'There’s a big link between the health of communities and conservation,' explains Blue Ventures’ population, health and environment support officer, Urszula Stankiewicz.
It’s a connection one doesn’t often make, so Urszula is working with local communities to integrate health activities into alternative livelihoods. 'Healthy communities can simply participate more in conservation,' she explains. 'If women have access to family planning, they can be autonomous and be involved in both economic activities and conservation programmes. All of this helps food security, decreases pressure on natural resources, and so positively impacts conservation in the area.' It’s a simple formula that makes perfect sense. The local community now sees the tangible benefits too.
The same applies to the community farming projects that are changing lives every day. Bird’s eye chillies have more bite than just the Nando’s sauces they are added to; they are building houses, buying furniture and opening bank accounts for growers. In the four short years the project has been on the go near Salamanga, it has completely changed the lives of those involved – for the better, and without exception.
Ana Gumende says she learnt there were other, easier ways to make a living than poaching for the pot and chopping down trees to make charcoal. 'Growing chillies is legal and much easier,' she smiles from under her blue head scarf, 'I can now feed and clothe my children from my chilli income, no problem.' Adelina Chinda is dressed to match the red hot chillies she’s picked and has built a brick house for her family. Paulo Mahlango has the widest smile imaginable and says his house now has a brand new roof that doesn’t leak. All big changes from the tiniest of chillies.
The 26 farmers in the project each have 11 rows of chillies totalling 1.5 hectares. From this they produce nine tonnes of bird’s eye chillies a year, all sold to Nando's, a popular restaurant chain.
Another project started last year is growing green beans on one hectare. Already Cristina Tembe has bought a solar system for her home, and Martina Gumende sees a great future and plans to build her dream house from vegetable profits. Mussagi Omar supervises the project and says: 'We can’t get bank loans so this vegetable project is fantastic and now we can get ahead, work as a group and share our experiences and knowledge. Our bean crop is doing very well.'
Vegetable growers are also being taught to compost and mulch. Charcoal makers are also being assisted and Peace Parks Foundation will soon supply a mobile kiln to them so they can more efficiently turn sustainable eucalyptus into charcoal for sale. In addition, borehole watering points and water troughs for cattle have been established, and beekeepers are being trained in three communities to enable sustainable honey production outside the park.
'Of course, fishing is the tradition along this coastline,' explains Tiago Nhazilo, community development programme manager, 'but we are changing this mindset by offering sustainable alternative livelihoods – like fattening crabs for resale and teaching sustainable fishing methods.' Tiago smiles when he says: 'Communities are seeing the importance of conservation and sustainability, and their lives are improving for it.' At the same time, the magnificent reserve is conserved and nature lovers can enjoy the wilderness experience it offers – with accommodation at Anvil Bay in Maputo Special Reserve.
The only luxury lodge in the reserve, Anvil Bay is 40% community owned. It’s tented and built right on the beach, with minimal impact on the environment. In every way, the lodge epitomises barefoot luxury. It has a castaway atmosphere and a sense of being in a true tropical wilderness, where whales and dolphins provide natural entertainment through the day. Staffed from the community too, the lodge also provided professional training for those who work there. It’s a win-win community and conservation initiative, which in turn gives nature-loving tourists a chance to overnight in this enchanted wild area.