Dale Lewis on Combating Poaching in Zambia’s Luangwa Valley Through Integrated DevelopmentJune 28, 2013 By Jacob Glass
“We did something very special for the community and the resources these farmers live with. We sat down with local leaders and promised to stop spending so much time caring about the elephants, and instead create a company that will try to address community needs,” said Dale Lewis in an interview at the Wilson Center. “The deal was they had to put down their snares and guns.”
Lewis, CEO of Community Markets for Conservation (COMACO), has pioneered a hybrid non-profit/for-profit business model that is integrating environmental conservation and economic development in Zambia. Originally an elephant conservationist, Lewis was frustrated by high rates of poaching and decided to take a different approach to protecting wildlife in the Luangwa Valley.
“The idea is to work with bottom of the pyramid: farmers, many of whom have had serious problems dealing with their livelihood needs and have turned to poaching and other destructive livelihoods, either to themselves or to the environment,” he said.
COMACO first helps farmers increase the productivity and sustainability of their operations. For example by training them on how to use natural fertilizer to sustain the viability of their land, COMACO helps increase yields while decreasing the clearing of new land. Next, the company guarantees that they will purchase the farmers’ products at a fair market price and the produce is processed and sold via the company’s “It’s Wild” brand, which touts the local ownership and nutritional benefits of the model.
“We move their raw materials efficiently so they can compete with other supply chains,” said Lewis. To date, COMACO has lifted local incomes from $80 a year to over $140 annually. COMACO’s non-profit arm also brings non-agriculture interventions to the communities it serves, including health services, like pre- and post-natal care and family planning; water and sanitation improvements; and education about the environment.
“People have gone from a food deficit to a food surplus,” said Lewis. “By understanding the plight of these farmers, you become motivated to realize that to look after wildlife you must first look at the people that live with them. Hopefully this community can stay so busy they don’t have time to poach.”
Video Credit: Sean Peoples/Wilson Center.