Mozambique is a country of extraordinary biological diversity. Its network of protected areas makes up 26% of the land area in the country. Covering about 42,000 square kilometres (approximately the size of the Netherlands), the Niassa National Reserve is Mozambique’s largest protected area.
The natural heritage of Niassa has been affected by wars, illegal logging and mining, poaching, population growth, human-wildlife conflict, and climate change.
Elephants were particularly affected by poaching due to growing global demand for ivory, which resulted in the decrease of the estimated elephant population from over 12,000 in 2011 to around 4,000 in 2014 in Niassa alone.
The Niassa National Reserve is home to around 60,000 people whose livelihoods depend on the natural resources the Reserve provides. One of the greatest challenges facing conservation is finding a balance between protecting biodiversity, while simultaneously ensuring local communities see the benefit of conservation areas.
With the Conservation Areas and Protection of Elephants (APEM) project launched in Mozambique in 2016, AFD is doing just that. “Our challenge is to balance conservation and economic development for the local people. If the population’s increasing pressure on the environment in the conservation areas is not well managed, wildlife and forestry resources will be exploited unsustainably, which nullifies our conservation efforts,” Mathieu Boche, Agriculture, Biodiversity and Rural Development Project Manager at AFD, said.
The project, implemented by Mozambique’s National Administration of Conservation Areas (ANAC) in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), aims to strengthen the management of protected areas in Mozambique and improve the surveillance and anti-poaching systems in the Niassa National Reserve and the Limpopo National Park.
The APEM project contributes to strengthening long-term public-private partnerships. An example of such partnership is the Luwire Wildlife Conservancy, located on the South-eastern bank of the Lugenda River. This private concession works closely with the Reserve’s administration in terms of coordinating surveillance activities and conservation efforts. Funded by a private investor, Luwire hosts a luxury lodge that attracts tourists looking for a unique wilderness experience. “We receive mostly tourists interested in wildlife photography and walking safaris. They are willing to pay for something real and exclusive,” John Nel, Luwire’s General Manager says.
Luwire is part of the Niassa Conservation Alliance (NCA), which groups three private operators making up nearly 40% of the area within the Reserve. “We are three private operators with a strong commitment to conservation and combating illegal activities within the Reserve”, John says. The NCA’s members pool their resources and expertise to find practical and robust solutions to the challenges of conservation and secure long-term financial support.
“We re-invest all the money we make into conservation effort. Our success is the fact that we probably have over half of the elephant population in our three concessions, which means that the elephants feel safe enough to come back,” John says. Thanks to coordination with the Reserve administration, Luwire was able to equip and train the scouts and improve monitoring of the area, which resulted in the reduction of illegal mining activities.
With its diverse and abundant animal and plant species, the Niassa National Reserve is real gem of biodiversity in Mozambique and as such, deserves to be preserved for generations to come. The commitment to conservation demonstrated by the Government of Mozambique and the funding and support provided by international donors and wildlife NGOs are bearing fruit, as can be seen in the reduction in elephant poaching in the last year.
Going forward, the Niassa National Reserve Administration, in partnership with WCS, is currently drafting a 10-year (2019-2029) management plan that seeks to better involve local communities in decision making, preserve the gains made in biodiversity conservation, as well as promote the wellbeing and livelihood of the 60,000 people living inside the Reserve.
In addition, the Reserve’s administration and the various concessions will continue promoting nature-based tourism as a way to further conservation and create local jobs at the same time.
Mozambique Biodiversity and development, a natural alliance