In recent years, African nations have been grappling with a crisis: declining numbers of some of its most iconic animals. Over 90% of Zambia’s elephant population was wiped out because of poaching, which began in the 1950s. These staggering numbers, however, are connected to a more significant issue in the region: poverty. With a clear correlation between poaching and poverty, research suggests that if poverty can be abated, so can poaching.
The Link Between Poverty and Poaching
Poaching, which kills between 10,000 to 15,000 elephants per year, can largely be attributed to excessive rates of poverty in a particular area. In fact, in regions where elephant populations are faring better, the local human community is too. Where infant mortality and poverty density rates are lower, fewer elephants are being killed. Therefore, it is essential to understand that eliminating poverty and poaching are two sides of the same coin.
In Tanzania, a recent study corroborated the link between these issues. Of 173 local villagers, four out of five confessed to having participated in poaching to provide food or income to their families. The majority of participants maintained that if their basic needs could be met another way, they would permanently stop poaching. Therefore, by addressing their need for food and income, poaching could be significantly reduced.
A Local Organization with a Solution
Fortunately, a local Zambian organization recognized the connection between poverty and poaching and considerable progress has been made to diminish both. Community Markets for Conservation, or COMACO, located in the Luangwa Valley region of Eastern Zambia, works to fight poaching by addressing the root cause of why people poach: poverty. The organization educates villagers on sustainable conservation practices, creating a reliable source of income and food that can consistently provide for local families.
By addressing poverty and poaching as a holistic issue, COMACO has worked to reduce both issues in the Luangwa Valley region. The operation works with over 179,000 locals in 76 different chiefdoms across more than 10.5 million hectares of land. After educating villagers in sustainable ways, COMACO then purchases their goods at premium prices and sells them across Africa under the name “It’s Wild!” On average, farmers in this program turned a food deficit into a food surplus in only a couple of years.
A Proven Method for the Future
With women comprising over half of certified COMACO farmers, this organization has transformed both poverty and poaching in Eastern Zambia. The results show that 86% of farmers are food secure, and their income has tripled. Their pledges to support conservation efforts have yielded promising results.
Poaching incidents have dramatically decreased in the region, there is a surplus of nutritious food and incomes have seen substantial growth.
Poverty and poaching are two intertwined issues that can only be solved by addressing them comprehensively. Local villagers poach because of their inability to find food and a lack of income. COMACO, which understands this connection, has successfully implemented a system to address both and the results are wildly successful. By educating and supporting former poachers on sustainable agricultural practices, COMACO has diminished poverty and poaching. Villagers have a food surplus, a source of income and now, wildlife can safely and freely roam.
– Eliza Cochran