On 3rd November 2023, the Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi (WESM) launched a Community Approach to Waterbird Resources Management Project at Chia Lagoon in Nkhotakota District. The event attracted community members, government officials, environmentalists, traditional leaders and other key stakeholders including beach village committees, fisheries associations and other non-governmental organisations’ representatives. with the Director of Fisheries, Dr. Hastings Zidane as the guest of honour.

The project with funding from Darwin Initiative through Birdlife International will work with communities at Chia Lagoon in Malawi to better manage and restore this vital lagoon ecosystem, reverse declines in vulnerable and declining bird species and improve livelihoods. WESM will establish community-based sustainable hunting groups to better manage waterbirds. As well as bird sanctuaries, restore habitats, and provide biodiversity data for monitoring and the site’s assessment as a Key Biodiversity Area. Supplemental, sustainable livelihood opportunities will be supported. The expected project impact is that Waterbird populations of Chia Lagoon flourish and local people and biodiversity benefit from community-based management, improved ecosystem functioning and enhanced, sustainable economic opportunities. The project is expected to benefit the following beneficiaries: Waterbird species in and around the Chia Lagoon and other biodiversity, 1,020 people indirectly, 14,000 people from 9 villages including Bird Hunters associations, school-based Wildlife Clubs, Beach Village Committees and District government will benefit from capacity building and data.

In his speech, Dr. Zidana congratulated the management and staff of WESM and its strategic project partners for securing funding for this project from the Darwin Initiative Fund. He stated that this project is quite promising as it stands to significantly contribute towards the restoration of important bird and fish populations along with their ecosystems while also providing communities with inclusive sustainable livelihoods as stipulated in the Malawi Government’s agenda 2063 pillars. He thanked the traditional leaders and officials from Nkhotakota District Council for embracing this project with open arms and further urged them to continue supporting WESM and all stakeholders working in environmental conservation in their pursuit of a greener and environmentally sustainable Malawi.

Speaking at the function, Dr. Tiwonge Gawa who is the Chairperson of WESM, provided a brief background of the organization which according to her started in 1947. They have been involved in capacity building initiatives for communities to protect the environment. She remarked that one of many deliverables of the project will be to establish bird clubs similar to the ones in Lake Chilwa. She further revealed that apart from local communities, WESM is collaborating with various partners in the project including Departments of Fisheries and Forestry and Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST).
Ward Councillor for the area, Mr. Chunga and the Council Chair Mr. Chizukuzuku both expressed gratitude to WESM for the great initiative as it is aimed at protecting the environment and the boosting tourism sector due to presence of different fish and bird species.