on educational activities and programs within the areas surrounding its parks. This includes providing financial support for secondary school and tertiary students through the Majete Scholarship Fund and Environmental Education outreach programs during which pupils learn about conservation issues, their impacts and solutions to the issues. 100 students in various secondary schools are being support by the Majete Bursary. Majete is also currently paying fees for 3 university students. Selection of students for the bursary is done with the community leaders. Only orphaned and vulnerable children are selected.
One of the most important benefits to local communities is employment, especially considering that each economically active person supports an average of eight people. Employment has risen ten-fold at Majete since AP took over management, from just 12 people in 2003 to over 120 permanent employees today, with many more employed on a temporary basis and in a range of support businesses.
How are African Parks investing in the younger generation from local communities? What is being done regards their education, training, taking them into the reserve and sensitising them to its wildlife and ecosystems etc?
Providing scholarships as mentioned above. Environmental Education – working with 35 schools around the park which include park visits and outreach programs.Students being taught how to identify environmental issues and risks, their impacts and how to respond to the issues and risks.
How are your communities involved in tourism management decisions?
The communites own a community campsite and participate fully in its management. AP provides oversight. All revenue generated goes to communites. There is a community visit as one of tourist activities. Visitors pay to be taken on community visits and revenue generated goes to the communities. The communities are responsible for organising the activities which include traditional dances, display of traditional houses, foods, matmaking etc.
How many people from surrounding districts are directly employed in Majete? (Whether it be tourism services, security, rangers, administration etc and what positions do they hold?
Already mentioned in point 13 above.
How do you share your culture with international tourists?
Through organised community visits as mentioned in point 15 above.
What are your hopes for the future, not only for the Majete Reserve but your communities which surround it?
For Majete my hope is that the reserve will maintain what it has achieved. For the communities, my hope is that they will continue to be cooperative and continue reaping the benefits resulting from professional management of Majete. The future for communities is bright.
Matt's note: I recently interviewed Michael Eustace of African Parks including a number of questions about Majete Wildlife Reserve here.
All photos courtesy and copyright Samuel Kamoto/African Parks.
The views expressed therein are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Safaritalk.