Blantyre — Deforestation and forest degradation account for approximately 17 percent of greenhouse gas emissions that are key catalysts to climate change.
The vice is one of the greatest issues facing Malawians today with its effects conspicuously clear in form of erratic rains, hot climatic conditions, soil erosion and drought, leading to poverty and starvation.
To mitigate the climate change effects, people in Malawi plant trees in large numbers during tree planting season that runs from January 15 to April 15 every year.
However, most of the trees die because once planted people hardly take care of them.
To this effect, in the just ended planting season, Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) engaged learners in primary and secondary schools in tree planting and dangled awards for those that will ensure high tree survival rate.
MRA's Head of Corporate Affairs Steven Kapoloma says the revenue collection body in partnership with Youth Hub introduced the awards in five primary schools in Blantyre's Lirangwe Education Zone to motivate the learners.
"The initiative targets five schools of Ng'onga, Lirangwe, Chigodi, Nsozowa and Marka. Hosts for next year's tree planting season launch will be judged based on survival rate of the planted trees.
"The My School, My Tree, My Future Programme [saw] 2, 500 tree seedlings planted in the five schools involved.
"Our partner Youth Hub shall supervise the schools to ensure that there is high survival rate of the seedlings by watering, weeding, protecting the plants from livestock and human damage," Kapoloma explains.
He says the winning school will receive 1, 500 exercise books while the second and third position schools will get 1, 250 and 1, 000, respectively, after monitoring the trees for two years.
Youth Hub Executive Director Humphrey Kapito says there is a direct link between schools, trees and the future.
Kapito explains that oxygen that people use comes from trees and without it there would be no life.
This, he says, implies that trees protect people as such they need to take care of them for their own benefit.
"The My School, My Tree, My Future Programme is just one among many programmes that our organisation is implementing and if everything goes well we shall extend it to other schools next year," Kapito says.
Blantyre District Forestry Officer Geoffrey Kanyerere says engaging learners in tree planting has long-term benefits because they would develop a culture of protecting the environment from a tender age.
"We shall continue to lead communities across the country in planting trees and ensure people have responsibility over the planted trees for their survival," he says.
"If we can nurture them until they're fully grown, they will one day provide shade and vegetative cover, reduce water run-off, prevent erosion and retain moisture - for the benefit of [everybody]," Kanyerere adds.
He argues that initiatives such as involvement of children in tree planting are not just essential for tackling local problems; but could also contribute towards global efforts of slowing the rate of climate change.
He, therefore, encourages Malawians to take the tree planting season seriously saying it is every citizen's responsibility to manage and restore the degraded environment.
Kanyerere says Blantyre District is facing a seriously problem of loss of vegetative cover because most residents depend on trees for their day to day livelihoods.
"In 2018 the district had a 69 percent survival rate of the trees planted but in 2019 we are eyeing 90 percent survival rate because the district has been given a target of 2.6 million trees," he says.
Kanyerere further says the forestry department is currently empowering communities to effectively take care of trees as planting and management of trees is not the sole responsibility of the forestry department.
President Peter Mutharika launched this year's season at Malingunde in Lilongwe under the theme: 'Plant and manage trees: secure water, food and the environment.'
Speaking during the launch, Mutharika said: "Take the responsibility of planting trees in a bid to restore the environment.
"Trees are a source of life as they provide everything a person needs ranging from preventing soil erosion to bringing rainfall which is crucial for food production."
Mutharika said government will continue encouraging afforestation activities as one factor of conserving water, food and environment.
"It is important to plant and manage trees because they give us food, life and retain water.
"Therefore, there is need for collective efforts in planting and managing trees to have adequate water, food and sustainable environment in the country," he said.
At least 60 million trees were expected to be planted across the country at the end of the season, covering approximately 25, 000 hectares.
Statistics indicate that charcoal producers are greatly contributing to wanton cutting down of trees but many say they are driven to the environmentally destructive trade by poverty.
To this effect, some experts feel there is need to economically empower the poor, especially those in areas bordering forest reserves.
In Malawi, many people depend on fuel wood as a source of energy as reports indicate that less than 10 percent of the country's population has access to electricity.
The country is currently implementing Malawi Rural Electrification Programme (MAREP), a long standing initiative to increase access to electricity in rural areas.
If fully utilized, the programme could be a game changer in fighting deforestation.