Encroachers cultivating chamba (cannabis sativa) in Dwambazi Forest Reserve were on Saturday taken by surprise when officials from Nkhotakota Forestry Department destroyed their illicit plant.
The 36 600-hectare forest reserve, which was gazetted in 1996, has fallen prey to encroachers.
Attempts to drive out the encroachers, particularly from traditional authorities Kanyenda and Kafuzira, have proven futile in the recent past.
Saturday’s operation was jointly conducted with armed game rangers.
During the exercise, hundreds of hectares of chamba were destroyed while other crops such as beans, soya beans and maize were also slashed down.
In an interview after the exercise, Nkhotakota district forestry officer George Zibophe expressed displeasure, saying the forest has turned into a hotspot for chamba cultivation.
“There are many factors compelling these people to encroach the forest. One of them is fertility as the soil is rich in mineral salts; hence, they cultivate without fertiliser.
“Second, they are able to cultivate during summer because the soil retains moisture.”
The reserve borders Mzimba District to the west where encroachers have also cleared vast hectares of land for chamba cultivation.
A 2009 Nkhotakota District Social Profile says Dwambazi Forest Reserve has 145 encroaching households that took up an estimated 283 hectares.
The forest reserve, which boasts indigenous vegetation, is one of the largest water catchment areas in the district where rivers such as Dwambazi originate from.