Organised groups play a vital role in restoring forest cover

By Vincent Nhlema

 

The period, November to March, provide Malawians an opportunity to give back to Mother Nature. It is a time when different players, from both public and private sector, pay special attention to replenishing the bare pieces of land with trees to reduce greenhouse gas effects that continue to harm both human and animal life every year. Forest cover is considered to be one of the most effective mitigation measures against climate change.

A country that was once greatly envied by its natural beauty, is slowly losing that beauty and status through unforgiving men and women who have turned to the forest for their survival in an unsustainable manner.

Poverty (exacerbated by uncontrolled population growth to some extent), has driven many into the forest where they terrorize the seemingly ‘voiceless’ nature. When they are cut down, trees don’t produce any word of complaint except the sound of their mighty fall, which sometimes receives ‘applause’ from the deforesters. When a mighty tree falls with a mighty sound, the one holding the axe feels a sense of achievement, with no regard to the long term effects of such actions.

It is not surprising today to hear outcries from different quarters of society on how climate is negatively impacting their livelihood. Climate has greatly changed over the past two decades.

Farmers complain of unreliable rainy seasons that are mostly characterized by sporadic rainfall patterns and increased pests and diseases affecting the very small yields which have survived minimal rains. This has resulted in reduced yields for most households. They do not have enough food to take them throughout the year.

Towns and cities are equally affected. Rivers and dams no longer hold enough water. This has made it difficult for water providers to meet water demands for the growing population. The catchment areas have been robbed of their greenery. They have been left bare.

With reduced water in rivers and streams, Lake Malawi has equally been affected. Water levels in the lake continue to decrease each passing year. Those that depend on electricity for their day to day business are familiar with the problems that the reduced water levels of Lake Malawi has brought upon their life and business. No need for a reminder.

Almost everyone and every sector is affected with the effects of climate change and global warming.

If this is what climate change can bring on human life, how much attention then should humans pay to the environment? Should they just ignore it and hope things will turn around for the better by themselves?

Organized smallholder farmers in Chiradzulu District say ‘NO’ to this question. They have decided to play an active role in restoring the forestry cover in their area to reduce the misery brought on the community by careless cutting down of trees.

Chingozi Afforestation group of Group Village Head (GVH) Ulaya under Traditional Authority (TA) Ulaya, Chiradzulu, have such an inspiring story. They have passion for nature and are jealously guarding it.

Chingozi Afforestation Committee members tending to their tree nurseries

Chingozi Afforestation Committee members tending to their tree nurseries

Established in 2003 with 10 members, now the group has 162 members spread among 7 GVHs. They have tasked themselves with responsibility of restoring nature within their villages with moral support from their chiefs.

“At the moment we are managing three mountains which together form about 40.5 Acres. When we started, the mountains were bare and were being used as fields for crop production. We then worked with the chiefs to chase away the people who used to cultivate there and started planting some trees as well as promoting natural regeneration”, said Nelson Sambani, secretary for the group.

“Today we are proud to see our efforts yielding fruits. The mountain you see here was bare some 15 years ago. It was a farm for some families. But today, it is all covered with trees. Thanks to the initiative of the group you are seeing here”, he continued.

When I looked at the mountain Nelson was referring to, I could not believe that the place was bare a decade and a half ago. It looks well-dressed in greenery and well protected from fire with fire breaks.

Partial view of Chingozi Mountain

Partial view of Chingozi Forest

The group has raised millions of tree seedlings over the years, they have also planted most of those nurseries in homes, schools and other places including mountains but they consider promoting natural regeneration to be the best and most effective option to restoring forests.

“From experience we have noted that promoting natural regeneration is the most effective way of raising a forest. This approach is more effective because such trees have more chances of surviving harsh conditions as they grow from roots that are already well established in the ground. They don’t need watering in dry seasons compared to young nurseries we plant each and every year. The shoots have also shown that they can survive bush fires more compared to young trees planted from seedlings.

The mountains we are talking about have gained the greenery this quick because we focused more on managing the new shoots and supplementary planting of new trees. Our main duty was to weed around such shoots so that they receive sufficient water and sunlight while also protecting them from bush fires. That is what has brought this difference”, said Nelson.

Most soils still have roots that if properly cared for, fresh trees will sprout

The group is also thankful to the National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi (NASFAM), who with support from the Irish Aid have continuously supported the group to get where they are today.

“NASFAM and the Irish Aid helped us with the borehole you the over there. For a long time we struggled to raise nurseries because water sources are at a considerable distance. With this borehole, fetching water for the seedlings is no longer a challenge. In addition to the borehole, they provide us with extension support. We are so grateful," said Nelson

Nelson Sambani - Secretary for Chingozi Afforestation Group

Nelson Sambani - The group Secretary

World Vision, Local Development Fund, the Malawi government have also played very important roles throughout the years. If these organization did not support us, we could not be telling this story today,” added the group secretary.

In Balaka, another group under the NASFAM banner in Senior Chief Chanthunya area is also on the right path in restoring forest cover. In 2017, the then Royal Norwegian Ambassador to Malawi, His Excellency Mr Kikkan Hauge launched that year’s tree planting season at the foot of Kangankundi Mountain. On that day twenty thousand trees were planted around the mountain which at that time was nearing nakedness.

The ambassador challenged the community to own the initiative by highlighting that benefits from such initiatives would serve the community

The word of advice did not land on deaf ears. The community responded positively and they equally have a beautiful mountain that has regained its glory. Today, just like Chingozi group, Kangankundi group is well established with necessary community by-laws that guide usage of the mountain. They have five GVHs who have been tasked to look after the mountain by managing regeneration as well as resupplying spots that suffered great devastation.

As one way of getting some immediate benefits from their afforestation efforts, both groups have placed beehives all over the mountain from which they collect honey. Some money from honey sales help in meeting some management costs.

One of the many colonised beehives in Kangankundi forest

James Jambo, Assistant Forestry Officer for Balaka District acknowledges that deforestation is a big problem in the area.

He said, “Balaka mostly experiences two extreme climates. There are some years when the area receives too much rain that leads to flooding, sweeping away most of the crops; and in most years there is drought. Both extremes leave most households desperate for food hence turning to forests for survival. This has led to high deforestation rate which is at around 75-80 percent at the moment.”

If we could have more self-motivated organized groups like the two from Balaka and Zomba with commitment to restoring the environment, may be Malawi will have a different story with regard to climate change in the next decade or two.