Special Projects

The Liwonde Project

An Initiative of the MicroLoan Foundation USA and the International Fund for Animal Welfare

Map of Southern Malawi showing Liwonde National Park
Map of Southern Malawi showing Liwonde National Park
Background and Need

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, with few economic opportunities. For more than 85 percent of the population, subsistence farming is their main or only form of livelihood. In the last fifty years, Malawi’s population ballooned from under four million to over 13 million. This has had a devastating impact on the country’s wildlife – especially for its largest species, the elephant – which requires vast resources to meet its immense needs. Increasingly fragmented habitat and severe competition for land resources have caused human-elephant conflicts that have ended in violent loss of life for both elephants and people. While the country takes great pride in its natural heritage, the daily realities of extreme poverty have put the average Malawian at war with this majestic animal.

Elephants beside the Shire River in the Park
Elephants beside the Shire River in the Park

In rural areas, due to the shortage of arable land and the desperate need to grow crops to survive, villagers utilize every square inch of land suitable for subsistence farming. In recent years, due to the increase in population, villages have been established further and further away from basic amenities and protected areas (National Parks) have come under increasing pressure, as settlements have closed in all around the boundaries of these areas. Many protected areas have been placed under threat of land encroachment, as the need for natural resources and space increases.

This reality means that the protected areas – reservoirs of value in this impoverished nation – will always be under intense pressure. Liwonde National Park (LNP), Malawi’s most visited, is an astonishingly rich, varied and beautiful park. However it is situated in three particularly densely populated districts (Mangochi, Michinga and Balaka), and as a result, is under particular pressure from its human neighbors

View from Mvuu Lodge across the Shire River
View from Mvuu Lodge across the Shire River

The elephants and rhinos in Liwonde National Park are facing a crisis: will they have a safe and secure habitat? With a projected rate of growth of 2.75 percent, Malawi’s human population is going to continue to be in conflict with animals of Liwonde National Park unless serious measures are put in place.

Goals and Objectives

Through a unique partnership, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the MicroLoan Foundation USA (MLF USA) will endeavor to achieve the following goals:

  • alleviate human/wildlife conflicts and provide alternative income streams for villagers with projects such as fish farming, bee keeping, chili pepper cultivation, making bricks, maintaining equipment, and building and repairing fences; and
  • ensure the protection of elephants and other species in the long-term by encouraging tourism, which provides essential income for the park and the surrounding communities, generates increased community support for conservation, and improves the long-term sustainability of the park.

Liwonde offers Malawi’s elephants a rare sanctuary, but that security is under threat. As one of the few protected areas that can reasonably support the needs of these large animals, Liwonde must be properly managed, maintained, and patrolled. In addition, particular attention must be given to ensure that the surrounding communities have access to sustainable incomes and are not relying on the resources within the park. Liwonde National Park would act as the pilot, which could then be expanded to other parks in Malawi.

Hippos in the Shire River
Hippos in the Shire River

Ideally, the investments through this project should increase wildlife populations, and park security and accessibility, which will lead to increased income streams from tourism. This increased tourism will allow for the availability of funds for park operations, and economic opportunities for local people. This, in turn, generates increased community support for conservation and improves long-tem outlook for the park. Time and resources will be needed to get to the park to the point of sustainability.


By partnering, IFAW and the MicroLoan Foundation USA bring unique but compatible strengths to carry out the project more effectively. Given the close proximity of animals and people in this densely populated area, there is a clear need to address the issues of both to achieve success. The two organizations bring their individual expertise together in a way that will provide great benefit for the entire community.


Established in 1969, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) works to improve the welfare of wild and domestic animals throughout the world by reducing commercial exploitation of animals, protecting wildlife habitats and assisting wild and domestic animals in distress. IFAW pursues a variety of local, national, and global campaigns around the world.

IFAW has been working with Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) since 1998 and has established a Memorandum of Understanding for the scope of work.


MLF has three branch offices (Mangochi, Michinga and Balaka) in place to assist the communities surrounding the Liwonde National Park. By partnering with IFAW, MLF can accomplish its primary mission of relieving poverty while assisting with the survival and replenishment of both the animal population and their habitat.

Activities include:

  • Establish a Brick Making “factory” to supply the Park with the product needed to re-establish and build lodges. These lodges will provide accommodation for the tourist industry, supplying more jobs for the villagers.
  • Establish a Wood Working shop to build the fences and furniture, needed by the Park and lodges.
  • Establish a mechanical workshop to maintain Park vehicles and equipment.
  • Develop an agriculture and irrigation plan to make best use of the available cultivatable land. Local farmers will be trained in best practices as employed by other MLF agricultural endeavors.
  • Establish a fish farm to supply local communities and allow MLF clients to run fish selling businesses
  • Establish Bee keeping activities within the boundaries of the fish farm
  • Cultivation and sale of chili peppers by MLF clients.

Community meeting with IFAW/MicroLoan team on 1/18/13

Community Survey:

In addition to the many visits and the number of meetings with the Chikolongo community, a detailed survey was conducted amongst randomly selected members of the community on December 14, 2012.

The survey was conducted a pairing of a trained official and a senior member of the community (Figure 4). The average interview time per respondent was one hour.  The Chikolongo community numbers about 4,000 adults and 95 adults were interviewed and their responses recorded.

The survey results can be seen in Appendix C.   Amongst the interesting results that emerged were the following:

a)   Less than one quarter of the adults were engaged in some form of income generating activity as opposed to pure subsistence activity.  Most of those involved in some form of business enterprise described ‘farming’ and (illegal) ‘fishing’ as the basis of their enterprise, which simply involved selling their produce to local consumers.  This minority cited capital as the main business challenge and almost one third of this minority claimed that their small businesses yielded no noticeable benefit due to low or no profit accruing from their small enterprise.

b)   Over two thirds of respondents relied on the Shire River for their household water source thereby exposing themselves to the danger of crocodile attack when drawing water.  In addition, they exposed themselves to the dangers of elephant, hippo, and other dangerous game when entering the park in order to draw water (Figures 5 – 7).

c)   Ninety-eight percent (98%) of respondents indicated that the price of fish is increasing and one hundred percent (100%) of respondents indicated that the fish population in the Shire is decreasing.

d)   Ninety-one percent (91%) of respondents had experienced conflict with wild life.

e)   The names of twenty-one members of the community that have been killed by crocodiles and elephants in the last 24 months were recorded.

f)     Ninety-five (95%) percent of the respondents considered the park fence to be ineffective.

Where are we today

Villagers in Chikolongo
Villagers in Chikolongo

IFAW, MLF and DNPW’s extension department have chosen the community of Chikolongo, as a target location. The following activities are being moved ahead in parallel:

  • A written agreement with the traditional authority and community will be drafted when site is approved by government
  • The site will be mapped for appropriate recordings
  • An Environmental Impact Assessment and application for permitting is in process
  • Request for technical assistance has gone out to the Department of Fisheries and other experienced NGO’s.

To support the Liwonde Project, please click the Donate button now



Please click the button below to access the latest project report: