In 2012, Peace Parks Foundation received a generous donation from the Swedish Postcode Lottery to develop a wildlife sanctuary in the Simalaha Community Conservancy and improve human rights,and improve the social, economic and environmental circumstances of the local communities.
The Simalaha Community Conservancy Trust was registered on 11 January 2019 and, subsequent elections of new Village Action Groups, led to the appointment of 10 group chairpersons. These chairpersons, together with nominated members from the traditional authorities, form the Board of Trustees. A core purpose of the Trust is to ensure transparent and efficient management of the Conservancy, and to ensure that benefits accrued through socio-economic activities are shared equitably between all chiefdoms and community members. Peace Parks Foundation will provide the Trust with the necessary support until the Trust is able to manage its own affairs.
In 2013, supported by Peace Parks, a wildlife sanctuary measuring 22 000 ha was established as part of Simalaha. The first wildlife translocation to the Simalaha Community Conservancy took place on 6 October 2013 and since then, more than 1000 animals have been rewilded there. The animals have settled in well and are producing young, with more than 1 600 head of game now in the sanctuary.
Growing animal populations in the sanctuary mean that they will soon require more space. To this end, remote sensing was used in 2019 to identify human settlements and agricultural expansion in order to plan for the sanctuary’s boundary extension. Based on an analysis of the information, the sanctuary has now been expanded to 40 000 ha. An additional 670 animals will be translocated to Simalaha in 2020, including red lechwe, puku, eland, sable, hartebeest, waterbuck, and giraffe.
Thanks to MAVA, 22 community members were trained as wildlife scouts, known as Village Scouts, to protect the animals in the wildlife sanctuary. The conservancy wildlife manager and the community wildlife scouts carried out regular patrols to monitor wildlife in the conservancy. Communities have really taken ownership of conservation efforts and since the establishment of the sanctuary, there have been but a handful of poaching incidents.
An innovative youth engagement project recently launched in Simalaha aims to restore woodlands lost to deforestation, but also boost economic activity in the region. Using 10 000 Groasis Water boxx’s donated by the COmON Foundation, Peace Parks in partnership with the Zambian Department of Forestry will empower school children to grow indigenous trees which will be planted by communities in areas where forests once thrived. Through an interactive educational programme, children will learn the importance of trees in the ecosystem and the consequences of deforestation, as well as be given the opportunity to practically take a stand against these practices and mitigate the impacts of climate change on their communities.
The Groasis Water Boxx is an environmentally friendly planter used in over 30 countries to restore degraded forests, specifically in drought-prone regions. When used to grow trees, the Groasis Water Boxx uses 90% less water than drip irrigation and trees have a survival rate of over 90%. The ultimate aim of the project is to plant trees that can be sustainably harvested for nuts, fruit, and medicinal purposes. As honey production is also very popular in these areas, bee-friendly trees will also be planted which will attract these critically important pollinators.
The main aim of conservation agriculture is to provide people with food security and balanced nutrition, while assisting in the restoration of the ecology. Approximately 1530 farmers have been trained in conservation agriculture and supported by the distribution of various seeds, cassava cuttings and manure. Training was made easier through education videos in the local language (Lozi) provided to the famers on Samsung tablets through support from Xcelus and Hitachi Data Systems. Both the quality and the quantity of harvests have improved, with many now producing surplus crops to sell. Twenty lead farmers from the chiefdoms of Deputy Chief Joyce Sekute and Senior Chief Inyambo Yeta, have received training to become ‘contact’ farmers – empowering them to train other farmers in conservation agriculture techniques. The contact farmers were each presented with a bicycle to allow them to travel with more ease between the fields of the various farmers they have trained and continue to assist.
In order to provide all-year field irrigation, 140 treadle pumps have been provided to farmers. An additional 350 treadle pumps arrived in Simalaha recently and will be distributed to the communities over the next few months. Ten boreholes will also be drilled – one in each Village Action Group. The location and depth (approximately 100m) of these were scientifically determined using geophysical research so as to ensure that the water provided are not saline. The boreholes will feed into a solar pumping system that in turn pushes water into multipurpose water stations that provide fresh drinking water for both human and animals.
Communities in and around the Simalaha Community Conservancy, typically use wood or charcoal for cooking purposes. The health risks associated with inhaling smoke from these open fires, as well as time lost on collecting wood, are some of the daily challenges of women living in rural areas. To address these, Peace Parks collaborated with Commonland, to investigate the use of fuel-efficient cookstoves. These stoves reduce the consumption of wood and charcoal by approximately 30% and the greenhouse gas emittance by 80%, when compared to cooking on traditional open fires, offering benefits to both users and the environment. During a successful pilot project 240 cookstoves were distributed to community members within Simalaha. Reports from the field confirmed the stoves’ efficacy: water takes between three and five minutes to boil, and farmers were able to use small twigs to cook with, instead of traditional logs. Recognising the benefits of the cookstove, thousands of households indicated that they would also like to start using it. In May 2020, the first 2 100 of a proposed additional 10 000 cookstoves were delivered to Simalaha. In addition, a carbon credit model is being implemented that will convert this clean cooking into a direct monetary return for the communities.
The past few years, supported by Peace Parks, various interventions were initiated to improve the learning experience, and increase the attendance rate, of students. Solar panels were installed at schools and clinics to provide electricity for lights. This has also enabled the presentation of evening classes aimed at boosting literacy levels of adults from the surrounding communities. Houses were constructed for teachers at the school. In 2019, a vegetable garden was established, and water provided, to grow food for the pupils who have to stay at the school during the week. Supported by Hitachi, two new computer literacy classrooms – one each for Kasaya and Sankalonga primary schools, were constructed in 2019 and ten laptops provided to kick-start the integration of computer-based learning in the schools.
Peace Parks has been supporting Zambia’s Ministry of Health to deliver 60 washing stands complete with tap bucket and basin, more than 2600 bars of soap, over 1100 masks, 300 bottles of hand sanitizer, to Simalaha. Masks and hygiene products were also provided to old age homes and schools, in readiness for the return of learners. Local tailors were equipped to produce cloth face masks for their communities, and seamstresses now produce over 1000 masks a day. This not only helps address the shortage of masks, but also creates additional livelihood opportunities so needed in these difficult times. In addition, a surveillance post was set up at the entrance to the conservancy where people are screened and awareness about the pandemic is facilitated. Water tanks have also been installed as washing stations where travelers can disinfect their hands before entering or exiting the protected area.
Income from nature-based economies was identified as a critical component of the Conservancy. This includes protection the newly restocked wildlife populations for tourism purposes, as well as potentially the commercial management of wildlife as overseen by the Simalaha Community Conservancy Trust, To this end, Peace Parks Foundation presented the community with 200 disease-free buffalo in 2018. Providing disease-free buffalo to Simalaha was crucial, as this member of Africa’s popular Big-5 will not only boost the tourism offering but will also generate income through the sale of the offspring of the buffalo to other areas in Zambia.
The day the buffalo returned to Simalaha
The first tourism operator opened for business in the Conservancy in August 2020, providing luxury tented accommodation and horse-back safaris. Simalaha benefits from concession fees, as well as the training and employment of local members in the construction and running of the lodge.