August 23, 2011
Rice for market in the Luangwa Valley. Photo by: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS.
"COMACO shows how conservation can and should work," said John Robinson, WCS Executive Vice President for Conservation and Science. "Conservation cannot function without the buy-in of local people, and this is a shining example of how that goal can be achieved with impressive results for both people and wildlife."
Local people in the Luangwa Valley have long faced the constant risk of food shortages, exacerbated by rising populations, entrenched poverty, little education, and disease. Focus on cotton and tobacco-growing, introduced by developers, also led to widespread forest destruction and a reliance on fluctuating markets.
Thornicroft's giraffe only survives in the Luangwa Valley. Photo by: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS.
COMACO "uses markets and an adaptive business approach to promote sustainable agricultural practices, rather than base development on natural resources," the paper's authors write. Nineteen thousand farmers have completed their training with COMACO.
Today, sixteen crops are promoted within the group with participants free to grow whatever they prefer. Farmers also learn how to provide greater value to the products they sell, i.e. sell peanut butter instead of peanuts.
To show their commitment, program participants are asked to turn in their guns and wire snares used for poaching. The program has so far collected 61,000 snares and 1,467 guns. Otherwise, the program does not work directly on wildlife conservation, but rather "uses markets to encourage sustainable practices that should in turn lead to biodiversity conservation," according to the paper.
The young program has had a measurable impact. Aerial surveys of animals found that most species had stable or rising populations following declines measured in 1996. Especially notable from a poaching standpoint was the stability of eland, kudu, roan, waterbuck, wildebeest, zebra, and the rise in hartebeest. The one outlier was African buffalo, which the study found was in decline. Still, most of the news from the aerial surveys was good.
"Stability of the elephant population is of special importance, given the recent local history and focus for regional tourism," the authors add.
Collected rifles and snares by COMACO. Photo by: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS.
Given some earlier successes, amid challenges, the program is hoping to gain financial sustainability at some point in the future.
"They are trying to do something that very few wildlife and social interventions have ever dreamed of, which is to become self-sufficient," co-author Alexander Travis with Cornell University’s Baker Institute for Animal Health said in a press release.
The program is looking at new ways of gaining greater income for its participants, including growing organic cotton and joining the global carbon market. This year COMACO will test its robustness, by entering new areas in the valley.
However the authors warn that its simply too early to see COMACO as a success-story that could be replicated elsewhere.
"It would be prudent first to determine whether COMACO can survive its expansion phase. As the business grows, could the linkages between development and conservation be lost if economic success trumps social and environmental goals?" the authors ask.
CITATION: Dale Lewis, Samuel D. Bell, John Fay, Kim L. Bothi, Lydiah Gatere, Makando Kabila, Mwangala Mukamba, Edwin Matokwani, Matthews Mushimbalume, Carmen I. Moraru, Johannes Lehmann, James Lassoie, David Wolfe, David R. Lee, Louise Buck, and Alexander J. Travis.Community Markets for Conservation (COMACO) links biodiversity conservation with sustainable improvements in livelihoods and food production. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1011538108.
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