It is a sunny Monday morning in Kapeni, an area outside Blantyre city in Malawi. Although it is hot, Nkomo Sikenala is busy in his tree nursery tending to the seedlings, and today he is removing unnecessary plants that have emerged in the tubes where he has planted his seedlings. He says this has been his work for the past 20 years.
“Although it is sunny and hot, but I need to take care of the tree seedlings and am used to it since I started this work some 20 years ago.” He says.
Sikenala, 54, says he had previously worked for the forestry department of the Malawi government as a tree nursery assistant for 10 years where his work included soil selection, tree seed grading, soil selection and packing into plastic tubes, and subsequent nurturing of the tree seedlings. Through the skills he acquired there, upon retrenchment, he established his own tree nursery in his village where he raises a variety of trees which he sells to the surrounding communities and organizations.
Among the tree seedlings he has in his tree nursery are Acacias, Khaya Nyasica, Blue gum, Leucaena, Azadirachta Indica, Gliricidia, and Albizia lebbeck. He also has in stock fruit trees such as mangoes, avocado pears, guavas and pawpaw. Sikenala says at the moment he has over 5,000 tree seedlings in his nursery which are ready for planting.
“As of now, I have 5,300 tree seedlings of various types which are ready for planting. I am just waiting for potential customers to come and buy from me the seedlings.” He says.
According to Sikenala, his regular customers are people who either live in the same area or the surrounding ones. He sells grafted trees at 750 Malawi Kwacha (1 US$) each, while non-grafted fruit trees are sold at 500 Malawi Kwacha (0.70 US$) per seedling. The non-fruit trees, which are mostly used as a cooking fuel for majority of households in Malawi, are sold at 250 Malawi Kwacha (0.30 US$).
Although it is not as much as he expected, he is able to earn some money from it. Sikenala says the only time he makes a lot of money is when he sells tree seedlings to non-governmental-organizations working in the environmental conservation sector, which occasionally buy over 3,500 tree seedlings at once in order to distribute them to farmers in the area.
Recently, the Foundation for Irrigation and Sustainable Development (FISD), a local NGO, which has been contracted by the World Food Programme (WFP) to manage the food for work programme in drought affected areas, bought 3,000 tree seedlings from Sikenala. The seedlings were used to replenish a nearby Kadewere mountain that has suffered from heavy deforestation for several years.
Martha Nyirongo is a forestry extension worker with FISD and she says they felt the mountains needed to be replenished after they lost much of of the forest due to human activities in the area, so they came up with a project, where people are planting and caring for trees in the mountains in return for monthly food pack comprising of 50 kilograms of maize, five kilogram of beans and three liters of cooking oil during the lean period for most rural households.
“Most of the households in rural areas like Kapeni do not have enough food during the lean period which runs from December to April, so we are providing them with food monthly packs, while they work on replenishing the forest cover in their areas.” Says Nyirongo.
She continued to say that they are also encouraging local people on how to take care of indigenous trees by allowing the cut down tree stumps to regenerate. Through this regeneration plan, the mountains are well cleared so as to prevent spreading of bush fires which is the main cause for regeneration failure.
Manessi Ofesi is one of the people involved in tree replanting and regeneration programme. She says replenishing of the mountain will help in combating frequent erosion cases due to the leaving of bare land.
“Since our area is right at the bottom of the mountain, we have frequent cases of erosion. But with the tree seedlings we have planted and the tree stumps we are allowing to generate, we hope to control this in the long run.” Said Ofesi, a 32 year old mother of three who has lived in the area all of her life.
Sikenala is happy that his tree nursery work is being supported by others and hopes that many local farmers will realize the importance of planting trees on their own without waiting for organizations to provide them with seedlings first. He says as of now very few local farmers are buying tree seedlings from him, a situation that he wants to change by subsidizing the price of the tree seedlings to local farmers to encourage them to plant trees around their homes and farming lands.
“There are no trees for most households here, yet all of us here depend on trees for fuel wood, which is forcing most households to buy firewood from the few that have their own woodlots. So to encourage people to plant trees and use them in years to come, I am offering the tree seedlings of selected trees at half the cost.” Sikenala said.
This is a guest post written by Deogracias Benjamin Kalima.
Deogracias Benjamin Kalima is a Malawian journalist based in Blantyre. He mostly report on environment conservation, agriculture, and rural development. His work has appeared in German (journafrica.de), American (earthisland.org) and African (ruralreporters.com) online platforms.