Building dynamic cooperation and effective governance for the sustainable conservation of Mozambique’s largest protected area


Niassa NR Headquarters from the airRecognized as the most important protected area in Mozambique, Niassa National Reserve (NNR) covers a vast expanse of more than 42,000km2 in the north of the country, bordering the Ruvuma River and Tanzania to the north. One of the last great wilderness areas on earth, it is home to a globally important populations of elephants, lions, wild dogs and other key species – including the endemic Niassa wildebeest, Boehm's zebra and Johnston's impala – inhabiting a mosaic of miombo woodland and open savannah. In recent years, however the Reserve has been severely impacted by large-scale elephant poaching, and its integrity and biodiversity are increasingly threatened by a growing human population, estimated at over 35,000 people spread across 40 villages within the protected area.

Despite its vast size and outstanding conservation values, Niassa remains relatively little known internationally, and over the past decades it has received little donor support compared to better-known protected areas in the region. In this regard, co-management is a very promising protected area governance mechanism being piloted in a number of sites in Africa, which enables governments to secure crucial financial and technical support for PA management, while at the same time providing conservation organisations with a real stake in decision making and management of the PA concerned. Along these lines, in 2012, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) entered into a co-management arrangement for the Niassa NR with the Mozambique Government, providing the foundation for strengthening anti-poaching efforts to secure the Reserve’s elephant population and to protect other key vulnerable species and habitats.

Our contribution

NNR logoIn 2015, CDC was contracted by WCS to assist with the redesign of the Niassa co-management arrangements to take into account lessons learnt since their launch in 2012, and with the aim of strengthening the governance arrangements to ensure a clear division of responsibility and accountability between WCS and the Mozambique National Administration of Conservation Areas (ANAC), the new national agency responsible for Mozambique’s national parks and reserves. An important aspect was to establish a strong decision-making process for different aspects of the management of NNR.

As a foundation for the redesign, CDC first identified and presented to WCS and ANAC the potential alternative governance arrangements for future co-management of the NNR, such as an inter-agency MoU for collaboration and technical assistance, a joint project involving collaborating agencies, an inter-agency MoU for shared management responsibility, or the establishment of a corporate body mandated to manage the Reserve. The eventual governance model selected involved elements of each of these alternative approaches, but with an emphasis on shared management responsibility between ANAC and WCS, with each organization responsible for complementary and mutually supportive functions aimed at achieving the effective management of Niassa Reserve and the conservation of the Reserve’s biodiversity and natural resources. The new governance model also anticipated a gradual and progressive transfer of functions and financing for Reserve management from WCS to ANAC in accordance with improvements in ANAC’s own capacity to fulfil Reserve management responsibilities.


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