First CCA established in the Elephant Marsh

Nyakhuwa: It is important to conserve the Elephant Marsh

“It is very important for us to conserve the Elephant Marsh as a key resource for our livelihood. We cannot be selfish and only think of our needs only but we also need to think of future generations,โ€ said Cecilia Nyakhuwa, a member of the Elephant Marsh Association.

Malawi designated the Elephant Marsh as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention on 1st July 2017. The Marsh is endowed with birdlife, populations of hippos, several species of fish and crocodiles among other species present.

The SVTP is working in collaboration with communities around the Elephant Marsh on issues of conservation as the marshes have been affected by non-systematic cultivation of crops, harmful fishing practices, and excessive bird hunting which poses a threat to the beautiful biodiversity in the Marsh.  

The Programme is supporting the establishment of CCAs in the Elephant Marsh as it plays an important role in maintaining the valleyโ€™s hydrological regime through flood control, water storage and supply of nutrient-rich sediment. Chikwawa and Nsanje District Councils have endorsed the need to establish the CCAs for the sustainable management of the Elephant Marsh. 

Kawaye: The Elephant Marsh is like a bank account

Divisional Manager for Parks and Wildlife for the Lower Shire, Wisely Kawaye underscores the importance of conserving the Elephant Marsh for future generations.

“The Elephant Marsh is like a bank account for our communities because it is their source of livelihood hence needs conservation. Different government ministries are working in collaboration with support from the SVTP to ensure that this great resource is conserved,” he said.

The first CCA to be established in the Elephant Marsh is Mbenje. This is the first public-private-community CCA model established in the country. Communities in the area are working with Agricaneโ€™s Kaombe Ranch on conservation issues under the CCA. Two Committees were established, one at Mbenje and another at Ntchenyera to support interventions in the CCA. 

Before the establishment of the CCA, an assessment of 40 biodiversity hotspots was conducted to establish the status of the wetland resource for both flora and fauna. Some of these hotspots will be included in the CCA sites.  

In the Mbenje area, community members in collaboration with the SVTP developed a community map showing all places proposed to be incorporated into the CCA including Gongโ€™o wamkulu, Gongโ€™o wamngโ€™ono,  Nyangโ€™ona, Chiwonambwadza, Chisamba, Bulawayo, and Chimbvuli Beach. The map was vetoed by the whole community and other stakeholders and submitted to the Department of Lands for processing of the title deed for the CCA. So far communities under Mbenje CCA have contributed 2,164 hectares of land for conservation.  

Community members developing a map

Some areas have been identified and earmarked for possible sites for the establishment of CCAs. These areas are those with high biodiversity under anthropogenic threats. In TA Mlolo which is in the central-eastern zone of the Elephant Marsh, villages such as Mchacha Jemusi, Msambokulira, Chinzeti, Yokonia and Nyangu have been identified as the stretch that will house the first public community CCA model. The next CCA to be established in the Elephant Marsh will be Msambokulira in GVH Chapinga in TA Mlolo in Nsanje district. 

Snr Group Mbenje: We will continue engaging communities

Traditional leaders in the Elephant Marsh cite the need for good governance and mindset change if the Elephant Marsh is to be conserved for future generations. Harrison Lapken (Snr Group Village Headman Mbenje) expresses concern over destructive practices posing a threat to the existence of the Marsh.

โ€œIndeed, old habits die hard. People in this area have been practising harmful fishing and farming practices for many years. This has become a norm. This is negatively affecting natural resources in the Marsh,” lamented Snr GVH Mbenje.

Snr Group Mbenje commits to ensuring that the Elephant Marsh is conserved.

“We will continue to engage communities on conservation of the Elephant Marsh. Regular engagement is key to this process. The training we attended has equipped us with skills to engage our communities as we enforce compliance with the set bye-laws. It is our responsibility as leaders to ensure that this is done,” he said.

“We are not barring people from utilizing the Marsh, but we are encouraging people to utilize these resources sustainably,โ€ added Snr Group Mbenje.