11 May 2017

Malawi: President's Missing Tree - Retrogressive Indicator to Reforestation

Ntcheu — Before industrialization effected infrastructural development, three quarters of Malawi's land was covered with thick forests and ever flowing streams.

The rainfall cycle was predictable with resultant bumper harvests to those who practiced good farming methods.

"Farming was exciting back then and farmers were assured of the necessary and required rainfall for their crops, and planning ahead was accurate," Senior Chief Makwangwala of Ntcheu recounts.

Today, four decadesdown the line, the once celebrated thick forests are mere bare grounds and some nearly deserts.

Apart from the population boom, overgrazing and industrialization, the malevolent spirit of cutting down trees by human beings is said to be the major contributing factor to the depletion of our great forests.

The department of forestry believes that looking for new areas of settlement and nomadic system of farming are the key driving forces for people to cut down trees unnecessarily.

The forestry office notes that as a means of survival, societies have engaged themselves in illegal charcoal burning and timber making businesses leaving acres of land absolutely bare.

"Charcoal burning starts in the villages and despite our working closely with traditional leaders and the police, monitoring is still our big challenge," Public Relations Officer for the Department of Forestry, Sangwani Phiri explained.

He said the major challenge his office is facing is how to track down people who engage in the malpractice ofwanton cutting down of trees and those in serious charcoal burning.

According to the Forest Department charcoal burning as well as timber making were not forbidden businesses in Malawi but that it only required people to have woodlots and replant cut down trees.

In a quest to save the already degraded land from becoming a certified dessert, each rainy season, from January to April, Malawi embarks on a tree planting exercise where millions of trees are planted.

According to the Forestry Department, over 57 million tree seedlings were planted in the 2015/2016 growing season though only few survived.

"During the 2016/2017 season, we had a target of planting over 60 million treeseedlingsand as of March 31, a total of 42 million treeseedlingswere planted," Phiri narrated, who further adds that many more were expected to be planted.

Despite the numerous tree planting campaigns which are purposely staged to cover bare grounds, little change can be spotted on the ground as thousand acres of land are still plain.

He could not rule out the importance of the tree planting exercise basing on the fact that the change was at a snail's pace says Malawians should not be discouraged by what they see, but rather continue dressing up the bare grounds.

The PRO noted that what is required at the moment is not how many trees are planted but rather how to care for them from the day they have been planted to increase their survival chances.

Phiri appeals to Malawians to develop a culture of caring the already existing forests as well as the newly planted trees.

"What is surprising still is the fact that, regardless of the devastating situations such as flash floods, droughts, power blackouts and water shortages, people continue to ignore the significance of trees and keep on cutting them down" the Forestry Department spokesperson decried.

While presenting the 2016 UNDP Human Resource Development Report which ranked Malawi 170 out of 188 countries in the world, United Nations, Resident Coordinator, Mia Seppo warned that Malawi must at all cost find alternative sources of energy as relying on forests would only yield devastating effects.

"Malawi as a country is having huge challenges with its natural resource especially trees. Many people continue to cut down trees as it is the most dependable source of energy (firewood) government must do its best to stop people from cutting down trees by among others creating other sources of energy," she said.

To mark the official launch of the 2017/2018 tree planting season, the President and more others planted over 1500 trees at Kalambo Primary School in Lilongwe.

In his speech on 100 tree survival rate, President Peter Mutharika had stressed on the need for Malawians to take care of all trees.

"The Director of Forestry says out of all the trees we plant every year 60 percent of the trees survive but this year we want 100 percent survival rate of the trees," the President stated, further adding that planting trees was one thing and caring for their survival was a different thing all together.

Ironically, the very tree Mutharika had planted, along with many more, has gone missing barely four months after it was planted; a decried lack of seriousness and a frustration to the reforestation efforts.

The Malawi leader who described trees as a valuable commodity on earth said the official launch of the tree planting season was his personal pledge of Government's commitment to building a sustainable future for Malawi.

This uncared for and missing trees have raised worries among concerned Malawians as to whether all the trees that are being planted in the country are not suffering the same, if not worse fate.

A resident of Area 25, Peter Jere bemoans the attitude saying it does not require the whole Head of State to be monitoring the trees that have been planted, and that the President's tree should have been specially taken care of as a gesture of commitment to the cause.

"As Malawians we have the responsibility to take care of our natural forest. We don't need the army to remind us of how important trees are to our life. What has happened at Kalambo is sad and should never be repeated," he explained.

Jere added, "I am someone who is very much interested in issues of natural resources and I was saddened to hear that the President has ordered the Malawi defence force to guard Dzalanyama and Chikangawa forests. It is high time we developed a culture of loving our forests."

Reacting to the missing President's tree, the forestry spokesperson said depletion of trees on the foreground of the school was a serious and worrisome scenario.

"Don't tell me that this is true, honesty this is a worrisome situation," Phiri wondered.

The department has since said from November 2017, it will carry out an assessment exercise on trees planted and where necessary develop firebreaks as well as pruning the existing trees.

Head Teacher for the school, Suzan Phiri while admitting that three quarter of the trees planted were dead and uprooted, she blamed it on lack of a brick fence.

She said the school is at an open area and that the trees that were planted were 100 percent prone to by passers.

Phiri said in brief, "As a school we are as well saddened with what happened, it was an honor for us to have a tree planted by the President but unpatriotic Malawians uprooted them all."

The Head teacher said at some point people would challenge the school management and uproot trees on their presence.

Phiri commended the President for the fence which she said would permanently forbid people from passing by the school.

"We should be able to have a vibrant woodlot once the fence is completed," the school teacher explained.

On its quest to ending illegal trading of timber and charcoal, the department of forestry through the ministry of Natural Resources energy and Mining has embarked on a training exercise of forest guards.

By March 2017, over 34 forest guards had completed a training in firearms usage and awaits posting instructions from the department.

It is believed that training of these guards shall continue until the country has adequate number.

Apart from training forest gauds, government is in the process of drafting the charcoal policy which will be a guiding tool towards fighting all illegal charcoal and timber dealers.

Senior Chief Makwangawala of Ntcheu said traditional leaders will not sit and watch people depleting the remaining trees and forest.

He said it is time for the lion to leave his den and show the world that he is the king of the jungle, clearing meaning it is a moment for chiefs to guard against the forest and deal with anyone found depleting trees.

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