Some communities in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, have realized the folly of wanton logging, and are now putting things right. Battered by the effects of frequent drought, destructive winds, and soil erosion, locals in the area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Masumbankhunda, are realizing that their hope lies in reforestation. And it has now dawned on the people that the best way of combating effects of climate change is for them to embark on a tree planting exercise. “The area has been greatly affected by drought and flooding due to cutting down of trees,” said Dishon Chilunje, a local and foreman for Phalazi Catchment area. He admits that the cycle of poverty that residents find themselves in is a self-inflicted problem.
The catchment area, comprising 20 villages, is where the National Local Government Finance Committee (NLGFC) is piloting an Enhanced Public Works Programme (EPWP). The catchment area has been set up so that it can be replenished with trees as one way of dealing with drought and soil erosion that has made the locals food-insecure. “It is no longer the green area we all knew. Most of the land is bare and people are now living from hand to mouth because of poor harvests,” he told a district council meeting. Malawi’s population is now approaching 20 million, yet only 10 per cent of the people are connected to the national power grid. The consequence is that the majority of the people that have no electricity resort to using wood and charcoal as energy for domestic use.
And not surprisingly, Malawi loses about 25,000 hectares of forest annually through unsustainable extraction of wood and forest resources for wood energy. Chilunje said: “Trees are cut for charcoal burning and making kilns to generate income. But the effects have been devastating with droughts, floods and soil erosion being experienced every year.” “Had we known, we would have opted for other means of making money but ignorance has cost us a lot. Life is no longer the same in our community.” Chilunje said, “we are lucky that stakeholders have come to sensitize us to the dangers of cutting down trees wantonly and are supporting us to plant trees on the bare land.” Through the EPWP, communities had established tree nurseries for planting trees in the catchment area in a bid to bring back the villages’ greenish look of the past. As of now, Phalazi catchment has 1,730 seedlings. The target is 20,000 seedlings to be planted on a one-hectare community forest. “We have already started working on the forest and soon we will start planting, including along dams, gardens and all areas surrounding our homes,” Chilunje said.
Although beneficiaries of the EPWP are receiving some cash, nonetheless there is a lot of commitment as the locals have seen the importance of trees in their day-to-day lives. “People have seen the consequences of cutting down trees carelessly,” Chilunje said. One of the beneficiaries of the EPWP, Tereza Bezayi, 40, said life had become unbearable since it was extremely hard for them to find food and other basic needs. Bezayi said many of the people in her community were poor and could not manage to buy farm inputs such as fertilizer to enable them to realize bumper yields. “A bag of fertilizer costs 21,000 Malawi kwacha [about $28],” Bezayi told this writer. “This is beyond the reach of most of us, looking at our financial status.” “We also don’t have materials to use in manure-making. No wonder these problems we are facing today seem to have no end.” Another beneficiary, 38-year-old Madalitso Banda said it was not about the people benefiting from the EPWP project, but them bailing themselves out of their predicament.
Banda said people were feeling the effects of deforestation so much that they were spending most of their time doing piecework just to find food for the day. “It is now survival of the fittest. We hope that what we have started today will rescue us and that we will have a change of mindset after what we are going through,” she said. Lilongwe District Commissioner, Lawford Palani told the meeting that it was encouraging to see communities eager to transform their livelihoods by repairing the environment. Palani said the government and stakeholders were investing a lot in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) but the challenge had been sustainability and ownership. He said climate change had affected a lot of nations, adding that it was therefore very encouraging to see a community coming forward to correct their wrongs. He added that the government through the council would do everything to support the community to derive maximum benefits from the project. To show their commitment, communities have also dug ditches and constructed marker ridges for rainwater harvesting to increase moisture retention for crops. Phalazi catchment area has 114 beneficiaries, of whom 82 are women while 42 are men. It is also expected that the ultra-poor will benefit immensely. As deforestation has a negative effect on any country’s development, people of Chimphakati must be commended for the steps they have taken to right their wrongs. And the example people of T/A Masumbankhunda have set is worth emulating if Malawi is to develop.