WeForest Project


Mafinga Hills

Forest restoration for nature, water and people

Project Summary

The source of the mighty Luangwa River lies in the Mafinga Hills in northeastern Zambia. The montane area stretches over 12,000 ha and incorporates parts of a National Forest Reserve. This massif on the border with Malawi is an essential watershed for the farming and fishing communities downstream. It is also a biodiversity hotspot, still home to large mammals including the elusive leopard, spotted hyenas and yellow baboons.

Today, it is under threat from deforestation driven by agricultural expansion, chitemene (slash-and-burn agriculture), uncontrolled bush fires, timber logging and the collection of firewood. Montane and riverine forest patches are degrading, and man-made fires from illegal activities on the plateau are impacting biodiversity and reducing the ability of soils to retain water. 

Protecting the forest and stopping the chitemene requires improved governance and more sustainable farming approaches, as well as the development of alternative income sources for those who depend on the forest.

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    This mountain habitat of wet, dry and hill miombo, afromontane and riparian forests and montane grasslands is rare in the country.
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    Evidence of chitemene, or slash-and-burn
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    Mariko village
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    Women from Mariko village

Project Status


Restoration Approach

Assisted Natural Regeneration
Active planting

Planting Period


Project Goals

  • Protect and restore existing forests, establishing sustainable community management.
  • Establish 1450 ha of community forest over the next two years, with the aim to scale up to 5500 ha.
  • Promote and diversify sustainable agricultural techniques and income-generating activities.
  • Reinforce the role of the local partner organisation (WECSZ) in stewardship of the forest for the long term.

Why is intervention needed?

The mountain habitat found in the Mafinga Hills of wet, dry and hill miombo, afromontane and riparian forests and montane grasslands is rare in the country. Although net deforestation in the district is not high yet, it is widespread throughout, and is especially worrying inside the National Forest Reserve and along the rivers due to chitemene (slash-and-burn agriculture).

The project area was selected for two reasons: the importance of the Luangwa River for the fishing and farming communities downstream, and its rich biodiversity, both on the massif and in the Luangwa river valley. Animals that call this forest home include samango monkeys, vervet monkeys, yellow baboons, side-striped jackals, spotted hyenas, wild cats, servals and leopards. However, many large mammals are no longer present: warthogs disappeared in the 1940s, elephants in the 1950s, aardvarks and lions in the 1960s and eland in the 1980s.

Ecological restoration

Working with a local organisation, the Wildlife and Environmental Conservation Society of Zambia (WECSZ), the project aims to restore a naturally functioning forest landscape surrounding and including the Mafinga Hills. This will safeguard the water catchment of the Luangwa River, protect the biodiversity of the Mafinga massif and the Luangwa valley, and ensure that the farming communities neighbouring the massif have an increased resilience to climate change. To ensure good forest stewardship in the project area in the long term, the project will design an FLR Plan which includes strengthening the technical and financial capacity of WECSZ. 

In the first phase of the project, a Community forest covering approximately 1500 ha is being set up in the Mwenechifungwe Chiefdom. At a later stage, the project aims to establish an additional 2000 ha (or 2,000,000 trees) of community forests in the northern sector of the massif, aiming to build better governance and ownership among villagers by reinforcing their rights and technical capacities in forest management. It will support communities in sustainably managing and commercializing rural livelihoods built on natural resources (timber and NTFP) from these forests, introducing a sustainable system of benefit-sharing and promoting new agro-systems to shift away from destructive chitemene.

Livelihood development

To increase the well-being and climate resilience of the farming communities neighbouring the massif we will develop and diversify alternative livelihoods, potentially including beekeeping and/or poultry. The project will also introduce and optimize sustainable agricultural production, exploring native conservation agricultural techniques (for example in-field composting and crop rotation) to shift away from destructive chitemene millet farming. 

We aim for a behavioural shift in these farming communities which will allow forest conservation and restoration to take place in the long term. We aspire that the Wildlife and Environmental Conservation Society of Zambia (WECSZ) has the capacity and know-how to permanently oversee and safeguard the socio-economic and agro-environmental future of this landscape.

Communities are keen on building landscape solutions, and village headmen have welcomed the concept of a community forest shared between Inzinza and Mariko villages.