All but destroyed by civil war, Mozambique’s Gorongosa has had its own green recovery

The Gorongosa National Park is being rebuilt in a way that maximises the welfare of people and the planet.

The restoration of Gorongosa – a national park in Mozambique – has brought immense benefits to hundreds of local farmers who have been struggling from years of a deadly civil war.

At the height of the civil conflict in Mozambique, both government and rebel forces butchered hundreds of elephants in Gorongosa National Park for ivory to fund the war. The soldiers also killed countless buffaloes, zebras, wildebeests and other animals in the park for food – at the same time as gunning down large predators like lions for sport.

Up to 90 percent of the park’s animals – buffalos, elephants, zebras, lions and hippos – were decimated during the civil war. Only the birds emerged somewhat unscathed.

“Following 30 years of armed conflict, farmers living on Mount Gorongosa needed a dependable source of income that would benefit their communities and restore their rainforest,” Emily Kiloh, from Our Gorongosa – a non-profit that runs the park’s restoration initiative – tells me.

And so, in 2015, the project partnered with green bean coffee experts and local farmers to plant coffee and native rainforest seedlings on Mount Gorongosa. Today, farmers in Gorongosa are producing one of Africa’s finest export quality coffees, at the same time as conserving the park’s diverse wildlife.

Before the national park was established, the rich and varied landscape of the Gorongosa region attracted hunters, explorers and naturalists. The park is now living up to this heritage again as one of the most successful stories of wildlife restoration in Africa.

“Today, 600 local farmers are planting 200,000 coffee trees per year and 100,000 rainforest trees alongside them. 100 percent of profits from Our Gorongosa’s coffee directly support the National Park’s communities, wildlife and ecosystems.”

All of this was made possible by the fact that, in 2004, the Mozambican government and the US's Carr Foundation decided to work together to rebuild the park's infrastructure, restore its wildlife populations and spur local economic development. Between 2004 and 2007 the Carr Foundation invested more than US$10 million into the restoration of the national park.

“During that time the restoration project team completed a 6,200-hectare wildlife sanctuary and reintroduced buffaloes and wildebeests to the ecosystem,” Vasco Galante, from the Gorongosa National Park, tells me.

Following the success of the initial phase of the restoration project, the government and foundation signed a 20-year agreement to restore and co-manage the park. In 2010, the Mozambican government increased the area of the Gorongosa National Park – incorporating Mount Gorongosa – in keeping with a dream that had been presented in the sixties by then park ecologist Kenneth Tinley.

In 2016, the government of Mozambique published in the Bulletin of the Republic of Mozambique the Management Plan of Gorongosa National Park for the period 2016-20, and in 2018 the government signed an extension of the joint management agreement of the Gorongosa National Park for another 25 years.

“The dedicated team of scientists, engineers, business managers, economic experts and tourism developers now working to restore the Gorongosa National Park are confident that with hard work, the involvement of the local population and revenue from ecotourism, this spectacular place will regain its former glory,” Vasco concludes.

Andrew Mambondiyani is a journalist based in Zimbabwe. His writing has a special focus on climate change, agriculture, sustainable development, human rights and the environment in general.