Simalaha Community Conservation - Mwandi

A Project with Climate Change problems and Third World issues

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Now this was a different experience from what we have ever been in. In the Philippines we have encountered the importance of certain traditions and official ways to do things. But I have never felt this nervous for a simple meeting than what I felt in Mwandi! But I guess this is only natural, as we set out to meet at the Royal palace with the royal family of Barotseland. Apparently, it is kind of like meeting with our Dutch king, King Willem-Alexander, and then with a lot of rules. For instance, I had to wear a chitenge, which is basically a sarong. And our shoulders had to be covered. Some kids that lived around the palace took us inside, one was holding my hand. We walked over to a lady sitting there, and the kids all kneeled before her. The kid who was holding my hand started pulling me down. Apparently, we had to kneel! Then the woman told us to sit down and face towards the building. A man came out and after we explained what we were doing here, he told us what to do when we would enter the Mwandi Bre Kuta (the building); before the entrance, kneel and clap your hands, then go in and do the same thing before you sit on your chair. Luckily, we had a wonderful guy with us, Mike Mwenda, honorable councillor for Mwandi ward. I’m pretty sure he is the youngest councillor in Zambia with his 23 years, and he is very passionate about his community and all the people in it.

The wildebeest that have been re-introduced to the Simalaha Conservancy area.

Anyway, we entered the building, feeling quite uncomfortable doing all these rituals. Five old men were watching us, lined up against the wall, and we were seated opposite them. These men are called Induna and are part of the Barotse Royal Establishment. Mike was with us to translate and we were bombarded with questions. As we went here with the idea that we would be the ones asking the questions, this was a bit of an adjustment! But we realized they were trying to find out if we could be of any help to them. You see, we went to visit this area because this is a one-of-kind Community Conservation project in Zambia where the initiators of the conservation are the actual people of the community. The King and one of the induna we spoke to, were the ones who had set up the Simalaha Conservancy with the help of Peace Parks and Kaza. They are now five years into the project and are ready to take on tourism, but there is no lodge yet. They wanted to know if we were interested in setting up a lodge! Wauw.. that was something to consider...

But first we laid out our plan to them and we wanted to know more about the conservancy. The manager of the conservancy was called and we could meet with him the following afternoon. In the meantime, councillor Mike showed us around. We visited Sikuzu Village, the village directly on the border of the conservancy, and its community school. This school was only set up a few years ago and still had several issues, especially concerning water. There was no water and due to climate change, several of the wells in the vicinity were dried up. The kids have to walk for 2 km’s to haul water! And then you have us, we just take all of this for granted in the Western world…. A similar problem had occurred with a garden community project. A very successful garden was planted and maintained by the community; they even gave free vegetables and money to the very poor. However, the pump next to the garden broke down/dried up a few months ago and hauling water from the river for this many plants is impossible. We saw that all the vegetables were drying out and only a few red tomatoes were left on the plants. So even though we had expected an area that had it all figured out, the major issues of Third World African countries remain. And as we found out here, climate change is increasing these problems. We can safely assume these problems will become even worse over time!

After this sad story, Mike took us to the Mabale fishing camp where his father and family live during the dry season. This is right on the edge of the conservancy. He told us there are still people living inside the conservancy where they fish and have cattle. We saw these cattle mix with the wildlife! At the fishing camp we met his father and family, and he showed the simple, one-year houses from grass where they live in. On the way back we squeezed in three young woman with their baby’s in our car, so they didn’t have to walk to the village (took us 15 minutes by car, can you imagine how long by foot!). And once we were back we were told we could camp at the lodge next to the Royal palace. Only later did we realize we were staying in the backyard of the prince!!! The next day we were to have another meeting at two ‘o clock, I’m already feeling anxious around one, imagining a similar meeting to the day before. Only this time without our translator!? But surprisingly enough they were an hour early. While we were having lunch, we saw one of the induna, the elderly one who helped set up the conservancy, walk up to us together with the manager! That was a bit awkward, but then they went and waited for us at the deck. Here we finally realized that the guy who was walking around the terrain in kind of shabby clothes, was actually the prince... Holy shit, that was weird, as we just assumed it was one of the guys maintaining the terrain. Nevertheless, this meeting was a lot more casual and we were able to get answers to our many questions. The prince was very helpful and the manager had some guys come over so they could take us into the conservancy after the meeting. During this meeting, they seemed to realize we were not the ones to set up a lodge as we had come to Africa with other intentions. This had been our conclusion as well, especially as we feel that this Simalaha project is already heading in the right direction in both community development and nature conservation. With the guidance of the king of Barotse and the help of the Peace Parks, there is enough people invested in this area to make it successful. However, if you know anyone, or are that person that wants to set up a lodge in Africa, here is your chance!!

The guys that showed us around in the conservancy after the meeting, pointed out the places they have reserved for a lodge, and they are pretty amazing! And so is the vision of the conservancy. There is a large floodplain that will have a very high carrying capacity for grazers and a lot of mopane forest for browsers. They are in the process of restocking with zebras, impalas, wildebeest and giraffes, coming from Botswana and Namibia and even Kafue NP. At the moment, the area is still fenced, but in the future, it will become a crossing area for wildlife between Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Angola. A initiative called Kaza that has the aim of connecting the different wildlife areas in these countries, thereby becoming the largest wildlife area in Africa (read more about it here).

As Simalaha is right on the border, between Chobe NP and Kafue NP it is the crossing they need. Plus it is actually a good place for tourism because it is located along the Zambesi river. Going in the north-western direction there is the beautiful Ngonye falls we have visited. And in the south-eastern direction there is Victoria falls. However, if they ever want tourism to develop, one of the things they will have to improve is the road to Livingstone (Victoria falls). We have never in our lives seen such a bad road. A trip that should take about one and a half hour now took four! The road has more potholes than road! But that didn’t take anything from the impressive experience we had in Simalaha and we are happy to have visited this inspiring place.  Read more about it here...

Posted by bylifeconnected


hehehehe i guess it was an awesome moment in the presence of the king especially when you were told to start clapping. Essentially the findings shows that the community desire for economic growth is moderated by the potential they see in wildlife which is a good thing.

Thanks Ubaani, yeah it was pretty cool. I think it is a very good thing they are doing in Simalaha and I hope they will get there soon, so another conservancy can be added to the world!

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