A Former Fish Poacher No Longer Fears A Crocodile Demise


With spear in hand and nets at the ready, Joseph Mwanga was 21 when he started making a living by poaching. In 2021, he put away his spear and joined a mango enterprise supported by USAID.

His catch was a large salmon-like fish called mpasa (Opsaridium microlepis). In the early 2000s, he and his friends would probe Malawi’s protected Bua River in Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve. The Bua River flows all the way to Lake Malawi, where three African countries depend on this fish species in decline.

“We formed a group of five energetic young men as hunters. We had very well-trained vicious dogs and together, by using our spears, we never returned home empty-handed,” said Mr. Mwanga. Eventually, Mr. Mwanga and his friends exchanged their spears for poison. They soaked katupe, a poison, in small pools of the Bua River, killing everything that took a sip, from mpasa to small animals.

Mr. Mwanga would barter his poached fish and animals for maize and cassava to feed his family. Poaching was how he secured his and his family’s necessities, and he didn’t see an alternative. Poaching like Mr. Mwanga’s was devastating the sustainability of mpasa and the methods used were polluting fresh water for people and biodiversity. It can devastate the environment by stimulating rapid deforestation, biodiversity decline, and harm to natural resources like the soil, water and air.

African Parks took over management of Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve in 2015. They started a poaching amnesty program that encourages poachers to turn in their weapons in exchange for training and support in conservation enterprises. Graduates of the program also have the option to join natural resource committees that actively patrol the forest to curb poaching.

African Parks, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Forest Service support these enterprises that provide an alternative livelihood to poaching.

One of these conservation enterprises is the processing of mangoes. The Forest Service sources solar mango driers and provides training while USAID funds the projects.

Mr. Mwanga put away his spear in 2021 and joined an enterprise that dries and juices mangoes. He is part of a community association that plans to construct a large mango processing facility. The mango solar driers are supported by African Parks with funds from the Forest Service and USAID.

Mr. Mwanga’s mango livelihood is much safer than poaching. He no longer fears being mauled by crocodiles or drowning. Instead of fearing being caught by park rangers, he now helps patrol the forests he used to hide in.

The Forest Service and USAID are also partnering with African Parks at Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve to restore critical habitat, enhance tourism potential, and improve local livelihoods in border communities.

Joseph Mwanga with his Forest Service-supported mango solar drier.

Joseph Mwanga with his Forest Service-supported mango solar drier.

This story was originally posted on USDA.gov on June 30, 2023.