Mango Trees under Threat of Depletion in Malawi’s Shire Highlands
If there is a fruit that you will find in all parts of Malawi regardless of climatic conditions, then it is mango. This juicy tropical fruit, which is believed to have been introduced to the country by the Arabs traders in the 18th century, is the most common seasonal fruit in Malawi. Apart from being used by big food manufactures to produce fruit juices and chili sauces, local people enjoy the ripe fruit which gives off a distinctive resinous, sweet smell.
Scientifically known as Mangifera Indica, the mango tree that produces fruits in summer months has been a source of food and income for some rural households for many years. The mango trees are planted either at home grounds or on the farming fields where they offer shelter from the scorching sun to farmers during early season farming activities.
However, recently there has been a worrying trend of felling mango trees down for various reasons. The main reason why trees are cut down is to use them as firewood when baking soil bricks.
Fransisco Bisani is a brick supplier from Lunzu, an area outside Blantyre city. Fransisco has been in this business for over ten years and on average produces about 200,000 bricks, which he sells mostly to commercial entities and individuals construction ventures. He admits that his business consumes a lot of wood and that nowadays he struggles to find enough trees because majority of trees in the area are felled already.
“I have been doing this brick business for ten years and it has been providing me and my family with a living, however, these days we are struggling to find fuel wood nearby because there are not enough trees left, so we even buy mango trees which were not felled previously,” says the father of four.
Bisani knows that he is contributing to environmental degradation with his business, but he has no alternative way of earning a living apart from moulding and burning bricks, which he describes as a lucrative business that enabled him to build five houses and educate his children.
I know this business is contributing to deforestation in this area, but there are no alternative ways of earning money from which I can support my family.— Fransisco Bisani
Previously people would only use indigenous trees for baking bricks and producing charcoal, but with most indigenous trees being depleted now, exotic trees are being used instead. However, the fact that fruit trees like mangoes and others have increasingly become victims of this practice is especially worrying, as explained by Benson Kwapata, a forestry officer with Malawi Government:
“As a country, we are already losing our forest cover at an alarming level, but this latest development of cutting down fruit trees is worrying and retrogressive.” He mourns.
Kwapata explains that if this trend will continue, the country will lose a lot of mango trees in the long run, which apart from deforestation will also affect nutritional intake of most people as they will lack proteins, vitamins and nutrients available in the fruit.
If government were to promote the use of cement blocks and soil stabilized bricks, the depletion of the mango trees would get under control.
The only way out of this situation is switching from the use of burnt bricks that consume a lot of fuel wood to environmentally-friendly soil stabilized bricks and cement blocks. They are even more sustainable than the burnt bricks.— Benson Kwapata
On its part, government is gradually phasing out the use of burnt bricks, saying it has seen how bad the practice has contributed to the depletion of the forest cover in the country.
Speaking in an interview, spokesperson for the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, Sangwani Phiri said that since 2014, all construction projects funded by the government are executed with sustainable building materials.
As our part of conserving the environment, all government construction projects are carried out by using soil stabilized bricks and cement blocks, which are more durable and environmentally sustainable. In this way, we are saving thousands of trees which could have been felled down.— Sangwani Phiri
When asked what his ministry is doing to ensure that the use of cement blocks and soil stabilized bricks is adopted by all people, Phiri said that at the moment the government is working with all stakeholders to see how they can come up with affordable and sustainable alternatives.
“Government is committed to making sure that sustainable construction alternatives are available to local people. However, we are still in the process of consulting the matter with relevant stakeholders to come up with solutions that suit all people.” he said.
Meanwhile, thousands of trees, including mangos, continue to be felled down for the use as fuel wood for brick kilns as more and more people embark on construction projects.