Lilongwe — In the middle of Kakungu community lays a blossoming small forest of acacias trees.
During dry season, the young forest stands as an island of green on a sea of brown.
It was planted in 2014, as one of the ways of addressing the impacts of climate change that the community was grappling with.
With any random walk through the village, you see numerous of these trees spread around the area.
You see them in the backyard of houses, along the pathways, or standing as boundaries for fields.
They are in varying sizes, the trees. Some already flowering, others, just beginning to take shape.
The shade underneath the forest is enticing. One is easily tempted by the prospects of fresh breezes in the midst of the scorching sun.
After all, aside from the forest and the other acacias trees spread around the area, the village does not offer a great deal of other trees.
The confessions of the people here speak of an even bleak situation five years ago. They say there was no shade to hide under when the sun screamed.
They talk of the amount of time and energy women and girls spent sourcing firewood from far-away places, and how this affected other aspect of their livelihoods.
When Plan International Malawi came, they realized that the numerous factors that affected their agricultural productivity were being exacerbated lack of trees in the area.
As we sit under one of the trees in the small forest savoring at the fresh air, Arnold Njolomole takes us through his hindsight.
He said he was able to make sense of the ordeals that the community faced before they started planting trees.
He explained as to why he and other members of the community got encouraged to start the initiative.
Njolomole pointed out that they were made to realize that re-afforestation could help address the impacts of climate change that the area was facing, which negatively affected their agricultural productivity.
According to him, farming was the core of the livelihood of the people and it gets affected, it triggers a slippery slope that affects almost all aspects of their lives.
Children fail to go to school because due food shortage and the family cannot afford other necessities. Girls become worst casualties as they become more vulnerable to pregnancies, forced and early marriages.
"We were facing a lot of problems emanating from climate change. For instance, soil erosion was rampant. Every time rain came, it carried with it the soil from up here and deposited it in Mbabvi River, affecting its ability to conserve water," Njolomole said.
As he takes us back to 2014, he said that it was the community's initiative to engage Plan International for support, after resolving to embark on afforestation as a solution to the challenges. The organization duly supported the community with skills and necessary materials such as seeds and polythene tubes.
"We noted that these impacts were affecting our livelihoods in many ways. As a community, we decided to try afforestation as a way of conserving the environment as a solution to these problems. We then approached Plan International for support," Njolomole said.
Forestry Extension Worker for the area, Smart Kampango said together with other initiatives, the community's efforts to conserve the environment are already reaping results.
The other initiatives include those aimed at discouraging people from cutting trees for charcoal burning and firewood.
"Apart from this forest that is owned by the whole community, every individual in here takes the initiative to plant trees around their houses and fields. There are more trees in this area now as compared to 2014. As a result, the area has already stopped experiencing some of the problems it used to face, such as soil erosion," he said.
The community's initiative to plant trees is part of the Strengthening Resilience to Climate Change project that Plan International Malawi implemented in the area between 2014 and 2019. The project was aimed at supporting the people of Kakungu to be resilient to the effects of climate change and natural disasters, as a way of improving their livelihoods.
The Project's Manager at Plan International Malawi, Billy Mukwikwi said his organization decided to support the initiative as a way of empowering the community to be resilient to the effects of climate change.
"We noticed how Climate Change has heavily affected the micro-climate and environment of the area, which affected various elements of livelihood for the people including crop productivity," he noted.
Mukwikwi said that, "When we analyzed the situation, we found that most of the problems the area faced were due to the fact that more trees were cut to burn charcoal or use as firewood. As a result, there were frequent soil erosions and run-offs, which heavily degraded the soil. There was an increase in pests and disease infestation due to rising temperatures,"
The first phase of the project may have ended in 2019, but its impacts are set to remain imprinted on the area for a long time.
Kakungu community has managed to plant 49,000 trees. Now, there is no shortage of shade where people can rest and enjoy some fresh air. The trees now give the village a new look.
Some members of the community say they are already able to get some firewood from the trees.
Women are now diverting to other productive endeavors the time and energy they used in going long distances searching for firewood. Others are able to sell some of it to raise money for their households.
Girls are not failing to attend school because their parents cannot afford to provide them with sanitary materials.