Mitigation efforts save livelihoods in Balaka

Feb 27, 2015

More water sinking into the ground hence less runoff leading to less homesteads and their livelihoods washed away

Lilongwe, February, 2015: Over the past weeks torrential rains have wreaked havoc in Malawi, the worst hit area being the southern region particularly Nsanje, Phalombe and Chikwawa districts. Residents were forced to flee to higher grounds while others crossed the border into Mozambique. This may not be completely true for the residents of Balaka district, one of the disaster prone districts benefitting from a UNDP/GEF  supported project on Public Private Partnership on Sustainable Land Management (SLM) in the Shire River Basin.

During the last three years of the project, SLM embarked on approaches to enable land users to maximize the economic and social benefits from land while enhancing the ecological support functions of the land and its natural resources. Simply, SLM can be considered as people taking care of their land, both for the present and for future generations. The main objective of the Government/UNDP SLM project in the Shire River Basin is to integrate people’s co-existence with nature over the long-term. In so doing, the activities focus on increasing productivity of the Shire River Basin while adapting to the socio-economic needs of communities dependent on natural resources. The project seeks to improve communities livelihoods, while simultaneously strengthening their resilience to environmental (variability) shocks, including climate change. At the same time, livelihoods practices prevent degradation of natural resources.

The situation has improved due to no bushfires for the past three years in the Mawereanyangu forest and its surrounding areas. This has played a key role in reducing the velocity of water during this season’s heavy downpour. It meant more water sinking into the ground, hence less runoff, leading to less homesteads and their livelihoods being washed away. By comparison, a number of houses with poor foundations in the area were washed away during the storms. Sustainable forest management has led to only 67 out of 3779 houses in Group Village Headman (GVH) Mmanga village collapsing as a result of the heavy downpour. This accounts for 1.77% of the houses - an insignificant percentage compared to the other villages in the surrounding areas.  Thanks to the grass cover and forests, the area was not affected much. Mrs. Kayonga, a community member, observed that there is a very good water recharge in GHV Mmanga, where there is a well that has water throughout the year.

The SLM project highlights some good practices and lessons that can be drawn on good land management i.e. no burning of vegetation, natural forest regeneration as well as river bank protection. This leads to improved soil cover, increased soil humidity and therefore increased soil fertility. As a result, food insecurity is a thing of the past. In Nkandabwako River, the communities have adopted a 10-meter buffer zone along the river which further reduced the velocity of runoff water before it reached the river. Protecting riverbanks with vegetation helps reduce river bank collapses and siltation, hence retaining the aquatic ecological diversity. Furthermore, managing the whole micro-watershed protects buildings, infrastructure and open space against damage from heavy rainfall.  An additional benefit of this practice is that it retains moisture, resulting in extended growth period for natural vegetation along the river edge.

Soil erosion is one of many natural processes. Problems arise when the rate of erosion is considered too rapid to be acceptable. In contrast, GVH Mpemba and GVH Kalembo villages which border Mmanga village were heavily affected by the flooding. As expected, there was heavy erosion. This is evidenced by the amount of siltation that was observed in Mwaye River.

In Balaka district, to date, this approach had been adopted on 10,000 hectares of land. In total, 42,000 hectares have been covered in the four SLM districts of Balaka, Neno, Mwanza and Blantyre. The project, however, has a goal of scaling up to 480,000 hectares by the end of 2015. With relatively low funding of approximately US$ 33,000 per district, great successes have been recorded in this project mainly due to the approach described above. These funds were used to hold training and meetings on local governance and bushfire control; in development of firebreaks (including purchase of tools), US$ 6500; tree planting; Swale development and gully control; banana plantations and other fruit trees; fish ponds development and stocking; beekeeping training and equipment. The results have been so good that four neighbouring villages in Balaka are currently replicating these initiatives. 

In addition, this project has engaged four NGOs, one in each district. For example, Development Aid from People to People (DAPP) in Blantyre is scaling up this approach as well as improving livelihoods through natural resource based activities. Some of these activities include bee-keeping; fish ponds; planting permanent crops (bananas and sugarcane) on fragile areas along the river banks; and mushroom picking from conserved forest. 

About SLM

Sustainable Land Management is a knowledge-based procedure that aims at integrating the management of land, water, biodiversity, and other environmental resources to meet human needs while sustaining ecosystem services and livelihoods. The term sustainable land management is used, for example, in regional planning and soil or environmental protection.

Sustainable land management is the foundation of sustainable agriculture and a strategic component of sustainable development, food security, poverty alleviation and ecosystem health. SLM can be defined as “the use of land resources, including soils, water, animals and plants, for the production of goods to meet changing human needs, while simultaneously ensuring the long-term productive potential of these resources and the maintenance of their environmental functions” (UN Earth Summit, 1992).

Sustainable Land Management is a knowledge-based procedure that helps integrate land, water, biodiversity, and environmental management including input and output externalities) to meet rising food and fibre demands while sustaining ecosystem services and livelihood (World Bank, 2006)

Sustainable Land Management is the utilisation of the land and its natural resources in such a way that they provide enough for this generation and future generations.

Group Village Headman(GVH): Group Village Headman(GVH)  this is a conglomeration or a number of villages which are headed by village Headman reporting to the Group Village Headman (GVH).

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