WCS and COMACO

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Home to elephants, wild dogs, lions, and other charismatic wildlife, Zambia’s rural Luangwa Valley is considered by many to be that country’s Yellowstone National Park. Despite the region’s ecological riches, the people are impoverished. Until recently, their sole means of support were poaching and subsistence farming—both unreliable and unhealthy activities. In 2002, WCS-Zambia saw an opportunity to improve the welfare of the people and their environment by creating a sort of “green workforce” among Luangwa’s rural communities. The result, the Community Markets for Conservation co-op, better known as COMACO. This program has empowered residents to adopt new trades, including organic farming, beekeeping, gardening, carpentry, and handicrafts. In addition, it has taken tens of thousands of snares and firearms out of the bush, saving equally large numbers of wild animals.

Challenges

WCS studies revealed that without aid, most families in Luangwa Valley experience three to five months of chronic food insecurity. With few options available to support their families, these residents may turn to logging, illegal hunting, and slash-and-burn agriculture. Commercial farming in remote areas further exacerbates these threats to wildlife and wild lands. In addition, law enforcement has generally failed to control the hunting and wildlife trade in Zambia. As a result, its wildlife populations declined dramatically.

Goals

  • Survey and assess household income and food security, and help those families in need
  • Formulate community plans that promote better farming methods and land-use practices, based on decisions made by local villages to eliminate key threats to natural resources in their area
  • Deliver favorable prices to COMACO producers by linking a network of rural trading depots to a regional community trading center
  • Develop improved market opportunities at the national and international levels in exchange for long-term commitment to conservation guidelines

What WCS is Doing

 Through COMACO, WCS has helped spawn It’s Wild--a brand of eco-friendly products and services that range from rice and peanut butter cultivated without pesticides or fertilizers, to Snarewear recycled jewelry, to fully catered eco-tours in South Luangwa National Park. WCS has brought the new markets directly to the participants’ doorsteps, helping the local people break from former agricultural practices that wreaked havoc on the soils and denuded the landscape of its trees and wildlife.

Simple adjustments in land-use practices, such as crop rotation, composting, and animal husbandry, have helped rural people become better stewards of one of East Africa’s most fragile landscapes. In addition to improving the local economy and environment, COMACO has also improved governance and created new partnerships.

For more information: www.itswild.org

From the Newsroom

Green Business Grows in ZambiaAugust 22, 2011

WCS’s COMACO program in Zambia transforms poachers into organic farmers, benefitting local communities and wildlife alike. A new study documents the program’s growing success.

Snarewear, A New Eco-TrendJuly 12, 2007

It’s more than a fashion statement. The latest trend in African jewelry design takes its raw material from snares once used to trap wildlife. And its salesmen are the poachers who laid the snares.

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