Malawi is a landlocked country in southeastern Africa bordering Zambia, Mozambique, and Tanzania. It is a densely populated with a little over 12 million people in an area a slightly smaller than the state of Pennsylvania with 1/5 of the country taken up by Lake Malawi.
Malawi is one of the least developed countries in the world with only nine countries ranking a lower GDP per capita rate. Malawi faces many challenges in economic development, education, health care, water and sanitation, and environmental protection.
Yet, despite these major challenges, just as the rising sun on the Malawi flag represents the dawn of freedom and hope on the African continent, Malawi's leadership envisions a brighter future for the friendly nation of Malawi, also known as the "Warm Heart of Africa."
One of these hopes is the further development of a master plan for sustainable tourism in the Liwonde National Park.
To further this vision MacDonald Sembereka, Presidential Advisor to President Joyce Banda, is working with the USF Patel College of Global Sustainability (PCGS) to assist in this effort.
Last week three graduate students from the PCGS arrived in Malawi for a summer internship in the Liwonde National Park, doing research, field studies, and assisting in developing a draft plan for the Liwonde National Park. The students are working under the guidance of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)
Yesterday they released their first report.
Liwonde National Park is the jewel of the national park system in Malawi. The park lies at the southern end of Lake Malawi along the Upper Shire River and borders Lake Malombe. The boundaries include swamps, woodlands, and open grassland allowing for great diversity of birds and wildlife.
It is one of the few places in the world where a tourist can experience their safari by jeep, hiking trails, or river boats. It has the reputation of the best bird watching in southern Africa. One birder recorded 266 different bird species in a two night stay. In addition it has all of the Big Five, along with healthy populations of hippos, crocodiles, and antelope such as the sable, impala, and bushbuck.
Liwonde also faces many challenges that the Malawi government, IFAW, and the PCGS hope to address through the planning process. Key challenges include:
- Economic Devlopment
- Community Development
Poaching has grown in recent years and has become one of the top four organized crimes, alongside, drugs, human trafficking, and illegal arms trade. In a recent report by the WWF, they call on governments to give greater priority to the issue of illicit wildlife trade. They warn that failure to do so "hinders social and economic development, including potential economic loss for governments, and has direct consequences on the environment as well as national and international security."
Most threatened in the Liwonde National Park is the endangered Black Rhino and the elephants. The Malawi government, IFAW, and the PCGS are currently reviewing existing security programs. The team is currently in consultation with experts in both private security and military expertise, as well as, considering some new innovative state of the art approaches to combat the illicit wildlife trade.
The vision to build a new tourist resort that will comply with the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC), will require new economic investment. With Malawi being a poorer country, the investment will likely have to come from outside sources. Working with PCGS, the plan is to develop a new economic development model where investors can obtain a good return on investment, but in the long term the people of Malawi will obtain full ownership of the resort.
The GSTC is the gold standard for certification for tourist resorts and accommodations. Students at the PCGS take courses to assist resorts in achieving this high standard. As part of the summer internship, PCGS students will develop proposed planning, policy, and management strategies to achieve this vision and promote greater sustainability of the Liwonde National Park and surrounding areas. The hope is this will then become a model for other national parks in Malawi.
Socially responsible investors are also being sought to help the new proposed resort achieve the GSTC criteria and provide long term economic development to the people of Malawi, while at the same time providing a good and fair return on the investment.
Community development strategies for the local people Include: ways to economically benefit from the Liwonde National Park, minimize human and animal conflicts, and tprovide greater pride and ownership with the park. One of the outcomes will be that the local Malawian people will have a greater desire to assist in the parks protection and become more engaged in the planning, policy, and management process.
Last fall MacDonald Sembereka and I met with scientists from the Walt Disney Company Animal, Science, and Environment team to learn of some of the best practices in animal management.
The scientists shared research on how bees and even bee sounds can be utilized to keep elephants inside the park boundaries. Experts from Disney also shared insights into rhino behavior and management, including biological and habitat enhancement, sanctuary strategies, and public education. One of the more interesting Disney projects that Malawi is considering applying the principles of, is a program in Columbia to protect the endangered cotton top tamarins. The cotton top tamarin project demonstrated a process to raise a new generation in Columbia with stronger environmental and conservation ethics. Malawi would like to replicate this process for the Liwonde National Park.
PCGS students this Summer are also working with IFAW to create a new aquaculture project that will provide economic development for the local community and take pressure off the overfished river in the Liwonde Park.
MacDonald Sembereka visited the PCGS today. I was able to record some of his reflections on this project in the video below.
Drawing on the expertise of the PCGS, the IFAW, local Malawians and many other collaborators, the vision for a model National Park sustainable tourism plan in Africa just may become a reality.
Dr David W. Randle - Director USF Patel College of Global Sustainability Sustainable Tourism, Managing Director International Ocean Institute Waves of Change Blue Community Initiative, and President & CEO WHALE Center.
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