Boundary dispute mars park fence project

Boundary dispute mars park fence project

By Wanangwa Tembo

Kasungu, March 2, Mana: Misunderstandings have emerged between the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) and communities in Traditional Authority (TA) Chulu in Kasungu over Kasungu National Park boundary with villagers claiming that DNPW wants to grab their farm land.

The dispute has halted construction of a perimeter wire on the eastern park side to protect surrounding communities from marauding elephants which destroy crops in the area.

A meeting summoned by DNPW on Friday involving chiefs from the concerned communities with Kasungu District Council officials, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Local Government, Unity ad Culture, the Surveyor General, Ministry of Lands, the police and other stakeholders failed to break the deadlock as chiefs demanded more time before allowing officials to visit the area to authenticate their claims.

Group Village Head (GVH) Kapatuka, accompanied by eight other GVHs from the area, told the meeting that park authorities want to create a new park boundary that would see at least 2,000 households lose their farm land.

He said: “We are not against construction of the fence. We want the fence as soon as possible because every day we are battling elephants that stray out of the park destroying our houses and crop fields.

“What we want is that the fence should pass through the designated boundary so that we don’t lose our land.”

Several other GVHs spoke in agreement with Kapatuka saying they are against the changing of the park boundary.

However, Kasungu National Park Manager, Ndaona Kumanga, refuted the claims of new boundary demarcations.

He said communities in the area have for a long time been cultivating in the land gazette as national park hence the resistance to shift as authorities want to erect a fence.

“We have no intention to continue seeing people fighting with elephants on daily basis because of the absence of the wire. We are trying our best to have this problem solved once and for all but our efforts are being halted community resistance.

“We are not creating new boundaries. We want the fence to pass through the gazette boundaries. We are equally surprised that people claim to have leased the land meant to be inside the park,” said Kumanga.

Gideon Chamatwa, a farmer in the area, claimed he bought the land saying land officers at Kasungu District Council were part of the lease process and authenticated that the land doesn’t belong to the park.

Surveyor General, Masida Mbano, said his team will move in to verify the authenticity of the lease documents that communities claim to have.

District Commissioner for Kasungu, James Kanyangalazi, said he has always worked to resolved resolve the issue but communities have not been cooperative.

“When we got reports that elephants are destroying crops in the area, we rushed there, only to be embarrassed and threatened by the community such that we did not want to go back out of fear,” he said.

Kanyangalazi asked the chiefs to treat the matter with urgency and invite authorities to visit the area.

However, the chiefs have requested for a week more before they communicate the date.

Since 2019, at least 2,783 reports of elephants strays from Kasungu National Park were reported; 697 were recorded in 2023 affecting 17 GVHs.

The problem has been exacerbated by cultivation of crops along the park boundary and inadequate perimeter fencing covering about 90 kilometres, leaving a stretch of at least 40 kilometres open.

Member of Parliament for Kasungu North West, Baudeni Mtonga, said the destruction of crops has resulted in many households facing acute food shortage.

He hopes a lasting solution would be found to have the project completed.

Director for DNPW, Bright Kumchedwa; Deputy Director for Chiefs Administration in the Ministry of Local Government, Culture and Unity, Darwin Mngoli; Commissioner for Eastern Police Region, Rhoda Manjolo and officials from the Attorney General’s office also attended the meeting which was supported by International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw).

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