Case study on river management: Kafue Flats | WWF
© WWF / Richard C.V. JEFFERY

Case study on river management: Kafue Flats

Fishing village on flats, Kafue Flats Zambia.

Case study on river management: Kafue Flats

Fishing village on flats, Kafue Flats Zambia. rel= © WWF / Richard C.V. JEFFERY

Kafue Flats are the vast, open floodplain of the Kafue River, covering some 6,500km² within the wider basin of the Zambezi River.

Socio-economic importance
The area is important for fishing, cattle grazing, sugarcane farming, and production of hydroelectric power.

Zambia's water and hydroelectric power potential are of great importance to the national economy and to the regional economy of southern Africa.

The Kafue Gorge hydroelectric power plant, situated at the eastern end of the Kafue Flats, is the country's largest power station, providing more than 50% of Zambia's electricity needs.

A surplus of 431 MW is exported to neighbouring countries, such as Zimbabwe and South Africa.

To keep pace with demand, the Kafue Gorge power plant has needed more water than was available from the Kafue Gorge Dam.

Consequently, a second storage reservoir (the Itezhi-tezhi Dam) was constructed at the western end of Kafue Flats. This allows for the release of sufficient water to maintain maximum power generation throughout the year.

On the south-eastern side of Kafue Flats, near the town of Mazabuka, there are several sugarcane farms, each of which cultivates huge areas of land.

These farms produce the majority of Zambia's sugar for local use and export. Each farm relies heavily on water from the Kafue River for irrigation, while nutrient-rich effluent is discharged back into the river, contributing to the proliferation of many aquatic plants, including the problematic water hyacinth Eichornia crassipes.

Traditionally, the people of Kafue Flats have made a living by fishing and grazing livestock. Until recently, the area was sparsely populated but this is changing as many people arrive in search of work, for example on sugarcane estates. This has promoted illegal hunting and overfishing. As a result, certain parts of the Flats are suffering from increasing human pressure.