When Friday Shaker sounded the alarm on rampant deforestation at Mua Livulezi Forest Reserve in Dedza District in 2021, the hope was that those responsible for the irresponsible actions would be stopped in their tracks. However, as our reporter THOMAS KACHERE reports, things are getting worse.
Malawi’s forests continue to be on the axe edge due to overreliance on biomass for energy, timber for construction as well as agriculture for food and animal production.
On top of that, the country’s population is growing unsustainably, exerting more pressure on forest resources.
More than 96 percent of Malawian households rely on firewood and charcoal as their primary cooking fuels, with more than 75 percent of people in urban areas relying on charcoal, which the Department of Forestry cites as the most significant driver of deforestation and forest degradation nationally.
These factors have resulted in trees in the once mighty Mua Livulezi Forest Reserve in Dedza District being reduced to stubs.
When we visited the forest reserve, we found charcoal producers and wood fetchers busy at work, felling trees to the ground one at a time.
Gazetted as a forest reserve in 1924, the 12,644-hectare Mua Livulezi Forest Reserve lies on the southern border of Dedza District.
Unfortunately, a lot of trees are illegally axed to feed the growing appetite for wood and charcoal.
Resources from the forest are usually supplied to surrounding districts, notably Salima, Ntcheu, Lilongwe and Balaka, for cooking and timber.
Gilbert Allan of Golomoti Village has been depending on proceeds of charcoal production from Mua Livulezi Forest Reserve for some time.
He acknowledged that his actions might have contributed to deforestation in the protected area, notably through charcoal production, a business he has been in for 10 years now.
Allan said charcoal production has been his only source of income, irrespective of its negative effects on the environment.
“We calculate the time well, more so because we know the time when forestry [department] personnel conduct patrols in the forest reserve.
“Sadly, when the law enforcers catch any of us, we are subjected to beatings or taken to police, where we pay money to be released,’’ he said.
He said, to win the battle against charcoal production, the government should give them capital to venture into business.
Dorothy Chauma, Chairlady for Kafulama block, Traditional Authority Kachindamoto, lamented that charcoal producers have become so clever that they now use cellphones to communicate with each other when they see members of Kafulama block patrolling the area.
Chauma said the group is trying its best to protect the forest reserve from invaders.
“It is not easy to protect forest reserves but we, as a group , are trying our best. We are protecting sprouts so that they can fully grow and provide ground cover as before,” she said.
Chauma hailed some traditional leaders who, she said, are mobilising their subjects in forest conservation initiatives.
“As for us, we do patrols every Monday because it pains us that charcoal producers still want to deplete the very few trees that are standing in the forest reserve. We have also constructed a nursery of trees in Kanyera Village, where we want to plant the trees,” the chairlady said.
Chauma said the battle against deforestation in the reserve cannot be won if people are not employed or given incentives to man the forest.
She suggested the need to have full-time guards patrolling the reserve because, “the moment we get out of the forest, encroachers rush into it”.
Chauma also blamed people from Mganja area for felling down trees and settling in once-forested areas.
Senior Group Village Bwanali said the fight against deforestation in Mua Livulezi Forest Reserve is becoming a thorn in their flesh because most charcoal producers have no other sources of income with which to support their families.
“Otherwise, I have been doing my level best to sensitise my subjects to the need to protect the remaining sprouts because we need to have protected areas such as this one throughout the country.
“I have also been encouraging people who stay around the forest to plant their own trees and keep their hands off Mua Livulezi Forest Reserve,’’ he said.
He said, as part of such efforts, they planted 5,000 trees in the forest in 2021.
As I entered the forest late in the evening, I saw trucks loaded with tree products, believed to have been stolen from the protected area, being ferried out.
Apart from scraping off the home for wild animals, deforestation has resulted in the drying up of Bwanje Dam, which was constructed using funds from the European Union to feed lower areas with water for irrigation.
This has also affected the irrigation initiative at Bwanje Valley Irrigation Scheme, designed to increase agricultural productivity and food security of rural communities.
When contacted for her comment, Dedza District Forestry Officer Violet Msukwa said she was not in a position to say anything on the issue.
However, Deputy Director of Forestry Ted Kamoto said the battle against deforestation has been tough because people in the country have no alternative sources of energy.
He said many Malawians rely on biomass for cooking and that those that use electricity and gas for cooking are very few, which is an indication that there is more work to be done.
“We, as a country, need to act quickly and make sure that those that are promoting the use of alternative sources of energy reach out to those that are using charcoal and other unsustainable sources of energy. Otherwise, we will keep on losing forestry resources at a faster rate than we can replenish them,” Kamoto said.
Every year, world leaders converge at the Conference of the Parties and other fora to discuss climate issues.
One of the things that have a bearing on the climate are trees, which, unfortunately, are falling to the ground in droves in Mua Livulezi Forest Reserve.
This is despite that United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number 13 aims to encourage states to take urgent action to “combat climate change and its impacts”.
The problem is, geographical features such as Mua Livulezi Forest Reserve may be local, but the climatic effects of destructive activities there are global in nature.
This means, if rhetoric on environmental protection is not translated into action, Malawi and the world at large could be doomed.