Mary Basikolo from Traditional Authority Zulu (T/A) in Kasungu District has to work tirelessly to make ends meet for her family which mostly relies on subsistence farming for survival.
In the past years, the family lived a hand-to-mouth life.
During the dry season, the single mother and her three children relied on piecework and sometimes sold charcoal and firewood to earn a living.
Says Basikolo: “I had no choice. I have to feed, clothe and provide accomodation for my children.
“All of them look up to me when they are hungry. As a single parent, it is my responsibility to cater for them.”
For a couple of times, she says she has been chased by rangers from Kasungu National Park Forest Reserve where she would cut trees for charcoal production or firewood.
That made Basikolo’s life difficult. But with no alternative source of livelihood, she could not stop.
“I knew that what I was doing was against the law and I was putting the environment in danger, but what could I have done? I could not watch my children die of hunger when I could sell charcoal or firewood for them to eat on that particular day,” she says.
Unfortunately, Basikolo says her turning point came in an unpleasant situation.
One day as she was going to fetch firewood, the forest rangers caught up with her and she started running away from them. In the course of running, she sprained her leg which took a month to heal.
“That was my turning point. I had to find other means of survival. I later decided to start selling fritters and little by little, the business picked up,” she narrates.
After a year of selling fritters, Basikolo joined a women’s village savings and loans group where she met people under a resilient project which is being implemented in her area.
The three-year Building Climate Resilient Communities around Wildlife Protected Areas project is being implemented by Civil Society Network on Climate Change (Cisonecc) and partners, with support from the European Union through Trocaire.
The project aims at building climate-resilient communities through conservation, effective management of natural resources, and diversified livelihoods, particularly for women, youths and people with disabilities surrounding Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve, Kasungu National Park and Lengwe National Park.
At least 196 157 people from 31 group village heads in nine T/As in Kasungu, Chikwawa and Nsanje where the three wildlife reserves are located are expected to benefit from the project.
Cisonecc national coordinator Julius Ng’oma says the overall objective of the programme is to contribute to tackling climate change in Malawi through increased participation of civil society organisations.
He says: “The project seeks to empower targeted communities surrounding the targeted protected areas to transform negative coping strategies and build resilience to the adverse impacts of climate change.
“It is contributing to addressing this situation by improving the livelihoods of the population; providing alternative income sources; introducing measures to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of natural resources such as forest, land and water; and by creating an enabling policy and governance environment.”
Some of the alternative income sources include weaving, beekeeping, juice making and livestock farming on a pass-on basis.
The project’s coordinator Salome Mumba says the communities already had coping strategies and the project is just scaling them up.
“We are trying to help the communities on the best way to conserve the environment and protect the forest.
“For instance, issues of beekeeping are being promoted to enable the beneficiaries sell and use honey for various purposes in their households,” she says.
So far, beehives have been distributed to beneficiaries under the bee-keeping value chain and goats have been distributed to beneficiaries who will pass them on to others in the near future.
Mumba hopes that these interventions will help communities surrounding the targeted wildlife protected areas to have a sense of ownership when it comes to natural resources and be advocates of change for other communities.
Basikolo is now one of the beneficiaries in the bee-keeping component and she now boasts of being an environment activist who advises others on the impacts of cutting down trees carelessly for charcoal or firewood.
She says: “Our group is encouraging others to be using energy-saving cooking stoves which are sustainable and environmentally friendly.”