A Better Future for Farmers and Elephants
March 03, 2017
COMACO (Community Markets for Conservation) is a non-profit organization with the mission to improve the way small-scale farmers sustain a better life from their land in the Luangwa Valley in Zambia. COMACO has taken on the challenge of restoring this ecosystem and helping farmers coexist with elephants and the habitat that elephants and other wild animals need to survive. SupplyShift is proud to support COMACO with needed technology solutions — this is the story.
Back in the early 2000’s, small-scale farmers in Luangwa Valley produced too little food and not enough income to live peacefully with surrounding wildlife. Only half of the households in the Luangwa Valley had enough maize to feed their families throughout the year. Low yields caused diminishing market access, which resulted in less motivation for farmers to practice better land use skills. Poor farming practices aggravated the problem by depleting soil nutrients, further reducing yields. The result was widespread hunger and poverty. To cope, small-scale farmers living with wildlife would often turn to poaching and over-exploitation of their natural resources to make ends meet. Rivers were over-fished and forests were degraded in order to make charcoal. Some farmers turned to non-food cash crops, like cotton, but families still struggled to support their livelihoods.
These farmers that could not feed themselves just a short time ago are now feeding a nation while keeping land and resources safe. By bringing the right knowledge and skills and the right market incentives to small-scale farmers, COMACO is able to transform entire communities into responsible stewards of their land and resources.
Based on a sophisticated scorecard system COMACO is educating the farmers by demonstrating better methods, evaluating farming practices and buying the crops from the farmers at a premium. The scorecard used to determine the scoring and premium price qualification has different sections for agriculture, community leadership, forestry, and wildlife.
Elephant poaching carries a high weight and therefore has a detrimental effect on the overall score of the respective district or chiefdom. Poachers that turn in their weapons and snares receive a farming education by COMACO and are assigned a piece of land by the chiefdom. Today over 1500 poachers have already been transformed. Over 2400 firearms and 80,000 snares have been voluntarily surrendered – all used previously to kill wildlife.
In return, COMACO turns the crops into products under the popular IT’S WILD! brand. From rice and nuts to peanut butter and honey, COMACO now produces a whole range of different products. IT’S WILD honey, which originated as a collection of beehives designed to deter elephants from raiding crop fields, can now be found in many supermarkets beyond Zambia. COMACO produces its own value-added processed food products, sold under the famous IT’S WILD! brand, which are sourced entirely from the small-scale farmers it helps. COMACO uses these products in the marketplace to drive up the value of farm commodities and return a significant share of the profit to the farmers that comply with conservation initiatives, such as abandoning poaching and charcoal-making.
The solution is simple but powerful:
1) Providing economically viable alternatives to destructive farming and land use practices, and
2) Recognizing that, if able to generate adequate income from their farms by understanding and adopting conservation practices, small-scale farmers are often very willing to stop poaching and other destructive behaviors.
Zambia has a unique opportunity for showing the world such a solution is possible.
Not long ago an aerial survey was conducted. While parts of Zambia saw a catastrophic decline in elephant population, the Luangwa Valley showed stable elephant population numbers. Cape Buffalo, a species commonly sought by poachers, showed a significant increase in numbers.
These results provide hopeful signs to COMACO’s impact on wildlife through its continued support of alternative livelihoods and market incentives to abandon all forms of illegal hunting.
SupplyShift is proud to support COMACO with its platform technology — allowing the data collection for COMACO scoring and the use of data sets to generate analytics and comparison charts that prove the COMACO model is working — for farmers, wildlife, and forests.
‘Where farmers comply with COMACO, they see benefits — and modern technology in the form of SupplyShift helps us to collect and correlate the data, and as a result, prove to our farmers, donors and staff that the model works.’
-Dale Lewis (CEO and founder of COMACO)
March 03, 2017