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Supporting biodiversity and sustainable livelihoods in Lake Malawi National Park

Geographical focus

Lake Malawi National Park was established in 1980 and inscribed as a World Heritage site in 1984 for its natural beauty (criterion vii) and outstanding biodiversity values, notably due to its value to science as a remarkable example of biological evolution (criterion ix) and the exceptional diversity of its freshwater fish (criterion x).

However, while local communities depend on fishery-based livelihoods, unsustainable fishing practices, forest degradation within the lake’s water basin, and other human activities driven by poverty and population growth threaten this unique site and undermine the livelihood base in the long term.

Located at the Southern end of the great expanse of Lake Malawi with its deep, clear waters and mountain backdrop, the national park is home to many hundreds of fish species, nearly all endemic. Its importance to the study of evolution is comparable to that of the finches of the Galapagos Islands.


The project is based on the recommendations of the 2014 Reactive Monitoring Mission to strengthen the level of protection and management of the property and on Committee Decision 42 COM 7B.93 (Manama, 2018) to update the World Heritage property’s management plan and establish a fish monitoring protocol. The Committee also requested the State Party to identify and reinforce the required management responses to the various threats and challenges faced by the property. This will be done while ensuring continued and close cooperation between the park management, the communities, and relevant government institutions.

The project will therefore mainly aim at improving the state of conservation of the lake and its biodiversity of outstanding universal value through the following activities:

  • The facilitation of community-based development plans by identifying priority activities that can support site conservation and people wellbeing.
  • The support of a community participatory approach for the demarcation of the property’s boundaries in both land and water.
  • The production of a concept note for a vocational skills development programme targeting women in order to help them benefit from employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in the tourism sector.
  • The identification of future partnerships and possible funding for the World Heritage site.

Progress Made

A contract with the UNESCO National Commission was established on 7 August 2020 to implement the following activities:

  • The completion of a socio-economic needs assessment survey of the enclave and surrounding villages, which took place from 7 to 12 September 2020.
  • The organisation of consultation meetings from 22 to 23 September 2020 with relevant stakeholders in order to provide feedback on needs assessment, identify priority areas, and delineate the Site boundaries.
  • The implementation of a public awareness initiative on the importance of conserving the Outstanding Universal Value of Lake Malawi National Park, broadcasted on Dzimwe Radion from 7 to 28 October 2020.

A decentralisation memo was established on 6 August 2020 with the UNESCO Office in Harare to support the State Party in the development of a concept note for a vocational skills development programme targeting women in order to help them benefit from employment and entrepreneurship opportunities provided by the tourism sector.

Due to several delays and challenges encountered during the development of the project, key activities such as the mapping and boundaries demarcation, and the development of a concept note for vocational skills, were not executed in the originally scheduled period of implementation. In order to allow their smooth progression, the project implementation period was extended until March 2021 and the reporting period until June 2021. A progress report submitted by the State Party that details the project’s activities from 15 August 2020 to 15 October 2020 can be downloaded here.


Malawi National Commission for UNESCO and University of Malawi, Chancellor College