Communities in group village headmen (GVHs) Makankhula and Chimamba in Traditional Authority (T/A) Kaphuka in Dedza have restored forest on nearly 50 hacters of land through natural regeneration of indigenous trees, setting a seemingly proactive pace towards recovering Malawi's dwindled forest reserves.
Village headman Malemia speaking during the visit
Part of the restored Kapirimutu forest
According to officials from Environmental Affairs Department (EAD), natural regeneration of indigenous trees is the process of letting the trees' budding stumps (regenerats) to grow to full trees by using the same methods of care and management applied to exotic trees.
Of the restored 50 hacters of forest, about 28 are at Kapirimutu and Ntcheu Hill forest management areas in GVH Makankhula while 22 are at Msongwe Hill forest management area in GVH Chimamba.
For Kapirimutu and Ntcheu Hill, the surrounding community has singlehandedly achieved this over the last decade having been only assisted in 2007 by Total Landcare which taught the community how to look after the trees' budding stumps and helped formulate stiffer by-laws for managing the forests.
At that time, Kapirimutu and Ntcheu Hill had become almost bare due to increased human activities including wanton cutting down of trees for charcoal and firewood business.
When EAD officials accompanied by journalists visited Kapirimutu on Tuesday, Chairperson for Kapirimutu and Ntcheu Hill forests management committee, Village Headman Malemia, did not hide his excitement over the progress they have made and the benefits they are now realizing from the initiative.
"Look, the forests have returned and the wild animals are back as well. We no longer have water problems and collect fruits and mushrooms from the forests. We will continue enforcing strict by-laws for managing these forests to deter any encroachers," he said.
Malemia added that the restoration of Kapirimutu and Ntcheu Hill forests through community mobilisation and cooperation, must be a learning point for many other communities in a country where brutal depletion of the environment is the order of the day.
The village headman also appealed to well-wishers to support his community with more capacity building and materials such as protective gear in their unfaltering efforts to properly manage the two forests and protect them from encroachers.
Assistant Forestry Officer in T/A Kaphuka's area, Emmanuel Kayisala, concurred with Malemia, saying natural regeneration of indigenous trees is indeed the way to go if Malawi must reclaim her diminished forests.
"Regenerats grow faster than exotic trees. They are also resistant to fire," stressed Kayisala.
He said he is linking the Kapirimutu community to relevant stakeholders so that they are supported to address their challenges
On the other hand, Kayisala added that the community around Msongwe Hill, beginning five years ago, is already being assisted by United Purpose on managing and assessing their forest and conserving fields around the forest such as making contour ridges and other conservation measures.
Taking his turn, EAD Chief Environmental Officer, Clement Tikiwa, reiterated that his department is responsible for proper management of the environment in Malawi hence the visit in T/A Kaphuka to appreciate how communities there are fairing in taking care of the environment.
"We are impressed. However, we have noted that the Kapirimutu community lacks a management plan for the two forests, a plan that draws various stakeholders in their activities for managing the two forests. We are seeking to help them in that regard," said Tikiwa.