Interview with Duncan Chiza Mkandawire, chairman of the Nyika-Vwaza Association.
The Nyika-Vwaza Association (NVA) is a community-based organization established in 2000, which stands as an umbrella body for the local communities living adjacent to the protected area of Nyika National Park and Vwaza Marsh in Malawi. The organization’s role is to promote activities with these local communities that serve to reduce deforestation, strengthen rural incomes and increase biodiversity.
Interviewed at a recent REDD+ event, NVA’s chairman, Duncan Chiza Mkandawire, said, “We at NVA focus on the forestry and wildlife, and we have established committees that work collaboratively with the Forestry Department in terms of conserving natural resources. An additional role of these committees is to report any illegal activity—such as poaching, tree cutting, bush fires, charcoal burning—to relevant departments, for action.”
Mkandawire describes himself as a former teacher and he said, “In teaching, we rely on our communication skills, therefore I had to use my experience as a teacher to communicate more effectively with relevant communities when words describing REDD+ were not easy to translate into the local language.”
He explained that had to find a way to introduce REDD+ and communicate REDD+ messages to local chiefs. The ideal medium he discovered was the utilization of visuals (photos, short films). However, he noted, “One of the primary concerns of the communities when I was informing them on REDD+ was the same as in other countries—what will be our benefits?” He says he, therefore, had to help communities to understand the benefits derived from REDD+.
Mkandawire feels that communities are aware of the drivers of deforestation.
“If you go to my community in the north, you will be surprised that they are very aware of the drivers of deforestation and their effects,” he said, adding, “Thus to address them we have instituted committees dealing specifically with each driver of deforestation. We look at main drivers and institute committees to deal with these specific drivers. For instance, if it is fire, we organize training on how to manage these fires, or if it is charcoal burning, the specific committee will be trained to address this issue.”
However, the main challenge Mkandawire said he encountered was how to communicate to communities across large areas. “Even if chiefs are being informed, one needs to monitor if these messages reach the communities – so that is my role,” he explained.
Mkandawire said he is fully aware that communities will receive finance for measured success, which he said will be used to address the drivers of deforestation and improve governance. He also highlighted that innovative communication methods will have an added benefit of reducing fuel costs by enabling critical information to be shared with communities that are many kilometers away. He recounted that through a USAID-funded project, there was an opportunity to integrate Microsoft technology for mobile monitoring, which increased communication and connectivity within and outside the programme areas for more effective landscape management.
In addition to targeted communication, Mkandawire said local knowledge needs to be integrated at the policy level.
“People working on REDD+ projects need to be aware of what happens on the ground, as what is on paper might not be reflecting the reality on the ground,” he explained.
For Mkandawire, the national-level and multi-stakeholder Malawi REDD+ Expert Group meetings have been a crucial platform for sharing more practical challenges and information directly from the field.
“What I have learned is that messages to communities need to be visual (photos, videos) and simplified into local language,” he emphasized. “For example I have found the right terminology in local language for carbon stocks such as mphepo ziheni (bad air), and people associate this term with benefits from REDD+”.
Lastly, he added, “It is important that we combine workshops with field visits, to show others what we can learn from communities, and how to adjust projects to fit the needs of communities.”
(Reporting by Ela Ionescu, UN-REDD Programme Knowledge Management Specialist for Africa.)