Blantyre rural area has evolved into a corroborative community project to replenish the depleted hills and river banks with trees, reports Deogracias Benjamin Kalima:
To say that Malawi has been hit by deforestation is an understatement. This south east African country has been severely deforested that it ranks second in deforestation activities on the continent. The situation is getting so alarming that citizens have started making their own initiatives to restore the forest cover.
Getting to Milli and Msambuzi villages in the northern outskirts of Blantyre, the commercial hub of Malawi, one would easily notice the bare hills. The rivers and streams around the area are no longer keeping water nor moisture. This according to the group village chief is due to massive deforestation which has been occurring in the area for the past two decades.
“The forest cover in our area has been diminishing over the years as people felled it for various domestic uses like fuel wood and roofing poles for newly constructed houses or rehabilitated ones,” says Amini Saidi the village chief.
Saidi says the consequences of deforestation in his areas are now visible for everyone. As one example he mentions the drying up of all rivers and streams around the area, which has affected livelihoods of many local residents. Most people in the catchment area of 10,000 people are subsistence farmers who depend on winter cropping for earning income from crops like tomato, onion and sweet potato. All these crops are grown along these rivers and are irrigated with the river water.
However, Saidi says the the current challenges have made the community to start implementing measures aimed at mitigating the impacts. Since 2017, local residents have started to reforest and restore indigenous forests around the area which covers about two square kilometers.
As a community they sat down and planned how to implement the programme. A committee of ten members was set up to oversee the implementation of the programme. Among the selected people, six are women. It is women who are in majority, while at the same time the same women are suffering the most when it comes to fetching water and fuel wood for domestic use.
One of the women actively participating in the afforestation programme is Eunice Nandolo, who says they have so far managed to produce 7,000 indigenous tree seedlings which have all been planted, and about 3,000 have survived.
Nandolo, the 27 year old mother of two, says that they are especially thankful to three families who gave up their land along the main river channel to be turned into a community forests, showing their commitment to combating the effects of climate change.
“We are grateful to the families who gave up their pieces of lands so that we can turn them into community woodlots that are being replanted with indigenous trees, while at the same time taking care of sprouting or regenerating ones. By doing this, we hope that we will be able to have a full forest one day and in the end mitigate the negative effects of deforestation,” Eunice said.
Another member of the committee, Bonongwe Nyamulani, 33, says at first it was only committee members who devoted their time to the re-afforestation efforts, but after some time more people started joining them as they moved from one hill to another, so they could appreciate their noble efforts.
Nyamulani adds that this year as a community they have formulated and passed stricter regulations aimed at deterring people from destroying nature, like for example by starting harmful bush fires.
Nyamulani says: “One of the problems we have been encountering since we have started our project were bush fires, which have been uncontrollably started by some people hunting rabbits and guinea pigs. This led to loss of young trees which couldn’t survive the fire. However, with the stricter bylaws in place, this year we have not reported any bush fires.”
Apart from replanting and allowing regeneration of trees, the community also created firebreaks on the hills to control bush fires. Firebreaks are cleared paths of about two meters wide, which are made around the forests. According to Saidi, firebreaks help when fire breaks out, because it does not cross on the other side. This way firebreaks help control the fire and protect the vegetation on the other side.
Saidi also adds that for their re-afforestation efforts to reach where they are, they are grateful to their Forestry Extension Officer, Glory Kalawo, for the expertise on setting up the tree nursery and processing tree seeds before planting.
“From Kalawo’s expertise, we have learnt on how to prepare for planting tree seeds. For instance, we now use ash, soil, animal dung manure and partially cut tree seeds for our tree nursery. The partially cut seeds allow for faster germination and quicker growing.”
On her part, Kalawo, who has been working as a forestry extension worker for 17 years now, commends people of Milli and Msambuzi villages for their commitment to dealing with challenges they are encountering. As this is what is needed in most rural farming areas of Malawi, where the impacts of climate change have been severe.
Nandolo says that the next on their plan is starting beekeeping in the forests and concentrating on fruit trees likes mangoes, sugar apple and oranges because in most households and forests, fruit trees are growing rarer and this initiative should address the problem.
She says through this, they hope to increase numbers of fruit trees in the area and improve the uptake of fruits which are known to contain vitamins good for human body.
“We hope that by providing fruit tree seedlings, we will help improving people’s nutrition status as they will be able to get Vitamins A and C through the increased uptake of fruits,” Nandolo says.
If more communities were to put the same effort like what people in Milli and Msambuzi villages are doing, surely the impacts of climate change would be mitigated in the long run.