The emergency appeal response launched in 2014 for Dzalanyama Forest Reserve (DFR) last Saturday saw hundreds of Malawians that included government officials, police, military officials, private sector, the media and learners defying the dry spell that has hit certain parts of the country to reflect on the state of forests and environment governance in the country.
Wearing golf shirts with messages at the back “Restore Dzalanyama, protect our water”, people assembled early morning at Madzi House, the headquarters of Lilongwe Water Board (LWB), a parastatal that thrives from ecosystem services derived from DFR before embarking on a 60-kilometre (km) drive to restore nature at the reserve.
DFR, which boasts of 989km square of terrestrial ecosystems, is one of the valuable forests when it comes to water supply, food security and economic growth. But, in the past few years, pressure from peripheral communities and unsustainable practices are threatening the longevity of this rich resource.
The reserve is a source of Lilongwe River which supplies water to the capital city and surrounding areas through Kamuzu dams 1 and 2. The catchment area also forms part of the largest agriculture production areas for maize and tobacco in the country. Annual production of maize in Dedza, Lilongwe and Mchinji which border the reserve accounts for approximately 30 percent of the national total yields, according to the Ministry of Agriculture in 2014.
However, this vast rich ecosystem with diverse plant and bird life has come under threat in recent years, a development that called for Emergency Appeal Response from various stakeholders to rescue the situation before it reaches crisis level.
The appeal saw the coming in of players such as LWB and Japanese International Cooperation Agency (Jica). Later, the deployment of the Malawi Defense Force (MDF) soldiers was done to bring sanity and order in the management of the reserve.
Until recently, more private sector involvement is picking up with institutions getting involved in activities such as eco-branding and labelling of bottled water as appreciation of the need to conserve nature.
Top government officials lead by example
Chief Secretary to the Government Lloyd Muhara accompanied by Inspector General of the Malawi Police Service (MPS) Lexten Kachama and MDF Army General Griffin Supuni Phiri graced the tree-planting exercise last Saturday at DFR where they led by example to show the nation the importance of protecting the environment and conserving forests for socio-economic development.
The 2017/18 tree planting season target is to plant 60 million trees nationwide to cover some of the bare lands with both indigenous and exotic species according to Director of Forestry, Clement Chilima during the viewing of pavilions at Katete Plantation in Lilongwe.
Responding to the call being received from various partners by government on tree planting, Muhara said, as government, they cherish the partnership coming from the private sector in the tree-plating exercise. He welcomed any support to the Department of Forestry. He also appreciated support extended to planting trees anywhere else in the country as part of the afforestation initiatives.
He said 6,000 trees will be planted in DFR, adding this is because previous monitoring has shown that over 78 percent of the planted trees survived last year despite the area experiencing a dry spell.
“Those that want to plant but have no seedlings they should contact the Department of Forestry for assistance and technical advice on what species to plant and where,” Muhara said in an interview on the sidelines of the tree-planting exercise.
Kachama said, as a law enforcement agency, they decided to take part in the exercise because loss of vegetative cover has resulted in run-off, causing floods in some areas. This affects property and lives of people who are supposed to be safeguarded by MPS.
“When we have floods, we are by nature supposed to be involved in rescue operations, when we could direct our efforts to other important duties. No wonder, we are here to take part and restore nature to the way God created it.” Kachama said.
Supuni Phiri recently told the media forests are areas where the military conduct their training, hence the need to conserve them. He said that is the reason the army is taking part in protecting the reserves.
Threats to economic sustainability
LWB Chairperson Rev Edward Chitsonga said human activities such as poor farming practices and encroachment continue to be thorny issues in the conservation of DFR. However, as a board, they are working tirelessly to ensure such malpractices are kept on a leash with support from the private sector by contributing resources to the management of the reserve and taking part in various interventions such as ecosystems’ restoration through tree planting.
“We are considering the future generations of our country. We want to reverse environmental degradation in the reserve and entire surrounding area. Protecting the environment is the responsibility of every Malawian,” Chitsonga said at Katete grounds in his concluding remarks after a series of performances by schools where also a theme song composed by gospel artist Faith Mussa and singer Sonye was unveiled.
As part of concerted efforts to address challenges that have rocked DFR, Jica, through Conservation and Sustainable Management of Dzalanyama Forest Reserve Project, has created working groups with diverse partners.
The partners range in the areas of livelihoods, financial mechanism, public relations and communications and monitoring and evaluation by roping in various stakeholders from both government and private sector.
Again, under DFR three-year Emergency Action Plan (EPA) that prepared the first phase for the conservation of the reserve, short- and medium-term measures against deforestation are being explored. In the long term, forest management plan would include policies for long-term perspective to be developed as one of the main deliverables in order to take over the successful implementation of EAP.
It is hoped that comprehensive data related to DFR needs to be collected and analysed. Additionally, it will be required to adopt a participatory approach in the management of the reserve and its resources. This will integrate the opinions of various stakeholders, especially surrounding communities and local leaders, in the process of ensuring the resource is utilised sustainably for long-term benefits.
Long-term plans will specify vision for DFR, zoning, methods and system of conserving and managing DFR, stakeholders and their respective roles, current situation and problems, solution to the problems, how financial resources for the managing planned activities will be acquired and key players in the plan execution.
It is hoped that having seen the water-related challenges Lilongwe has experienced, key players will take a central role to join hands and conserve the resource.
Restoring DFR as displayed by the top government officials, police and military officials, Association of Environmental Journalists in Malawi and other stakeholders is just one right step to take collectively.
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