FEATURE STORY June 18, 2019

Making Conservation Profitable for Small-Scale Farmers

World Bank Group/Sarah Fretwell

World Bank Group


The Luangwa Valley in Zambia’s Eastern Province is a world-renowned safari destination, home to lions, elephants, and other wildlife that drive tourism. The area is also home to rural farming communities that depend on agriculture and natural resources for their livelihoods. Poor farming practices, over-reliance on non-food crops like cotton, and climatic extremes in rain and drought have put some communities and the surrounding flora and fauna at risk. Forests are disappearing as farmers clear more and more land, contributing to soil erosion and poor harvests. Low productivity is leading to reduced income and food insecurity, which is pushing many farmers toward poaching or charcoal production to make ends meet.

“When your whole life depends on what you grow is it isn’t difficult to imagine why someone would have to resort to making charcoal or poaching,” explains Dale Lewis, CEO and founder of Community Markets for Conservation (COMACO).

COMACO is working to break this destructive cycle by training local small-scale farmers in sustainable agriculture, purchasing their goods in bulk at premium prices, and selling organic products across Africa under the brand name “It’s Wild!”. Organized into cooperatives, farmers learn to adopt conservation farming techniques, such as composting and rotating crops with nitrogen-fixing species, to improve yields and reduce the demand for land and subsequent deforestation. COMACO-certified farmers are assured long-term trading benefits with the company and typically move from household food deficits to food surpluses within two to three years.

“I never dreamed that we would be able to achieve so much,” exclaims Lewis. “Imagine that, this year, we planted close to 30 million trees that are grown in the fields where they farm, that produce fertilizer, and help mothers gather not only food from their crops, but renewable wood for their cooking.”


"This pilot program is really proof that these linkages between agriculture and reducing emission from deforestation and degradation (known as REDD+) can be turned into a reality"
Neeta Hooda
Senior Natural Resources Management Specialist at the World Bank

Established as a pilot in 2003 that followed with support from the BioCarbon Fund, COMACO is now an independent social enterprise reaching over 179,000 farmers in the Luangwa Valley (over half of whom are women) spread across 76 chiefdoms and covering over 10.5 million hectares of communal land. Additionally, 86 percent of farmers are food secure and their income levels have more than tripled. Farmer cooperatives support farmer needs and help enforce community conservation plans, contributing to lowered rates of tree loss and wildlife poaching in many areas across the Luangwa Valley.

The BioCarbon Fund’s current integrated forest landscape project in Zambia, as well as the World Bank’s Zambia Agribusiness and Trade Project, draw on COMACO’s lessons learned on connecting smallholder farmers to commercial markets while protecting forest cover and soil fertility.

“This pilot program is really proof that these linkages between agriculture and reducing emission from deforestation and degradation (known as REDD+) can be turned into a reality,” says Neeta Hooda, Senior Natural Resources Management Specialist at the World Bank. She affirms the COMACO model is ripe for replication, but “local businesses need to be able to scale up to meet market demands… and they need more financial support and technical capacity from the public and private sector to do so.”

Established as a pilot in 2003 that followed with support from the BioCarbon Fund, COMACO is now an independent social enterprise reaching over 179,000 farmers in the Luangwa Valley (over half of whom are women) spread across 76 chiefdoms and covering over 10.5 million hectares of communal land. Additionally, 86 percent of farmers are food secure and their income levels have more than tripled. Farmer cooperatives support farmer needs and help enforce community conservation plans, contributing to lowered rates of tree loss and wildlife poaching in many areas across the Luangwa Valley.

The BioCarbon Fund’s current integrated forest landscape project in Zambia, as well as the World Bank’s Zambia Agribusiness and Trade Project, draw on COMACO’s lessons learned on connecting smallholder farmers to commercial markets while protecting forest cover and soil fertility.

“This pilot program is really proof that these linkages between agriculture and reducing emission from deforestation and degradation (known as REDD+) can be turned into a reality,” says Neeta Hooda, Senior Natural Resources Management Specialist at the World Bank. She affirms the COMACO model is ripe for replication, but “local businesses need to be able to scale up to meet market demands… and they need more financial support and technical capacity from the public and private sector to do so.”

Established as a pilot in 2003 that followed with support from the BioCarbon Fund, COMACO is now an independent social enterprise reaching over 179,000 farmers in the Luangwa Valley (over half of whom are women) spread across 76 chiefdoms and covering over 10.5 million hectares of communal land. Additionally, 86 percent of farmers are food secure and their income levels have more than tripled. Farmer cooperatives support farmer needs and help enforce community conservation plans, contributing to lowered rates of tree loss and wildlife poaching in many areas across the Luangwa Valley.

The BioCarbon Fund’s current integrated forest landscape project in Zambia, as well as the World Bank’s Zambia Agribusiness and Trade Project, draw on COMACO’s lessons learned on connecting smallholder farmers to commercial markets while protecting forest cover and soil fertility.

“This pilot program is really proof that these linkages between agriculture and reducing emission from deforestation and degradation (known as REDD+) can be turned into a reality,” says Neeta Hooda, Senior Natural Resources Management Specialist at the World Bank. She affirms the COMACO model is ripe for replication, but “local businesses need to be able to scale up to meet market demands… and they need more financial support and technical capacity from the public and private sector to do so.”

Established as a pilot in 2003 that followed with support from the BioCarbon Fund, COMACO is now an independent social enterprise reaching over 179,000 farmers in the Luangwa Valley (over half of whom are women) spread across 76 chiefdoms and covering over 10.5 million hectares of communal land. Additionally, 86 percent of farmers are food secure and their income levels have more than tripled. Farmer cooperatives support farmer needs and help enforce community conservation plans, contributing to lowered rates of tree loss and wildlife poaching in many areas across the Luangwa Valley.

The BioCarbon Fund’s current integrated forest landscape project in Zambia, as well as the World Bank’s Zambia Agribusiness and Trade Project, draw on COMACO’s lessons learned on connecting smallholder farmers to commercial markets while protecting forest cover and soil fertility.

“This pilot program is really proof that these linkages between agriculture and reducing emission from deforestation and degradation (known as REDD+) can be turned into a reality,” says Neeta Hooda, Senior Natural Resources Management Specialist at the World Bank. She affirms the COMACO model is ripe for replication, but “local businesses need to be able to scale up to meet market demands… and they need more financial support and technical capacity from the public and private sector to do so.”



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