COMACO strengthens incentives, expands efforts to western Luangwa Valley

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By Graham Salinger 

Community Markets for Conservation(COMACO), the group behind the It’s Wild local food brand in Zambia that sells everything from organic rice to honey, is expanding its conservation efforts to the western regions of the Luangwa Valley.

COMACO hopes that a recent plan to strengthen incentives for practicing sustainable agriculture will help preserve the Luangwa Valley’s environment and wildlife (Photo Credit: Paola Bouley).

COMACO was founded thirty years ago and helps farmers in Zambia grow indigenous crops instead of relying on poaching wildlife as their primary source of income. COMACO also works to reduce the practice of chitemene, which involves cutting down and burning trees as a method of producing ash to improve crop yield. The organization focuses on training farmers in conservation methods and establishing markets to sell products through the It’s Wild brand. The It’s Wild brand is sold in major supermarket chains across Zambia, including ShopRite, Checkers, and Spar.

COMACO has provided training for more than 40,000 small-scale farming families living across the Luangwa Valley. In 2009 it purchased over 3,000 tons of agricultural commodities from small scale farmers. COMACO works with over 1,329 former hunters in efforts to use agriculture as an alternative to poaching.

Looking to build on these successes, COMACO is working with the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) to extend its operations to areas in the west that have not been involved in the process. This year, ZAWA has given COMACO data on areas where illegal poaching is still common, allowing COMACO to target its efforts to specific regions. The new plan offers increased incentives for people to give up hunting in favor of farming, “the whole principle of COMACO is to offer communities a choice: a better life with skills, trade and food security through COMACO—or –a continued reliance on natural resource destruction at their own risk….”explained COMACO in announcing plans to strengthen current efforts.