To the question: “How can Malawi save Dzalanyama from its imminent exhaustion in 10 years?” Malawians should be pardoned for responding: “Just enforce a strong ban on charcoal production in the reserve”.
Since 1922, the year Dzalanyama was gazzetted, enforcing a ban on charcoal production in the reserve has always been the immediate solution on the table. However, the continued scale of Dzalanyama’s destruction is a potent symbol that the solution has either failed or it is wanting.
To mean new thoughts need to emerge if Dzalanyama is to be saved from elimination.
For Kosaku Onaka, a Jica policy adviser for forest conservation, the journey to saving Dzalanyama needs to start with a strong public awareness about the scale of the problem.
“I am sure most Malawians are aware that Dzalanyama is facing a serious problem of human encroachment.
“But I am sure that very few Malawians have an idea of the scale of the problem at the reserve. We need, in the first place, to start a nationwide discussion over this so that everybody has a complete idea of the problem,” he says.
After a two-day tour of the reserve—which is part of Onaka’s quest to raise public awareness—a visibly shocked Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, Atupele Muluzi, barely made specific commitment as to what, basically, government would do to save the forest.
“The situation in Dzalanyama is worrisome. A ‘no action’ or ‘business as usual’ is disastrous. We need to take action and, in fact, now because the area benefiting from Dzalanyama is so vast,” he says.
It is possible to understand Muluzi’s failure to commit to specifics. Saving Dzalanyama—a reserve that cuts across livelihoods of thousands—can be a complicated process.
Just to point out, a 2014 study by Jica-supported Dzalanyama Forest Conservation Project shows that charcoal and firewood production are the major drivers of the reserve’s destruction.
“Regarding the role in value chain related to charcoal, people in surrounding communities are mostly producers. Those from urban areas, on the contrary, are basically retailers,” says Onaka.
Stopping those behind charcoal production, therefore, appears to be the immediate solution to the production. However, just like Muluzi, Onaka underlines enforcing the ban on charcoal production in the reserve is not as easy as it sounds.
“You have almost 10 000 households living around the reserve whose income from charcoal business accounts for 70 percent of their total income,” he says.
He adds: “Almost 40 percent of the communities living around the reserve whom we interview think that the main function of Dzalanyama to them is wood production, including charcoal and firewood production, which are the two main causes of deforestation.”
Thus, communities sorrounding Dzalanyama do not find anything wrong with encroaching on the reserve for charcoal and firewood production.
So what needs to be done?
Government, according to Muluzi, is fully aware of the conservation needs of the reserve.
“The problem has already been discussed at the highest level from the viewpoint of sustainable water supply to the capital.
“The Department of Forestry is also addressing the development of a conservation plan for Dzalanyama in collaboration with various stakeholders funded by Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) and Global Environmental Facilities, Small Grant Programme (GEF),” he says.
However, Onaka says Dzalanyama needs an urgent intervention; otherwise, the problem will reach unproportional levels.
“From the survey we carried, to save the reserve, Malawi needs to scale law enforcement to suppress illegal activities, especially the destructive charcoal production in the forest reserve in collaboration with surrounding communities,” he says.
Onaka adds that there is need to establish a safety net system for surrounding communities to sustain their livelihood through other businesses instead of illegal activities in the forest reserve.
What Onaka advances are solutions that demand a lot of money to be implemented to fruition. As noted by Muluzi, efforts to enforce the law, before, were always hampered by government’s lack of funds.
Though government has not made any commitment to increase its monetary support to the Department of Forestry, Onaka proposes the establishment of a financial mechanism based on the consensus of various stakeholders.
“We had a similar problem in Japan. However, we created a concerned group which met with various stakeholders—especially those likely to be affected if the problem persists, to raise funds for supplementing government’s shortfalls.
“I should believe that there are a number of companies in Lilongwe whose production could be directly or indirectly affected if Dzalanyama exhausts. I believe if such companies can make small commitment to the cause, we can, at least, complement government in this noble cause,” he says.