Rural livelihoods and subsistence cultivation

Report from George Berson Jawali, Master Programme in Indigenous Studies, University of Tromsø
Project 200700333-6

Financial support to the project:
“Rural livelihoods and subsistence cultivation: From extinguishment to co-existence? Case of indigenous communities around Lengwe National Park, southern Malawi.”


Some of the structures at Tisunge! Heritage Centre. Picture by George Jawali, August 2007.

Some of the structures at Tisunge! Heritage Centre. Picture by George Jawali, August 2007.

This study analyses and discusses the livelihood systems of the village communities in and around Lengwe National Park in Chikwawa district, southern Malawi . The developments and processes under consideration relate to resource management in the park between 1964 and 2006. In this regard the study examines the historic construction, adaptation and attainment of the livelihoods within the contexts of land dispossession, regulated resource access, and food security.

The park is a reputable home of the indigenous Nyala antelope (Tragelaphus angasi). And the main reason for its establishment was the protection of the Nyala at the most northern limit of the species’ occurrence stretching from Natal in South Africa . The predominantly indigenous Mang’anja communities that surround the park as well as the Mozambican immigrant communities inside the park have over time been deriving some considerable parts of their livelihoods from the park through both legal and illegal harvesting of resources. These activities have been taking place as a response to some shocks and crises such as dwindling landholdings, seasonal hunger, drought and famine. The communities have also developed and exploited other copping and survival strategies including dry-season irrigated cropping, non-farm employment, and kin-based relations both in Malawi and the neighbouring Mozambique .

The communities in and around the park are under three Traditional Authorities: Ngabu, Lundu and Chapananga. This study focuses on: Ndakwera, Kanzimbi, Jasi I, Zalera and Therere communities. The communities have been in constant conflict with the park administration for a considerable period of time as a result of encroachments on to the park as well as illegal harvesting. It is only Zalera and Therere that are located inside the park and have significant populations of immigrants from Mozambique .

One of the central and most recent livelihood strategies of the communities has been their negotiation and participation in collaborative management arrangements with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW). Within the five communities it is only Kanzimbi that has a registered Community Based Organization (CBO) for managing natural resources in partnership with DNPW. The main purpose for the arrangements is to facilitate resource collection by the communities from the park. Apart from attempting to strengthen household food security, the resources also form the basis for some forms of community enterprises for generating income for developing the communities. The arrangements are also meant to promote eco-tourism within the context of cultural resource management. Tisunge! Heritage Centre located at the entrance to the park offers the opportunities for the development and sustainability of eco-tourism involving the communities.

Traditional Weaving at Tisunge!

Traditional Weaving at Tisunge!

The fieldwork for this project which spanned the period June to August 2007 therefore involved collecting oral histories, personal histories, and making land use and village profile observations in Ndakwera, Kanzimbi, Jasi I, Zalera and Therere communities. As experienced during the fieldwork, these communities are far apart in their relations to the park which is roughly 887 Sq. KM. It was therefore important that the Centre for Sami studies funded the fieldwork component of the study.

With the funding from the centre I was able to hire a car whose cost included that of fuel. It was therefore possible to begin visiting the communities in June with the purpose of establishing rapport. Interviews were then conducted as per arrangements with the different communities. The funding was also particularly useful as it enabled me to visit some villages and conduct interviews more than once due to the unavailability of some key informants.

The funding also enabled me to hire two research assistants who were particularly familiar with the village communities and their work facilitated some of the anthropological aspects of the study. The assistants would explain some of the activities and land use practices that could be noticed in the village communities. The funding also made it possible for me to provide refreshments to respondents since they were coming from different and sometimes far off places. This was also not a foreseen possibility because at the time I was conceptualizing the study based on information from the Internet and newspapers I was not aware of the exact number of villages constituting a community, such as Ndakwera. And the fact that respondents would come from the different villages ensured the collection of oral histories that are representative of the developments and processes under consideration in the study.

The funding also facilitated the acquisition of recorders and audio-tapes for recording the interviews which were later transcribed. The digital camera, which was also acquired through the same funds, enabled the collection of digital pictures, which will be of use in illustrating some aspects of the study as well in future publications based on the fieldwork and consequently my thesis.

Thesis on BIBSYS

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