Communities living around Kasungu National Park in Malawi traditionally grow maize to feed their families and a few other cash crops to generate income. High poverty levels and declining soil fertility have driven some community members into the neighbouring park to clear more land, hunt wildlife or harvest wood illegally to make ends meet. Kasungu Wildlife Conservation and Community Development Association (KAWICCODA) have started a transformative project with support from the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management (BIOPAMA) Programme to help change this situation using soybeans.
Soybeans are a cash crop that naturally fix nitrogen in the soil and thus improve soil fertility whilst simultaneously providing a steady income for cash-strapped households. This initiative, which includes promoting soybean farming among other activities, aims to strike a harmonious balance between biodiversity conservation and sustainable community development. This project targets local communities living within 5 km of the buffer zone around Kasungu National Park.
More than 300 farming families benefited from this project by obtaining 40 kg of soybean seeds each, which are expected to yield an average of 500 kg per field. As a sustainability measure, each beneficiary will give 110 kg back to the project after the first harvest, thus allowing more families to benefit during the next round of distribution.
As the project unfolded, a group of enthusiastic beneficiaries – primarily farmers in the two traditional authorities of Chisinga and Kaphaizi – embarked on a journey of change and empowerment. Through intensive training sessions organised by KAWICCODA, these community members gained valuable insights into sustainable soybean farming practices. The training covered a variety of topics including soil management, crop rotation, pest control, and efficient water usage.
Armed with newfound knowledge, the beneficiaries eagerly embraced the challenge of incorporating sustainable agricultural techniques into their daily practices. 40-year old Josephine Mwandira of Group Village Headman Chimombo under Mpepa Cooperative excitedly reported that, “having access to extension services will only improve my knowledge and ultimately improve the yield I expect to get from the 40 kg of soybean seeds I have benefited from the BIOPAMA project.”
The BIOPAMA project is tracking and measuring the impact of these interventions on both the environment and the lives of the local communities as part of its monitoring and evaluation framework. Regular assessments will be conducted to gauge the improvement in soil health, the reduction of deforestation, and overall ecological resilience in the buffer zones.
As the soybean crop is expected to flourish due to the hard work of farmers tangible benefits are expected to unfold. The soybean cultivation not only provides a diversified and sustainable source of income for the beneficiaries but also contributes to the conservation goals of BIOPAMA by reducing the pressure on natural resources within the buffer zones.
The monitoring and evaluation team will also measure the economic status of the participating communities, which is expected to improve substantially. Income generated from soybean sales will empower families to meet their basic needs, invest in education, and improve healthcare. Reduced poverty levels should reduce these households’ reliance on illegal activities that could harm the biodiversity of Kasungu National Park.
Moreover, the project has facilitated increased cooperation among farmers living in this area. Farmers will use the Mpepa and Chengwe Cooperatives to share knowledge, pool resources, and collectively market their soybean produce. This collaborative approach will not only strengthen community bonds but also enhance the overall resilience of the local agricultural system.
At the start of this new era of soybean cultivation and farmer cooperation, we are confident that the communities around Kasungu National Park will be transformed into thriving examples of sustainable coexistence between people and nature. The soybean project, under the watchful eye of BIOPAMA and implemented by the dedicated KAWICCODA team, has become a beacon of hope, illustrating how careful planning, community involvement, and effective monitoring can lead to a future where biodiversity conservation and human prosperity walk hand in hand.