There have been many tree planting campaigns in Malawi, but are the efforts bearing fruit. ALBERT SHARRA explores.
When it comes to tree planting, Liviness Mbedza of Nthondo Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Mwadzama in Nkhotakota is a role model. So far, she has planted 5 000 trees during this year’s National Forestry Season running from December 15 2015 to April 15 2016. She plans to plant 1 500 more by the end of the year.
“We are suffering the consequences of serious deforestation,” says Mbedza, adding: “We cannot easily access firewood and timber, hence my resolution to plant as many trees as I can. I am happy that Total Land Care is supporting me.”
Mbedza has planted m’bawa, keisha, nsangu and ntheche tree varieties. She says she chose the varieties because of their potential to provide more firewood and timber.
“I started planting trees with others in groups, but it has not been working. Members are not as committed when it is group work. I want to prove to the nation that it is possible to establish a forest even at family level,” she says.
What Mbedza is doing is proof that the fight against deforestation can be won if each individual takes responsibility to replant trees.
In recent years, Malawi has suffered high deforestation rate, which is estimated at around 2.8 percent per annum, the highest in Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) region, according to the 2010 Malawi State of Environment Outlook.
The country’s ever increasing population threatens to put more strain on the environment.
For the past five years, government has promoted planting of indigenous trees. This year, government said it would plant about 60 million trees.
National tree planting officer in the Department of Forestry, Ronnie Chirambo, said in an earlier interview that the annual deforestation rate has dropped to one percent, not because there is an improvement, but there are few trees remaining.
Forestry experts have argued that the survival rate of the tree seedlings is too little for the replanting exercise to have meaningful impact. According to the 2010 Malawi State of Environment Outlook, only 60 percent of planted trees survive.
Chirambo says government is striving to reach an 80 percent tree survival rate.
In an earlier interview, director of forestry Clement Chilima said despite the afforestation campaigns, Malawi’s forests growth rate remains low.
“It has always been a concern to us that many trees planted die before reaching five years. Most of these are choked by weeds or destroyed by fires while others lack moisture, among many other factors.
“We feel there is need to encourage all stakeholders that plant trees to care for them for at least five years,” said Chilima.
Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (Cepa) executive director William Chadza advises government to make the tree planting exercise more people-centred where communities are empowered and involved in the actual management of newly-planted forests.
“You will realise that many tree seedlings perish after transplanting. In fact, there is often little to no care after the tree planting ceremonies. To me it does not make sense to plant 1 000 trees, which will not survive than to plant 50, which will be managed properly to maturity. So this mentality of just planting to impress must stop,” says Chadza.
The poor survival rate of tree seedlings calls for the need of a special body to coordinate tree planting exercises and ensure those that plant trees take care of them. Our investigations show that there is pride in planting and not the success of the seedlings. Currently, it is the Forestry Department that is responsible for managing and coordinating tree planting.
Village Head Dambo of T/A Kuntaja in Blantyre agrees that many institutions have led tree planting exercises in his area.
“They do not put up a plan of preservation that involves the community and guide them on how they can own the initiatives and care for the trees,” says the chief.
The Nation established that on average, an indigenous tree, such as m’bawa and nsangu costs between K200 and K450, while a fruit tree seedling costs K500 at Agriculture Research and Extension Trust (Aret) or Bvumbwe Research Station.
Thus about K120 billion (calculated at the minimum cost) is spent to plant 60 million trees in a year. Unfortunately, over 30 percent of the tree seedlings do not survive, meaning that about K18 billion goes down the drain.
Rodrick Mulonya, chairperson of Angaliba Foundation, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that has been championing tree planting, says there are gaps in the way organisations work with the communities.
“You do not have to impose [tree-planting] on a community. Make them a part of it and they will own it.
“There are issues of culture and some communities do not believe in keeping some trees in their communities for certain reasons such as that they bring bad omens or are hubs for owls, which are believed to have bad spirits. So we need to ask them and tell them the trees are theirs. If this is done, you will see how much care they will give to the trees,” advises Mulonya.