LTRA-2: An Agricultural Markets Model for Biodiversity Conservation

Research Focus

The SANREM CRSP research team led by Alex Travis, assistant professor of reproductive biology at Cornell University, has four objectives:

  • To determine the extent to which the Community Markets for Conservation (COMACO) model can be economically self-sustaining and the effectiveness of the different COMACO model components
  • To integrate new technologies into the COMACO model by applying food, soil, and veterinary sciences
  • To determine the extent to which the COMACO model provides self-sustaining social institutions and meaningful roles for COMACO participants, and
  • To determine the extent to which the COMACO model improves biodiversity and watershed conservation.

Principal Investigators

Alexander Travis
Assistant Professor, Baker Institute for Animal Health
Cornell University

Alfonso Torres
Associate dean, College of Veterinary Medicine
Cornell University

Dale Lewis
Country Director for Zambia
Wildlife Conservation Society


Due to unsustainable practices in agriculture and natural resource management, rural residents of southern Africa face food insecurity and limited livelihood opportunities. Those practices also have diminished the region’s biodiversity, a source of income from tourists and safari hunters.

In Zambia, LTRA-2 in partnership with COMACO — Community Markets for Conservation — sought to conserve biodiversity while improving food security and rural livelihoods. Founded by the Wildlife Conservation Society, COMACO has established community trading centers and food-processing facilities in Zambia’s Luangwa Valley.

SANREM researchers are working to expand COMACO trade centers’ potential for sale of rice, peanuts, soybeans, and other crops in the national and export markets. With new technologies, COMACO’s food-processing facilities in Lundazi and Mfuwe also could make products such as high-energy protein supplement (HEPS), a soy product for the undernourished and HIV/AIDS patients. HEPS is now imported through relief agencies at high cost. Such profitable products could give farmers an incentive to grow more soybeans, which add nutrients to the soil, decreasing the need to clear more trees for crops. Besides providing habitat for wildlife and bees, trees improve soil retention, an important factor in decreasing erosion. Runoff appears to contribute to valley flooding and silt buildup, which in turn adversely affect habitat for hippos, crocodiles, and fish in the Luangwa River.

Using historical and current financial data, SANREM researchers drew up COMACO’s first business model. The team led training for COMACO’s Zambian staff on safe, hygienic food-processing practices essential to extend products’ shelf life and earn export certification – a key to higher profits. Researchers also are training villagers in poultry production, which rose 50 percent in the first year of the project; and how to raise goats for consumption and for sale. Gains in crop, poultry, and goat production should improve rural families’ incomes and nutrition.

Surveys of families facing food insecurity found that 42 percent illegally kill wild animals to barter game meat for produce. This directly affects the safari and tourism markets, a major source of income for communities, and the federal and regional governments. SANREM researchers using aerial and satellite imagery found very little wildlife remaining in the Lukusuzi National Park, though it has escaped widespread deforestation. COMACO data show that many commercial poachers live immediately adjacent to the park, suggesting a link to the loss of animals. COMACO’s Poacher Transformation Project, which teaches alternative livelihoods such as honey production and profitable farming, could make the area a good candidate for reintroduction of species.

By studying the links among agriculture, natural resources, and human factors – sustainable production methods lead to wiser use of natural resources, less deforestation leads to improved soil retention and less downstream flooding – SANREM researchers in Zambia are taking a holistic approach to effect positive economic, social, and environmental changes.