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Malawi and Zambia: Simlemba wetlands

The project aim is to teach villagers how to take good care of the dambo and the surrounding landscape and how that will lead to more and long terms benefit for people.

Action Description:

The Malawi project is located in the Simlemba Traditional Authority in the north-eastern part of Kasungu District. This area is 251 square kilometres and in 1998 had a population of 23 241 people, but this number has since been growing rapidly.


In 1998 half the population of Kasungu District lived below the poverty line. The major concern in the District is food insecurity, caused by over exploitation land degradation of the original agricultural lands. Traditional agricultural areas are loosing their fertility; water wells are overexploited and poorly maintained, erosion takes place. At the same time, the population is growing.

Local people find a solution in generating additional income by clear cutting the forests in the hills,  irrigation from perennial streams and rivers and the utilisation of the vast dambos (grassland plains along the rivers with seasonally high water levels).

As a result, water resources are overused, erosion of the hills and dambos is taking place. After the forest vegetation is gone and much of the top soil has washed away, water storage is also heavily reduced. Eventually, also these dambos, their last resorts, might be turned into dry and infertile wastelands.

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Rehabilitation needs

Addressing the land rehabilitation needs and understanding how these are essential for dambo and valley management, does not yet seem to be on the agenda of (local authorities).

The area has suffered two major droughts in the last five years. There are signs that the soils are deteriorating as a result of which water infiltration and water storage capacity decline. As well as affecting plant growth negatively, this also causes a decline in the flow of water to recharge the wetlands. At the same time it leads to increased runoff and increased catchment erosion, with greater sediment deposition in the wetlands.

Flue-cured tobacco

There are some areas of natural forest remaining in the north and east but these are currently under threat from the introduction of flue-cured tobacco (drying tobacco with heated pipes) which increased logging. This is an extra worrying matter as these areas, according to the District Socio-economic Profile, are not suitable for cultivation and should remain natural forest.

Other issues are the small farm size and the high number of female headed households, which suggests that many households are short of labour. To make matters worse more and more boreholes dry up which further increases the burden of water collection on women. Hence labour increasing technologies will not be successful, and labour saving measures are needed.

How the project tackles these problems

The project team demonstrates people how to manage the seasonal wetlands (dambos) and the forests in the hills in a better way. Solutions are the protection of the the forests on the hills to stop erosion, different ploughing techniques, using crops that need less water, maintenance of the wells. As a result people are already benefiting from more guaranteed availability of water and improved yields.

It also teaches the communities to organise themselves, to prevent individuals to overexploit the remaining wells, dambos and forest and to jointly work on protects like fencing of wells or replanting of degraded forest areas.

Action Partners:

Lead partner

The project in Zambia and Malawi is conducted by:
- Wetland Action (WA); a technical support agency addressing the need to achieve ecologically sound, but socially equitable use of wetlands. 

Other partners:

Harvest Help (HH) : a non governmental organisation working on community based projects and rural development projects in Zambia
- Find Your Feet (FYF) ; a NGO working in South Asia and Southern Africa in programmes to enable people to make the best environmental and economic use of their local natural resources.
- Northern Luangwa Wildlife Conservation & Community Development Programme (NLWCCDP). A local NGO focusing on livelihood development of biodiversity and natural resources.
- Malawi Enterprise Association (MALEZA); a NGO working in Malawi to improve livelihoods, with a specific emphasis on farmer organisations and marketing systems.
- Centre for Wetlands Environment & Livelihoods, University of Huddersfield.  This University centre has 20 years of experience relating to natural resources in Africa and also collaborating with local NGO’s and Universities.

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