Malawi is grappling with deforestation, which is going at a faster rate than expected.
Malawi’s President Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika observed when he launched the 2009 – 2010 National Tree Planting Season on December 15, 2009 in Chiradzulu that the country is losing its forests mainly due to the energy needs coming in forms of firewood and charcoal.
President Mutharika planted two seedlings of M’bawa and Nthete to mark the launch of the National Forestry Season before issuing a directive that the Department of Forestry provide tree seedlings to everyone wishing to open woodlots and plant along rivers and streams at no charge.
“This will ensure that more trees are planted during this year’s forestry season,” he said.
When Dr. Mutharika planted the seedlings along Namitembe river near Traditional Authority Nkalo’s headquarters he kick started this year’s National Forestry Season (NFS) which runs from the 15th of December to the 15th of April, 2010 under the theme ‘Conserve Forests and Trees Mitigate Climate Change’.
“It is my wish to see that all the bare land especially on hills, slopes and along rivers and streams is forested throughout Malawi,” declared Mutharika.
He then called on all Malawians to try restoring the environment, which used to be there in the past.
“There used to be different forestry products in this area which I enjoyed during my childhood days,” reminisced Dr. Mutharika, “Long time ago we were able to predict that our first rains would fall around late November… and it used to happen. This is no longer the case today.”
Ever since President Mutharika came to power in 2004, he has tried all the initiatives in the book to try to arrest the run-away deforestation problem by trying different approaches to the tree planting solution.
Initially, there only used to be national tree planting day started by the first President Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, which was continued by his successor Dr. Bakili Muluzi.
Mutharika first started with national forestry week, and then the following year it was national forestry month before he finally settled for the national forestry season.
Unlike in the other seasons, this season there are going to be a number of launches, starting with the one he kick-started called national launch, before other launches to take place at regional, district, constituency, area and village levels.
“My government has intensified the afforestation programme, hence the introduction of the forestry season to enable more individuals, institutions and organizations to plant as many trees as possible,” he said.
At the moment, regional and district tree-planting season launch have been carried out.
National forestry season northern region launch took place at Valamani Full Primary School in Bulukutu Village Traditional Authority Timbiri in Nkhatabay on January 30, 2010.
Gender, Child and Community Development Minister Patricia Kaliati who represented Dr. Mutharika at the ceremony challenged the department of forestry to clean up its house if the war against deforestation is to be won.
This was a reiteration of what Dr. Mutharika had said during the national launch where he had cautioned those benefiting from the free seedlings provision not to abuse the government’s good gesture by selling them
However, Kaliati said on top of abusing the facility, forestry officials allegedly collude with other people in timber and charcoal business to destroy forests, which they are supposed to protect.
“Greed is also defeating all our efforts to afforestate our bare river banks and hills,” she said.
Her cabinet colleague who represented President Mutharika at a national forestry season Rumphi district launch, Deputy Health Minister Theresa Mwale, equally echoed on what Dr Mutharika had said when he appealed to all traditional leaders in the country to join hands with government in encouraging the Malawian population to plant more trees.
Mwale said government has approached the tree-planting season this year in a unique; way as it has also extended the exercise to schools.
“Tree planting is a very important exercise because it is clear that the situation is getting worse as hills continue getting bare,” she said.
Mwale bemoaned that although rainy season allows rivers to hold water but this is not the case at the moment because due to excessive tree cutting, rivers are already dry even when this is rainy season.
Rumphi District Commissioner Rodrick Mateauma said they invited the chiefs around because they have realized that government cannot achieve anything if they try to combat effects of climate change without the involvement of the traditional leadership.
“As a district we have already organised communities in Rumphi who will go flat out planting trees now that it has been launched in the district,” he said.
Since starting from the President, down to the ministers, the involvement of traditional leadership seem to be taking the central emphasis, Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe acknowledged their role on behalf of all the traditional leaders of his district.
He said as leaders, they are aware that rainfall pattern is all indicative of climate change calling for concerted efforts to fight all the negative effects of climate change.
“At the moment you find that there is over dependence on fertiliser when cultivating crops, this has come about because soil erosion that has been caused due climate change as soil nutrients has been swept away,” he said.
Although Mutharika disclosed that his government is exploring other alternatives for energy such as the use of small hydro power stations to ensure that electricity is available in all areas within the affordable means for most Malawians, this looks like not part of solution in the interim.
As things stand, the National Statistical Office (NSO) says out of the country’s 13 million plus population, about 10 per 100 households have electricity.
“Low access to electricity in Malawi is contributing to wanton cutting down of the already few remaining trees for firewood and charcoal processing for energy and these are also increasing deforestation and environmental degradation,” observed Mutharika during the launch.
Mutharika believes that planting trees is the best available option at the moment although there is also a general problem to do with caring for them.
“After planting the trees take care for them and I promise that I will give a reward a community that will plant and care for more trees than others,” says Mutharika.
Natural Resources, Energy and Environment Deputy Minister Ephraim Munthali says conserving our forests and managing them in a sustainable manner therefore, is one way of making Malawi better adapt to these adverse effects and mitigate climate change.
According to the Forestry Department, Malawi is losing 160 million trees against 60 million planted per year (or losing 100 million trees per year).
It is clear therefore that while Malawi has to endure the deforestation headache, it also has to ensure that its re-planting efforts have all the attention needed to ensure that her forests are back with a thick vegetative cover.