From hunting wild animals to fish farming: sustainable change in rural Zambia

Community-led food security project nets tangible progress
The Sianyongo Fish Farming Cooperative in Nyawa Chiefdom sorts through its first fishpond harvest. Photo by Edward Banda/CIFOR-ICRAF

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A few decades ago, the residents of southern Zambia’s Sianyongo area of Nyawa Chiefdom were accustomed to seeing impala, elephants, buffalos, and lions when collecting firewood, foraging for wild edibles and fruits, and hunting in the forests surrounding their villages. 

“Some mornings, we even woke up to animal tracks left in our backyard,” said Beatrice Masiye, a 50-year-old community member. But when Masiye tells her five children about these experiences, it sounds as though she’s talking about another world. 

“Nowadays, it is extremely rare to see wildlife in the forest, because the wildlife populations have reduced due to illegal hunting, droughts and habitat loss causing of the animals to move farther and farther away from communities only the small species such as common duiker and very rarely, impala seen” she said. 

“It pains me a lot to see this happening, because our children are only hearing about, and not seeing, the wildlife that we knew growing up.”

In response to these concerns, the Nyawa Royal Establishment (NRE) led by the traditional prime minister Gideon Siapenga (otherwise known as Chief Nyawa) is driving action on sustainable wildlife management practices, including the establishment of the 58,500-hectare Mize Community Conservancy (MICC). 

The conservancy was established – and is now managed – with support from international initiative The Sustainable Wildlife Management (SWM) Programme , with the aim of enabling Mize’s wildlife populations to recover, while also meeting the community’s income and protein needs through alternative sources.

The SWM Programme uses a community-led strategy to provide alternative protein and income sources to wild meat, and reduce existing demand for the resource – which has been growing due to increasing human populations and a ready market in urban areas such as Livingstone and Lusaka. 

Community members in Sianyongo area formed the Sianyongo Fish Farming Cooperative (SFFC) to engage in fish farming as an alternative source of protein and income. They were trained in sustainable aquaculture practices by the Department of Fisheries and, facilitated by the SWM Programme, they constructed six fishponds in October of 2022. 

The group has 32 members and uses a community seasonal dam constructed by the Zambian Government, which provides water to the ponds. While fish farming is succeeding in Sianyongo, supplementing the supply of water from the dam when it dries up around October remains a challenge.

SFCC held a ceremony to harvest the first fishpond on 16th May 2023. A total of 2935 of the 3300 fish that was stocked were harvested, weighing in a combined 587 kilograms. The fish was sold at ZMW 10 (USD 0.43) each, and the group raised ZMW 28600 (USD 1237.46).

The event showed that community-wide change towards sustainable wildlife management is possible through commitment and hard work. “At the start of the project, several people advised us not to pursue fish farming because it was something that had never been done in our village,” said Masiye. 

“But we recalled our chief informing us that wildlife in our area was on the verge of extinction, and that if we do not limit the pressure on animals, the human populations will suffer,” he said. “Today, I am glad that I did not listen to the negative voices, because in that case this fish harvest would not have come to pass. I really cannot wait to eat fish grown by myself and my fellow cooperative members.”

The Sianyongo Fish Farming Cooperative in Nyawa Chiefdom has established six fishponds to provide alternative protein and reduce demand for game meat. Photo by Edward Banda/CIFOR-ICRAF

Speaking through his representative, Siapenga expressed his elation that the fish farming project was now benefiting the community. “This fish project is timely, as it provides an alternative income while contributing to wildlife preservation,” he said. “This will in turn increase income-generation opportunities to support our livelihoods.”

“We are glad that the SWM Programme supported us in venturing into fish farming, which is safer than hunting and contributes to the replenishment of our wildlife,” said SFFC chairperson Eliud Mudenda.

“We will not stop fish farming, but instead our cooperative will take it further, and hopefully soon venture into other income generating ventures and protein source sunflower oil production, piggery, and goat rearing, using the profits made from selling fish to the community,” he said. 

Davison Gumbo, a SWM Programme technical advisor with the Centre for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF) who is based in Zambia, recalled early concerns about whether the initiative would work. 

“The Nyawa Community was dismissed as a non-fishing area,” he said. “It was a challenge, but the community’s willingness to pursue an alternative to eliminating local wildlife drove us to support them.” The area has no perennial water, but the SWM Programme plans to support the community with a borehole to supplement water supply from the dam.

Maimbo Malesu, CIFOR-ICRAF Country Coordinator, also mentioned his office’s plans to support the project to improve the ponds’ water supply by employing a system that gathers run-off water. 

“This site has the ability to capture water, which might help meet the demand in the fishponds,” he said. “Rainwater can reduce the demand on the dam and is frequently of higher quality than other raw water sources. At the country office, we have the know-how to create an appropriate system for gathering water.”

Kazungula District fisheries officer Bongani Mdoma was overjoyed that 32 of the 38 community members trained in fish farming persevered with the project to its close. “I am pleased to see that the community will be able to reap the advantages of their hard work on this fish farming project,” she said. “This fish project is encouraging the community to take ownership, to ensure that it continues to enjoy the long-term benefits.”

SWM Programme technical assistant Penias Banda said the initiative is working to establish the MICC in the area by supporting activities that will reduce pressure on hunting wildlife as a food and income source. “The people in Nyawa Chiefdom are protective of their wildlife, and have shown that they want to conserve it for future generations,” he said.


The Sustainable Wildlife Management (SWM) Programme is a major international initiative that aims to improve the conservation and sustainable use of wildlife in forest, savannah, and wetland ecosystems. It is funded by the European Union, with co-funding from the French Facility for Global Environment (FFEM) and the French Development Agency (AFD). Projects are being piloted and tested with governments and communities in 15 participating countries. IThe programme is implemented by a dynamic consortium of partners that includes CIFOR-ICRAF, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD).

In Zambia, the SWM Programme activities are carried out by the Government of the Republic of Zambia and Nyawa Royal Establishment (NRE) in collaboration with CIFOR-ICRAF. The aim is to:

– improve how wildlife hunting is regulated

– increase the supply of sustainably produced meat products and farmed fish

– strengthen the management capacities of indigenous and rural communities

– reduce demand for wild meat, particularly in towns and cities.

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