Charles Jekete hails from Malingunde in Traditional Authority Masambankhunda on the edge of the deforested Dzalanyama Reserve, the sole source of tap water for Lilongwe City.
He is one of rural young Malawians whose colourful dream to go to university vanish due to poverty affecting their families.
Jekete scored 26 points in Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations in 2016, but higher education eluded him—shattering his goal to become a nurse. Unfortunately, his family could not afford private colleges.
Last year, luck seemed to have smiled at the unskilled young Malawian as he was among the beneficiaries of the Malawi Youth Forest Restoration Programme in his area.
This is a government initiative launched in 2018 to economically empower the youth through wages in exchange for planting and managing trees in their localities.
He explains: “Last year, our village head called for a meeting to sensitise the youth to the forest restoration programme. We then formed youth groups and things turned out even better for me. “I was chosen coordinator of all youth groups in Malingunde. I thought I would never play such a role, but I managed.”
Today, Jekete says his life has improved.
He says: “Our task was to plant tree seedlings in degraded areas and manage them to grow. With the money received from this initiative and after selling some seedlings.
“I bought two goats and three beehives. I am now in honey production business. I now make K45 000 a month from honey sales.”
The dream he thought was far gone and dead will soon become a reality, thanks to the youth programme.
“I am now planning to go to college next year, thanks to the money raised from this forestry management programme,” he explains.
According to the National Statistical Office, Malawi has a youthful population.
About two thirds of the country’s population of 17.6 million are under the age of 24.
Despite the productivity potential of the 18-35 years’ age group, they are largely unemployed.
The youth empowerment initiative is one of the country’s commitments to the Africa Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (Afri100), says principal forestry officer Tangu Tumeo. He coordinates the initiative.
“Through the initiative, Malawi committed to restore 100 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by 2030,” he says.
The reforestation drive is helping tackle youth unemployment.
The activities involved include land preparation, digging of holes, actual tree planting, pruning, weeding and construction of firebreaks.
The programme has helped forest cover in settlements surrounding Dzalanyama Forest Reserve, where massive deforestation has left rivers silted and dry.
Lilongwe Water Board fears that taps in the capital city may dry as early as 2021 if the loss of forests to illegal logging, charcoal production and new farmlands continues unabated.