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Disasters that brought back lost trees

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SUSUWERE—We are seeing multiple benefits

Across the country, Malawians have been planting trees to clothe deforested stretches with green cover once again.

But only a few of the planted saplings make it to ‘adulthood’.

Residents of Dokotala Village in the area of Senior Chief Mpama in Chiradzulu have taken it upon themselves to replenish the depleted woodlands and care for the trees until they can stand strong on their own in their wild spaces.

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Their target is the bare Lisawu Hill within their location.

Group Village Head Dokotala says the idea of coming together as a community to start conserving natural resources in the area was triggered by several nature-related challenges such as droughts and floods.

The chief says some years ago, when the wooded area was being manned by the Forestry Department, things started getting worse as locals wildly rushed to the hill to cut down trees for firewood.

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He believes forestry officials received bribes to allow the wanton cutting down of trees that heavily mutilated the once thick hill.

“In my area, in the 1980s, people were growing a lot of peas but the harvest began to decline due to soil degradation as waters rushed from the bare hill across crop fields, taking away the top soils,” Dokotala recalls.

He adds that the area also lost a lot of moisture and eventually began being blanketed in clouds of dust blowing from several directions including the hill itself.

“During the rainy season, rocks used to roll down in the flash floods and posed threats to people’s lives and property,” the local leader says.

After seeing that the destruction on the hill had reached devastating levels, the community asked for permission to have the reserve in their care.

That push led to the formation of a forest committee that went to work right away.

They formed by-laws that laid out heavy penalties for anyone cutting trees on the hill.

“The by-laws are helping. Anyone found cutting trees in this community reserve is charged a hefty penalty to deter others with similar intentions. The fines often come in forms of money which is then used to purchase more seedlings to plant in the forest,” he says.

Stumps that were visible across the forest reserve are now being hidden by the regenerating scions above them.

Rivulets which could dry up days after the rains stopped falling are back to life, brimming with racing waters that moisten fields downstream.

Flocks of sparrows and other types of birds regularly swarm the skies of Dokotala Village from their protected comfortable homes.

The flourishing trees are also giving back their branches to women in search of firewood.

There, too, are also hives swarming with bees that seem to be having it easy to take the nectar into the beehouses.

Elson Kananji, who chairs the community forest committee, says the protected woodland is giving back to the people who take care of it.

Bee keeping is big business. We are making money that is improving our socioeconomic status,” Kananji says.

Gladys Susuwere, who is also taking part in the conservation ventures, says her family is able to fetch firewood, from dry tree branches, within a short distance.

“After the forest got decimated, we had to travel long distances to get firewood. That is no longer the case,” she says.

In dark enclaves of the forest, the base of the trees and the decaying leaves, mushrooms are also found in abundance.

Susuwere says the fleshy, spore-bearing plants are supplementing food packages in houses of people taking care of the forested hill.

“I want to urge other communities to start conserving or replenishing their woodlands. We are seeing multiple benefits in our area. We no longer experience flash floods,” she says.

Kingsley Amon, another member of the village committee, says in the shadows of the branchy trees of the forest, locals also hunt for bush meat.

He, too, hopes their story will be replicated in several locations across the country where bands of green cover have been wantonly cleared.

Such ventures will also help Malawi in moving to meet United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 13 which urges countries to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

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