Neno — Traditional Authorities in Neno District have expressed worry with the rate at which deforestation is taking place in the district due to charcoal production.
The chiefs said they are saddened with the way trees are depleting in most forest reserves in the district as communities keep on encroaching the forest reserves with massive charcoal production activities as one way of generating income.
Senior Traditional Authority Symon said he was concerned to see that trees were vanishing in most forest reserves without the forestry department doing much to arrest the situation.
"In the past years my father signed an agreement with T/A Mlauli to establish a charcoal community policing group to control the charcoal production and apprehend all the culprits but government officials disbanded such groups and this has worsened the situation," recalls Symon.
Commenting on the same, T/A Mlauli said he is also concerned with the rate at which trees are diminishing in his area due to charcoal production.
"In my area, most forest reserves have no trees and now I see that those charcoal producers are trekking to other areas like T/As Dambe and Chekucheku as these are the only chiefs remaining with trees," he observed.
Mlauli therefore called on the government officials to intensify charcoal patrols in the district to curb rampant charcoal production.
"I have seen that the forestry department has acquired new vehicles and I would like to ask them to now utilise the vehicles to mount charcoal patrols in order to police this malpractice because if we let this to continue for long, in five years' time, Neno will be a barren district,"said concerned Mlauli. Responding to the concerns, District Forest Officer, Emmanuel Ngwangwa said his department would try as much as possible to work hard so that the trend should be scaled down in order to salvage the remaining forest reserves.
He however, said: "The charcoal policing requires multi-sectroal approach because if you let the forestry office alone, this malpractice cannot end because we face a lot of challenges as a sector. I would therefore, like to urge the chiefs to be in the forefront because the charcoal is produced in their areas."
According to Ngwangwa, some of the eminent problems his office is facing are inadequate personnel and that his office gets a minimum monthly allocation of K83,000 for operation which said was not adequate.
"The recommended ratio of Forestry Extension Worker to population is 1:1,500 and Neno has a population of 107,317 against 23 forestry extension staff giving a ratio of 1: 4,666 which is far above the recommended ratio," said Ngwangwa.
"The money we get is so minimal which mostly suffocates our operations, as for instance for us to mount one charcoal patrol, we require a minimum of K60,000 so if you compare this with our ORT (Other Recurrent Transactions) we get, it means we can no longer manage any office activity," said Ngwangwa.
Currently, Neno district is rated as one of the most charcoal producing areas in the southern region according to a baseline survey conducted by UNDP under the Sustainable Land Management (SLM) project on Shire River basin.
The survey indicated that Neno and Mwanza produce 1,374,457 and 986,988 bags of charcoal respectively per year making a total of 2,361,445 bags per year from the two districts.
It was also estimated that this level of production leads to a net annual deforestation of about 5,000 hectares in both districts.