• Photo: Legado

    Mozambique: Community Conservation of "Sky Islands" in East Africa

In Brief


Mount Namuli: North-central region Mozambique (Province of Zambezia, 100 km east of Malawi)

Mount Ribaue: Province of Napula, 100 km northeast of Mount Namuli


To conserve the vital environmental, cultural, and ecosystem service values of Mount Namuli and Mount Ribaue. 

Conservation Value:

Legado’s Sky Island Program:

A Sky Island is a mountain that has exceptionally high biodiversity in an exceptionally small area. Legado’s mission is to preserve these Sky Islands by working hand-in-hand with the people who call them home. Sky Islands are also home to mountain communities working to create a life for their families. Their current mechanisms for survival— slash and burn agriculture as well as timber harvesting — are both undermining the long term security of their home and their future, and compromising site after site of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Sky Islands are also critical for seeding clouds and producing rain. Protecting Sky Islands is one of the best ways to secure our world’s water towers in the face of climate change. Legado’s work has begun in Mozambique, and, in 2020, is expanding in Sky Islands in Africa and beyond.

Central to this system, Mount Namuli rises as the nation’s second tallest peak, reaching 2,419 m (nearly 8,000 ft.) and supports patches of unique high altitude forest and numerous endemic, range-restricted and threatened species.  Mount Namuli is designated as a Level 1 Priority Key Biodiversity Area by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, an Important Bird Area, an Important Plant Area, and an Alliance for Zero Extinction Site. Despite these distinctions, the area lacks any formal conservation protection.

The Namuli massif covers an area of roughly 200 km2 at elevations above 1,200 m.  Incorporating a complex of granitic inselbergs (think… islands in the sky) linked by the high Muretha Plateau.  Recognized as one of the most important biodiversity areas in the country, the habitats are a mosaic of East Afromontane Ecosystem forest and grassland communities above 1700m, interspersed by shrublands, shallow soil plant communities with smooth rock peaks.

Mount Ribaue, in northeastern Mozambique, is home to both critical biodiversity and key communities of people working to make a life for themselves and their family. Ribaue is the first Tropical Important Plant Area to be designated in Mozambique and as a Sky Island makes up less than 3% of Mozambique landmass while being home to 30% of its biodiversity. 


The lower elevation areas that surround Mount Namuli and Mount Ribaue are settled and intensively cultivated. Although there are no settlements in the highest reaches of the mountains, some potato farmers have started to clear upland forests in recent years, a practice that has escalated in the past five years.  Analysis of satellite imagery indicates that overall forest coverage has been reduced by one-third in the past ten years, a  rate of clearing  that would expunge the remaining forest within eight years. Also impacting these mountain massifs' biodiversity and general ecological integrity are uncontrolled fires, often resulting from slash and burn agricultural practices. Overhunting of limited wildlife needs to be regulated.

Actions & Results:

The solution is to protect a core zone of the massifs and put in place good governance, effective local leadership, and sustainable management of the remaining patches of high altitude forest.  ICFC is supporting the training component.  These will represent Mozambique’s first community-managed conservation areas.  As well as protecting the critical biodiversity and ecosystem services of the core area, implementaion of agricultural best practices will minimize erosion and support retention of flow from rivers that originate on the Namuli and Ribaue massifs.  The project also aims to provide durable livelihood options for Namuli’s communities.

Near-term project  objectives:

  • Train community members in villages around Mount Namuli and Mount Ribaue to be leaders in natural resource management
  • Develop consensus on incentives that will enable a full moratorium on tree cutting above a given elevation
  • Develop a conservation agreement with the communities to protect Mount Namuli and Mount Ribaue ecosystems from degration

Project Field Partner:


Size of Area Involved:

Mount Namuli: Core zone: 5,600 ha,  Transition zone: 47,300 ha.
Mount Ribaue: Core zone: 3,400 ha forest on the massif that ranges from 550m and 1,675m in elevation.


2020 budget (ICFC portion): US$32,680
Cumulative cost to ICFC (2018-2019): CA$18,608

Support this project

Curruca community. Photo: James Q Martin, Legado Inititative


This short film discusses the crucial role of Mount Namuli forests in providing water.

In More Depth...

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