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Where the Ordinary becomes the Extraordinary: New initiatives and new opportunities for coastal communities in Northern Mozambique

August 18, 2014

This article was written by Dominique Bovens in March 2014

In February, I travelled to Moma District in Northern Mozambique to conduct a socio-economic impact survey on the fish sanctuaries in Thapua and Coroane. Driving into the communities for the first time, they seemed like ordinary communities with mud brick houses and thatched roofs, women coming back from the fields carrying produce on top their heads, and children playing and eating big ripe mangos. It all seemed so normal.

Over the next few days I came to understand that these communities were not ordinary at all, as they are part of an initiative of the CARE-WWF Alliance to create conservation agriculture and sustainable livelihoods, using locally available natural resources. In 2008, the CARE-WWF Alliance, in collaboration with the Ministry of Fisheries and the local communities, established 2 fish sanctuaries in the District of Moma (1 in Thapua and 1 in Coroane). Essentially, these fish sanctuaries have a “no-take” zone, where fisherman are prohibited from fishing, while allowing artisanal fishing in spill-over areas. The driving force behind these sanctuaries is community members themselves. Sanctuary monitors have been appointed by the community to ensure the compliance with fishing rules in and around the sanctuary, and community members themselves have had to adapt their fishing methods.

The concept sounds simple and straightforward, but the question really remains, what is the impact of these sanctuaries on the surrounding communities? After careful observation, conversations with community members and the completion of a qualitative and quantitative questionnaire in 6 communities, the conclusion is clear: These sanctuaries are having a positive socio-economic impact in these communities. Not only are there more fish now than there were 5 years ago, they are bigger and the communities have found species that they had not encountered for years. The success can also be noted in the fact that fisherman from different communities are coming to fish in waters surrounding these sanctuaries. These two elements alone demonstrate a positive force.

Fish is the main protein in the diet in the majority of the households in these communities; 79% of households eat fish on a daily basis, and their intake of fish has increased due to the more abundant availability of fish.

“When I was little, my mother would prepare fish 2 or 3 times a week” says Amelia, a 26 year old mother of 3. “Now, I am able to give my children fish 5 times a week. And if my husband doesn’t catch any, we know we can go to the market and buy some”.

Not all households have a member that goes out to fish, but Amelia´s experience is reinforced by other community members who say that families in their own communities and surrounding communities are indirectly benefiting from the sanctuaries because more fish is available. So if these two sanctuaries are having this significant positive impact, what are the next steps?

Fishermen from different communities have demonstrated their interest in the creation of a sanctuary closer to their communities. In our survey, 88% of fishermen reported that they thought the no-take zones help to increase fish stocks, and a similar magnitude (84%) thought that the no-take zones deliver an increased number of species. They want their community to also have a sanctuary that they can manage and be proud of. They want to have the fate of their livelihoods in their own hands. It is however very important to realize that fish sanctuaries are not an alone-standing solution. Although fishing is an important source of income and diet, 90% of the households rely on farming for either their main source of income, or their main source of food for their families. The combination of marine sanctuaries and conservation agriculture initiatives form a strong joint foundation that provides these communities with a basis for sustainable livelihoods.

There is nothing ordinary about these rural communities that have been supported by the CARE-WWF Alliance in Northern Mozambique. They are the scene for exciting pro-active conservation agriculture and wildlife preservation initiatives that stimulate sustainable livelihoods. The collaboration between the CARE-WWF Alliance, the Ministries and the communities is a formula for success that can be easily replicated and adapted for different communities. It is where ordinary becomes extraordinary.

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