Mutinondo Newsletter 2005

Posted on Wed December 28, 2005 in Newsletter.

Over 400mm of rain in Dec 2004 promised a well needed refill for our thirsty Musamfushi and Mutinondo Rivers. Other positive starts to the year included the first big batch of accounts completed in February and a great seaside celebration in Malindi with friends and family in April which revitalised us with big plans to make more spare time to enjoy ourselves, our wilderness and long forgotten pleasures like golf. Zambia National Tourism Board made 2005 the year to promote Zambian tourism, the economy and security was so stable for the past 3 years; this was the time for our tourism industry to take off……….

It hardly rained for the rest of the season! Our soya outgrowers scheme really took off in Dec 2004 and despite the poor rains production was good. We lent out 20 tons of seed to over 1000 farmers, they grew about 400 tons, we arranged a market for 310 tons and started collecting in early May. Towards the end of May we sold 100 tons and then our truck's engine overheated and needed a major overhaul. By the time we managed to start collecting again most farmers had sold their crop (including many of our loans) to traders, we had lost our market, the price had fallen by USD35/ton and the Kwacha had started revaluing. The 100 tons we managed to collect with our hilux pickup is now in storage with the hope it regains its value next season.

Four months of fuel shortages presented the worst possible scenario to the tourists visiting Zambia and duly undid the effort and resources used to promote Zambia as a serious tourist destination. Kerosene for the fridges and lights is still a challenge; we had to send an employee by bus to Tunduma in Tanzania to keep our deepfreezes going. The best thing to do with all the uncertainties and cancellations caused by a fuel shortage is to get on your bike which a friend and I did. We cycled for a week through Lavushi Manda National Park, across the eastern toe of the Bangeulu Swamps finishing in Kapishya Hot Springs. It was an absolutely magnificent break.

Edmond Farmer from Kasanka made mega Mutinondo history by being the first plane to land on our unfinished airstrip and Hugo and family furthered this by braving it for three visits. The two Mpika airstrip transfers with international clients were far too stressful making the completion of our strip very necessary (as stated in the last 2 newsletters!) It's disappointing that we seem to spend so many hours doing unproductive work and thus neglecting such essentials. Community work is continuing to be endless paperwork and frustration. 10 years down the road non-accountability, non-repayment of loans and local village politics continue to stop development in the area. On a more positive note, Ryan Chibowo "our recycler" has got his Kalulu Crafts sign up on the Great North Road near Salamo Village and we hope he finishes his workshop soon and sells plenty of his wonderful products to the passing traffic.

Our solar pump stopped working at about the same time as the truck and Mike's back, this couldn't be repaired after three attempts and then our beautiful new one worked for a week before following suit. So much of our staff time during the last three months has been spent carting water up the hill in wheel barrows! We didn't get our house built this year (again!) but instead we built 6 new brick and proper thatch toilets and kitchens in our staff village to replace their temporary ones and built a self catering camp on the Mutinondo River for visitors who had booked to stay here for 5 months. It's a beautiful camp and is now open for bookings and has a young family staying in it for New Year. We employed a group from the Community Conservation Society to build a road to the confluence of Mutinondo and Musamfushi River to the east of the main camp to put another satellite camp there in due course. The Society group has gone on to become scouts to patrol our area and they have been very brave in their unarmed anti poaching work and have also reported very encouraging wild life presence. We have been enjoying watching a herd of 5 Roan grazing on a small dambo and have been seeing three hartebeest around camp recently. Additions to our bird list are the Scarlet-chested sunbird, Laughing Dove and Yellow warbler and we look forward to hearing from Pete and the Chittendens to confirm the Miombo Pied Barbet sighting. Mutinondo Wilderness was declared an Important Bird Area -IBA (but not International Boxing Association). Mutinondo was the first in the group to have its stakeholders meeting and the program was going very well until we had to change priorities and concentrate on local security problems.

A burglary in the new camp in September sparked a spate of death threats against our staff who caught the thief. A group then shot one of our horses, Swanford, and each time the police and ZAWA came to find unlicensed firearms another round of death threats and violence started. They beat up Willie's daughter and wife, a grandmother and the caretaker of the Community Conservation Center, burning a building and thatching grass belonging to the Center which is being funded by WWF. We spent a very anxious three months and over K8,000,000 trying to help catch these guys. Three culprits were arrested but released after paying fines of K150,000 to K250,000. Chief Mpumba was very disappointed that they have been released because they cause him so many problems too. The Police Commanding Officer of Northern District and the Permanent Secretary of Northern Province visited Mutinondo to assess the problem and plan to put a police post in Salamo which will hopefully protect the community and development in the future. Their support and response to these problems were very reassuring.

Poor Mike has had dreadful back pain since May. He tried all sorts of different therapies and when he found that nothing was working he went to South Africa in October for an operation. Peter and Karen Brown came camping here in August (funnily enough because of the fuel shortage!) ended up being Mike's guardian angels in SA, arranging everything for him down there, looking after him before and after the op and keeping everyone informed of his progress. He is recovering very slowly and is still in quite a lot of pain but is assured it will come right in 3 or 4 months.

When we started to get things back to normal again the value of our hard earned dollars were slashed by 30%! In a matter of 3 months the Kwacha "revalued" from K4,700 to K3,200 to the dollar (and the Mpika fuel price rose from K4,700 to K6060 during 2005). The decrease in earnings, increase in fuel prices and the proposed increase in the minimum wage by 350% is very concerning for the viability of our business.

Three tantalising local books were brought out this year. When business is this difficult it is a great wake up call - Why are we bothering with all these problems when we could be discovering and exploring the contents of this wonderful new library? Important Bird Areas in Zambia by Pete Leonard ISBN 9982-811-01-0 Guide to Little-Known Waterfalls of Zambia by Quentin Allen, Ilse Mwansa and Heather Chalcroft 9982-9952-0-0 Field Guide to The Trees and Shrubs of the Miombo Woodlands by Paul Smith and Quentin Allen 1 84246 073 0 Quentin and Steve Robinson further illustrated the too often forgotten true nature of Zambia with a string of exhibitions. Steve launched his website last week: www.spirit-of-the-land.com

Our visitors to Mutinondo are even more valued than ever for reminding us why we are here, what a wonderful wilderness we live in and how therapeutic and human friendly it actually is. Thank you to everyone who helped us through this difficult year, we really appreciate all your support and friendship.

All the very best wishes for a wonderful and peaceful 2006 to you all.