Balancing conservation and livelihoods in the Chimanimani Forest belt, Mozambique

Conservation and sustainable development with communities in the Chimanimani forest belt.

Mountain area in Mozambique - a tropical important plant area

Project history

Kew's Mozambique programme has been running for over 10 years and has included botanical surveys, conservation assessments, seed collecting and training to support rural livelihoods. A 2013-2016 Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) project funded botanists from Kew to undertake a series of trips to the Chimanimani Mountains in the west of Mozambique to look at the distribution and conservation status of over 70 endemic species and the impacts on them from recent illegal small-scale gold mining. This resulted in the discovery of new species. Conservation recommendations were also made to managers of Chimanimani National Reserve.

In 2014, a Darwin Initiative funded project was established in partnership with the MICAIA Foundation of Mozambique and the Instituto de Investigação Agrária de Moçambique (IIAM).  MICAIA have worked in the Manica province where the Chimanimani Mountains are since 2009 and are experts in rural community development. The project, which finished in 2017, focused on four community areas in the Chimanimani Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA) buffer zone (Mahate, Mpunga, Zomba and Maronga) with the aim of improving biodiversity conservation and community members’ livelihoods, vital work for conserving the protected area because management of the surrounding region directly affects the quality and protection of the forests within the conservation area.

Biologically diverse and under threat

The TFCA, which the Chimanimani National Reserve is a part of, contains 74 endemic species or subspecies, most associated with soils derived from white quartzite sandstone rocks. These include an endemic olive (Olea chimanimani), an endemic and very rare Protea (Protea enervis), five endemic Aloe species and an endemic busy-lizzie (Impatiens salpinx). A new Streptocarpus species (cape primrose) was also discovered. A variety of habitats exist in the area, from high altitude quartzite grasslands to valley and lowland moist forests. Some forests are incredibly valuable for biodiversity and are considered some of the best remaining in southern Africa, with much in the broader region having been cleared for agriculture over the past 150 year period. A number of economically important species were also recorded in the area, such as Muzhanje (Uapaca kirkiana) which yields fruit, Funtumia africana which has potential use in high end paper production, Coffea salvatrix which is a wild coffee and Cyperus papyrus which is frequently used in local artesenal products, such as mats.

Community conservation and development

Within the buffer zone of the TFCA and Reserve, pressure on the forest comes from population growth and poverty, driving the direct threats of fuel wood extraction and itinerant agricultural practices. The remaining natural areas are being protected by offering communities alternative and sustainable activities such as tourism, conservation agriculture and honey production through beekeeping. Conservation areas of the most highly valuable habitats have been established with community involvement, which are exempt from any activities.

Important areas for plant conservation

Kew has led two field expeditions to the four community areas to survey them and record species and habitats with conservation and potential economic value. This has fed into recommendations to communities to help them decide which areas to demarcate and set aside from other land use activities. The local economic importance of wild species has recently been investigated through community focus group meetings which highlighted species for research and development in the future. The information will also be used to inform other local activities managed by MICAIA, such as tourism. New tourist learning trails will be established throughout forests in the area with informative materials to explain the area’s importance. It is expected that this will boost income from tourist activities, promote a greater appreciation of the forests and relieve some other economic pressure on the conservation-significant habitats.


  • Increase the level of household incomes for 1,000 households.
  • Transition local farming practices towards more sustainable conservation agricultural techniques.
  • Increase levels of sustainable forest product use, for example from honey production, Non-Timber Forest Products and ecotourism activities.
  • Increase the size of the area designated as community conservation land within the Chimanimani forest belt.
  • Reduce the output of carbon emissions in the forest belt from fires and clearing land for new fields.
  • Information collected on areas suitable for conservation within community lands and on plant species of conservation interest and potential economic value (RBG, Kew).
  • Integrated Land Use Plans created with communities and implemented by their Natural Resource Management Committees (NRMCs) and community rangers in the four project areas (MICAIA).
  • Appropriate and viable natural resource based livelihood strategies developed and implemented by 1,000 households in the four project areas (MICAIA).
  • Improved tourism services, including community guides and education materials, for tourists and local communities (MICAIA with RBG, Kew support).

Kew’s outputs

  • Detailed characterisation forest plots established in each community area (plots used to characterise different types of vegetation).
  • Communities’ conservation areas investigated and mapped to highlight threats to plants and opportunities for economic development, either through tourist trails or potentially marketable species.
  • Herbarium specimens collected and identified at Kew to evaluate the area's biodiversity and identify species significant for conservation and economic use.
  • A species list compiled for the Chimanimani area.

Darwin Initiative

Bentham-Moxon Trust

Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund