Bangweulu is a community-owned protected wetland, jointly managed by African Parks since 2008. The protected area is home to 50,000 people who retain the right to sustainably harvest natural resources from it. However, for decades, unsustainable human pressure depleted Bangweulu’s wildlife and fish stocks. To preserve the wetlands for the benefit of people and wildlife, we work with communities to sustainably manage Bangweulu’s resources. Through implementing health and education programmes and community development projects to enhance local livelihoods, we position Bangweulu as the nucleus of a growing conservation-led economy.
Bangweulu is the largest employer in the region. The management team has grown considerably over the years, especially with the employment of the village scouts, all of whom benefit from the reliable remuneration their jobs provide.
Every year, Bangweulu aims to provide quality education that will support economic and social transformation while raising awareness on environmental issues. Bangweulu financially supports a number of schools on an annual basis and provides learning materials, such as Zedu Pads (a solar-powered pre-loaded tablet with multiple curriculums in 13 languages), to enhance the students learning experience and to provide them with a greater opportunity to either further their studies or become employable and competitive in the work place. Educational outreach includes environmental curricula and programmes designed to educate children about the importance of endangered species, like the shoebill stork, and the wider environment. This will ultimately facilitate an attitude of change and awareness which will not only secure the future of the park but create one where both people and wildlife can thrive.
A Community Development Fund has provided financial resources to support several important infrastructure projects, among them: renovation of health facilities; creation of teacher housing; and a new marketplace building. A Reproductive Health Programme launched in 2016 received overwhelming support from communities. The programme works with local Chiefdoms to conduct family planning sessions and reproductive health and awareness programmes; it also includes mobile health clinics. Bangweulu’s robust livelihood programme helps people diversify their income through a range of enterprise development projects that include bee-keeping, fisheries management, and sustainable farming training.
With fishing being one of the main sources of revenue and protein for Bangweulu’s communities, it is essential that this resource is protected in a way that allows people to harvest without depleting supplies. Fishermen are now able to sell their fish in Muwele fish market, a centralised point of trade for the community market built by African Parks. Community sensitisation programmes to promote fishery regulations have heralded excellent results regarding compliance with a seasonal fishing ban, and the shift away from the illegal and unsustainable use of mosquito nets to catch fish.
Sustainable development and good management of tourism will be a critical revenue generator for the Bangweulu, and the surrounding communities. Well-run tourism can provide for an increase in jobs, and help create a conservation-led economy, increasing the value and buy-in of maintaining the wetlands as a protected area long into the future. Communities receive a 15% share of all commercial income generated in Bangweulu.
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