In 2001 only half of the households in the Luangwa Valley had enough maize to feed their families throughout the year. Low yields resulted in limited access to markets, which resulted in less motivation for farmers to practice better land use skills. Poor farming practices aggravated the problem by depleting soil nutrients and reducing yields further. The result was widespread hunger and poverty.
To cope, small-scale farmers living with wildlife would often turn to poaching and wasteful exploitation of their natural resources to make ends meet. Rivers were over-fished, and forests degraded from charcoal-making. Some farmers turned to non-food cash crops, like cotton, but families still struggled to support their livelihoods.
Rural livelihoods dependent on unsustainable uses of natural resources create a poverty trap by removing future options of income choices and limiting the human numbers that the land can support. It was this scenario that became COMACO’s challenge.