Safari in Malawi – The Ethical Way


It won’t change the world, but will it help create a platform for people supporting people and sharing stories in these isolationist times.

Dr Eliza Smith, a previous UQ veterinary graduate argues the affirmative for “Do our ethical convictions need to go on holiday when we do?” – contributing to ‘The Minefield’ podcast conversation of Waleed Aly, Scott Stephens and Maria Koleth.

Listen for the background

Picture yourself and/or your fiscally-able friends or family exploring everything that Malawi – the warm heart of Africa – has to offer. You can do it this year with an award winning tour company, and make a difference to the international work of a University of Queensland born and bred non-government organisation that builds the social security for the country’s poorest in a somewhat surprising way.

The NGO, Kyeema Foundation, empowers communities to be self-sustaining by protecting their income – vaccinating their chickens which represent their currency. The donations you make to the organisation as part of the tour fee will be tax deductable in Australia. The tour company, Crooked Compass, describes their work as uncovering the world’s best kept secrets through small group touring and customised itineraries. Created to inspire, educate and encourage travellers to understand responsible tourism by providing culturally immersive experiences, supporting local communities and projects. Travellers see their destination through the eyes of a local, uncovering the side of a destination they didn’t know existed.

Waleed and Scott play the devil’s advocate and ask if the promise of supporting local economies can truly be realised in new trend ventures like this, or are they just the latest manifestation of the colonial impulse and capitalist agenda?

It depends on the operating partnership. The key to success depends on the triad of the commercial tour company, the locally operating for-purpose community organisation and participating community members all being on the same page. In this case, with the plethora of consumer experiences one can choose to spend money on, why not make it an experience that allows you to see and hear for yourself the riches that different people and places have to offer, with long established, trusted, small organisations that have a vision for connecting and supporting people, rather than dividing and isolating them. The phrase ‘learning exchange’ comes to mind.

We agree with ‘The Minefield’ presenters that whatever one makes of this trend, it does force us to ask the following (and plug why our tour is worthwhile):

What are holidays for?

Surely it is simple – holidays are for rejuvenation. This can be sought through:

1) Physical rest and play. Lounge around and explore Lake Malawi. Tick.

2) New explorations of place and connections with people. Take part in KYEEMA project village visits where you can opt to spend the day with a local. Tick.

3) A changed pace and mental space for reflections, different to the ones that your current everyday life may provide. Explore Liwonde National Park (the quintessential safari part) and Ntchisi Forest Lodge (the last remaining indigenous rainforest in Southern Africa). Tick.

What ethical considerations ought to constrain trips to remote and overseas communities?

Firstly, the accommodation experience for the tourist must not reflect the ever increasing inequality divide. The tourist must be accepting that the accommodation will not be high luxury that aims to provide every experience you could wish for on holiday within its walls. On this tour the accommodations have been carefully chosen to reflect an unmistakable genuine African aesthetic and warmth, whilst at the same time ensuring comfort and security. Opportunities for meeting the actual people must be provided. Both local and tourist must understand the purpose and expectations of such a venture. This must come about first by local community consultation on their needs and wants for participation, coming to agreement on realistic terms of involvement and consent for all activities (including photography if allowed). Finally, an ethos and terms of conduct should be drawn up and presented to all tourists wanting to participate in a particular venture. An acknowledgement and understanding of the privilege that a tourist holds to actually be in the position to spend money on an overseas rejuvenating experience and an agreed upon shared intention for using that privilege for good would be ideal.

More about Malawi: what’s the sell?

Apart from the legendary Malawian friendliness, what captures you first about this vivid country is its geographical diversity. It is widely predicted to be the next big safari destination. Read more here to understand why.

More about KYEEMA work: How can chickens provide social security?

Most people in Australia simply cannot fathom how chickens can be so important to someone’s livelihood. AUD $15-$20 allows a household to buy 2 hens, a rooster and protect their birds from production limiting disease for a whole year. Our model of sustainable disease control encourages people to make an investment in vaccinating each of their chooks at about 10c per bird three times a year through advocacy campaigns and training and supporting locals to make a business in vaccinating birds using locally made vaccine. In our experience, this makes a much greater (and more sustainable) contribution to the local economy and sense of pride than chicken give-ways and free vaccine drives. As their flocks grow, the chicken meat and eggs can be sold for school fees, medical fees, more diverse household diets, reliable household energy and, more often than not, more investment in the health and husbandry of their birds to further improve their business opportunities and quality of life. In this way, we hope our work with Newcastle disease control to be obsolete in endemic areas of Africa – but we have a long way to go yet. We work with women and children, as well as disability or HIV and AIDs affected households because of the place of chickens in these communities (they are traditionally cared for by women and require less resource and time inputs compared with other livestock) and because of the incredible nutritional benefits their eggs and meat can provide to those with little access to nutrient dense or diverse crop foods.

So, no – we ain’t gonna help you change the world by coming on this tour, but we can help you connect with something bigger and create the environment for your rejuvenation and their improved resilience in these hard times. And one thing is for certain, this country and its people will surely make your heart smile.

For more information visit:

Contact 1300 855 790 Lisa Pagotto

Or Dr Eliza Smith

Looking for more ways to ensure you are supporting ethical travel? Read our Sustainable Tourism Policy.