Africa, Development & Aid, Environment, Food and Agriculture, Headlines, Poverty & SDGs

MOZAMBIQUE: Local Leadership On Environmental Sustainability

Jessie Boylan

NIASSA PROVINCE, Mozambique, Sep 11 2009 (IPS) - Tucked away in the remote northwest corner of Mozambique is some of the most rugged and least developed terrain in the country. It was in this area that some of the most intense fighting took place during the civil war, which ended in 1992.

Communities are taking charge of sustainable management of resources like these catfish. Credit:  Jessie Boylan/IPS

Communities are taking charge of sustainable management of resources like these catfish. Credit: Jessie Boylan/IPS

While this fighting decimated much of the country's wildlife, the northern province of Niassa has seen a huge transformation in environmental management and conservation initiatives in recent years which have successfully brought back most of the animals.

Mozambique has its share of environmental problems: elephants destroying farmers' crops; the over-exploitation of natural resources by a crooked timber industry and commercial fishing operators; and damaging agricultural practices.

NGOs and government are working together on ways to ensure environmental sustainability, one of the Millennium Development Goals. Local communities are also being empowered to ensure they are not left out of the solution.

The Swedish Cooperative Council (SCC), an NGO which works in the region promoting sustainable development, has identified a number of areas which specifically need addressing.

Kajsa Johansson from the SCC, who has been working with farmers to support small and large-scale initiatives for sustainable agriculture, believes many environmental problems are related to agricultural practices.

"For example, slashing and burning new fields, or burning the land before every planting season, makes the soil very poor," said Johansson. "Also, chemical products are used to fertilise, which makes the farmers dependent on 'external products' that they have to pay for."

Communities have not proved adaptive to change. In the event of changes rainfall patterns or temperatures during the growing season, for example, they rarely choose a new grain to replace established ones which produce less in the changed weather conditions.

"Some farmers know how to practice sustainable agriculture, but in the end, their focus is on everyday survival, which makes it very difficult to instil a long-term sustainable environment perspective," said Johansson.

One conservation project in the region, the Manda Wilderness Agriculture Project, is attempting to change this scenario, however. It has established a demonstration farm which trains farmers in methods of improving soil health and crop yields.

Another initiative in Niassa province, assisted by both the Manda Wilderness Conservation Trust and the SCC, is a community drive called Umoji, which means "As One" in the local Chinyanja language.

Umoji is an association made up of 15 villages represented by 64 people, and it aims to educate this 20,000-strong community in resource management – fishing, wilderness conservation, tourism and development – hopefully resulting not only in the conservation of the environment for future generations, but the improvement of people’s economic circumstances.

Umoji has created a "conservation zone" covering 120,000 hectares and a large area of the lake, but to do this, the association had to engage in a legal process to secure land rights for all the villages.

Land rights are important in terms of empowering local communities to take control managing land and natural resources.

All land in Mozambique belongs to the state, but the 1997 Land Law recognised land use rights that may apply to either communities or a private individuals and companies.

The law aimed to encourage investment in rural areas by granting private land concessions, while at the same time securing land tenure for family farmers and creating a framework for partnerships between communities and outside investors.

In the case of Umoji, the government granted land rights in the area to the association as a collective, effectively placing management and care for the land as a natural resource in the hands of local leaders.

Each of 15 villages in the area has set up a resource management committee, which collects various field data and explains sustainable practices.

Each village delegates members – with guaranteed representation of traditional leaders, women and other groups – to a be its voice within the Umoji Association as a whole.

With assistance from SCC and another non-governmental organisation, the Manda Wilderness Conservation Trust, the association has created a conservation zone covering 120,000 hectares which they hope can be turned into a tourist attraction.

"Umoji is working to tell the people about how to care for the environment," says Chief George Zaiti, an Umoji member living near the lakeshore just south of Cobue. He has stayed in this area all his life, and witnessing the war first-hand, has seen the how the land and wildlife were impacted and how the environment changed.

"We don’t have enough fish just because the fisherman are fishing each and every day," he says. "Now the people in the village are teaching them not to catch kampango (catfish) carelessly. We are planning to ban fishing for six months so the reserves can be replenished. People are also being told not to carelessly cut the trees, or kill the animals," he said.

Although Chief Zaiti is proud of Umoji's achievements, he believes the government still doesn’t offer enough support or equipment. "They're operating, but they don’t have any real power," he said.

The SCC, meanwhile, is helping Umoji to build its capacity, providing funding and hopefully opening an office in Cobue, which will help build its management and fundraising competency.

If initiatives like Umoji succeed, they could lead the way for other communities in finding long-lasting conservation strategies which allow for agricultural and economic growth that does not jeopardise natural resources and the environment.

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