Owning the Conservation Narrative
In the week past, Malawi had a visit by the Duke of Sussex Prince Harry. Among other activities, he dedicated Liwonde National Park and the Mangochi Forest to the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy (QCC). The QCC is an initiative begun in 2015 as a network of forest conservation programmes throughout the 53 countries of the Commonwealth of Nations. The two protected areas join Chimaliro Forest Reserve in Mzimba on the list of protected areas under the canopy.
In a Telegraph article that he authored, Prince Harry has warned of “vast ecosystems” being set ablaze and destroyed in Africa for short-term gain.
He said “Nature teaches us the importance of a circular system, one where nothing goes to waste and everything has a role to play. If we interfere with it, rather than work with it, the system will break down.”
Prince Harry’s words echo those of other conservationists both local and around the world.
So in my chat with Prince Harry:
• We humans ‘need to appreciate we are the one problem…and we need to fix it’
• ‘We are literally driving ourselves to extinction’
• ‘There are so many problems’ and ‘the root cause of that is what we are doing to the climate’ pic.twitter.com/NhG6mUO5fZ
— Chris Ship (@chrisshipitv) September 30, 2019
Missing Malawian voices in conservation
Perhaps something we have not been very good at doing in Malawi is raising our voices on the subject of wildlife conservation. Too many times we have delegated this task to international organisations like African Parks. We have the likes of RIPPLE Africa country director and Tusk Award for Conservation finalist Force Ngwira as well as Tusk Award winner and department of National Parks and Wildlife director Brighton Kumchedwa. These two remarkable men have been at the forefront of the conservation battle. We have the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, Carnivore Research Malawi and the good folks at the Department of Environmental Affairs. We also have others.
@AfricanParks staff from #LiwondeNationalPark haven’t stopped picking up plastic rubbish during our #ClimateAction march! #wearewhatwedo #WarmHeartsAreNotMadeOfPlastic #conservationmatters #WESM @trussgroupmw @mustmalawi @GretaThunberg pic.twitter.com/7nCyLKDhnQ
— Bats without Borders (@bats_w_borders) September 27, 2019
But we need many more local voices and a lot more local action. We need more government and private sector investment in wildlife conservation. We need more young people to actively participate in habitat conservation.
When conservation is done right, it benefits local communities. It helps protect water catchment areas, wildlands, and the natural environment. Conservation is linked more times than not to tourism. Tourism creates jobs and brings in revenue.
Youth involvement in wildlife conservation
Malawi can get young people involved through active and vibrant wildlife clubs. In my secondary school days, in the late 80s, we had a couple of clubs that were directly or indirectly linked to conservation. I was a member of the school wildlife club where we frequently engaged with the Wildlife Society of Malawi. During one school holiday, we went on a multi-day trip to Lengwe National Park in Chikwawa with wildlife members from my school Blantyre Secondary School, Henry Henderson Institute (HHI) and other schools. I was also a member of the President’s Award Scheme. The scheme covered several areas but had an element of the outdoors. As members, we spent a weekend camping in Michiru Conservation Area in Blantyre learning about wildlife and the outdoors.
I am not sure if such clubs still exist but these are good avenues through which to nurture young leaders in the fight for a better Malawi. Boy and girl scouts were banned in our days, but these are also excellent initiatives through which young leaders can learn about conservation.
Our corporate leaders also have an important role to play. Local community initiatives often lack resources and publicity. Their leaders, some of whom are young and ill-equipped, could do with much needed mentoring. Business leaders and organisations can play a tremendous role in shaping these young minds in areas of leadership, communication and mobilising resources.
A rise in wildlife crimes
In a recent Nation newspaper article More Action Needed on Wildlife Crimes written by Moses Michael-Phiri, it has been reported that 41 people, including 12 Chinese nationals, have been arrested in recent weeks for wildlife-related crimes. This is the highest in one year. The number of Chinese nationals arrested is also on the rise. In 2017 and 2018, four Chinese nationals were arrested, two each year.
The article points the finger of blame to corrupt public officers in the immigration department, police as well as parks and wildlife department for this rise in cases. Locals also share the blame.
For conservation to work effectively in Malawi it has to be owned and driven by Malawians. We understand the cultures and practices that cause damage to the environment. We know our people and understand their needs. We can, therefore, work with our communities to influence their behaviour as well as raise our voices on their behalf to shape government policies.
The roles being played by personalities such as Prince Harry and international organisations are highly commendable. It is now the time for Malawians to step up and owned this narrative. We only have one Malawi!
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Cover Image © Wikipedia: Instructor having a word with Community rangers during a training exercise
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