Imagine, for a moment, that you live in the province of Sofala, in the heart of Mozambique. Your female neighbors have, on average, more than five children each—roughly twice the global average. In fact, your country has the 11th highest birth rate in the world yet 73 of every 1,000 babies die before reaching one year of age. (Compare this to six of 1000 in the United States.) You live on one of 3.2 million subsistence farms in Mozambique, farming without pesticides, mechanization, or irrigation. When your fields’ soil grows overrun with weeds, you are more than willing to clear a fresh plot in the neighboring forest.
In a nation struggling with fundamental issues of hunger and health, developing through environmentally sound measures isn’t a forefront concern. Yet, the conditions of population, agriculture, and economy intertwine damagingly with those of the environment, making its future unpredictable.
Mozambique is currently in a transitional period of rapid population growth typical of developing countries. The circumstances present a paradox: couples feel obliged to have more children knowing several may die before adulthood, yet each child requires additional food, care, and money. In rural Sofala, slash-and-burn agriculture is an economic necessity. Traditionally, farmers shift cultivation between plots to allow each to restore healthy soil—however, the fields aren’t left dormant long enough. Intense farming exhausts the soil, lowers yield, and further worsens the family’s economic situation.
These conditions underline the strong attraction of large profits that come from poaching. Equivalent income simply doesn’t exist in agriculture and the international ivory market ensures that biodiverse Mozambique is a hotspot. For the same reasons, poaching is critical to halt. When genetic and ecosystem diversity decreases, delicate ecosystems are disrupted. The impacts of poaching extend into society, harming tourism critical to local and national economies and generating health risks with unregulated trade of animal parts. The loss of wilderness defies monetary value.
The issues between Mozambique’s environment and its population, agriculture, and economy explain why sustainable development is neglected in developing nations. However, your Sofala is unique: sustainable development there is, unexpectedly, thriving. Here in the Great African Rift Valley, Gorongosa National Park has become the center of an elaborate conservation scheme.
Philanthropist Greg Carr partnered with the Mozambican government in 2004 to restore the park after a quarter-century of war ravaged the region. While attracting tourists is a primary function of the park, Gorongosa is founded on three additional pillars: science conservation, and community. Scientists study biology and ecology, and contribute to the long-term restoration plan. Conservation is upheld by patrol rangers who destroy poachers’ snares, plant trees critical to soil water retention, keep elephants away from crop fields to appease farmers, and relocate animals into the Park to complement recovering populations.
The community pillar is especially vital to Mozambique’s sustainable development. The Park employs neighboring citizens and thus alleviates poverty while combating the economic incentive of poaching. It provides instruction in sustainable agriculture to villagers that allows for higher-quality food with less environmental damage that slash-and-burn techniques. The Park utilizes mobile medical clinics to provide pregnancy, disease, nutrition, and sanitation care. Gorongosa bases its programs on a model that correlates the environment’s health to that of the people living in it—the very foundation of sustainable development.
Gorongosa can serve as a model for other nations. Though the agreement between Greg Carr and the government is rare, thus far, Gorongosa has worked effectively towards sustainable development from the start of this region’s industrial modernization, giving you and your Mozambican family good changes at successful, healthy lives.
For more about Gorongosa National Park, visit their website at http://www.gorongosa.org/.
Written by Rachel Pierstorff, ESLLC 2015-2016