Umoji, which means "as one" in the local ChiNyanja language of Lake Niassa, is a new form of community association originally aimed at organising villagers' involvement in the Manda Wilderness communities. Each of the villages within the Manda Wilderness region has an Umoji committee consisting of ten elected members, with a minimum of two women. The committees maintain the primary objective of managing the natural resources within the village boundaries. They collect data and keep fellow villagers informed about how best to use natural resources in a productive, yet sustainable way.
Each village has four seats in the Association; two for representatives from the Committee and two for the Village Chief and his advisors. In this way, both the democratic and traditional leaders are represented and respected. Through Umoji, over 20,000 people in the sixteen Manda Wilderness villages now have a firm grip over their own futures, in three tangible ways:
Through their elected committees and their traditional leadership, they have a united voice through the Umoji Association, attracting outside attention when needed.
In collaboration with Manda Wilderness and the Provincial Tourism Department, the villagers have direct management rights over their natural resources on both land and lake.
Through clear planning and zoning, the Manda Wilderness communities are able to attract investors to the area, maximise the use of the land they occupy and conserve their natural heritage for future generations.
One of the most significant achievements of the close cooperation between Umoji and the Manda Wilderness Project was that villagers were able to register their communities' land as their own and to declare a conservation area of 120,000 hectares. In 2008, Umoji negotiated vigorously with the government and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) on the details of a new aquatic reserve for Lake Niassa. Umoji leaders are proud of their achievements and receive frequent enquiries from other parts of Mozambique on the work they are doing.
Nkwichi Lodge, the Manda Wilderness Community Trust and the Manda Wilderness Agriculture Project combine to form the Manda Wilderness Project.
The Project is designed to foster true responsible tourism to the benefit of visitors and the local community.