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K250 million wasted on Chikangawa Forest

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Raiply Malawi Chief Executive Officer, Thomas Oomen, has said his company loses K250 million every year on Chikangawa Forest conservation despite the involvement of various stakeholders, including the police.

He described his company’s efforts to protect the forest, which belongs to government, as a waste because the communities set the forest on fire every year despite the social services they get.

Oomen also decried the lack of tangible support from relevant government agencies to end the fires and encroachment despite the company’s contributions to the economy, citing K4 billion in the last two years.

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He was speaking at Kasito Lodge in Chikangawa Forest on Saturday during a stakeholders’ meeting aimed at finding lasting solutions to forest fires and illegal activities that take place in the forest. Regional Commissioner of Police for the North, Martha Suwedi, was guest of honour at the event.

“Every year, we spend K250 million to protect the forest from fires and encroachment. We replanted 500 hectares and spent K100 million. Last year, we planted 164 hectares on government side but all that part has been burnt.

“Despite all our efforts to protect the forest on our side and government’s side, people continue starting fires and doing illegal activities in the forest. We are just wasting our money because efforts to engage several stakeholders in the fight are not bearing fruits,” said Oomen.

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He said in 2014, his company signed an agreement with the police and community policing forums in the surrounding villages to protect the forest.

In 2015, he said, another agreement was also signed among Raiply, the Forestry Department and community policing forums but this year alone, 357 hectares have been burnt on Raiply side while 945 hectares on the government side have been destroyed.

“Burning the forest means burning our money which we invest in replanting every year. That money could have been used for other developments like paying civil servants,” said Oomen.

In his remarks, Senior Chief Kabunduli faulted police and Forestry officers for the continued illegal activities in the forest.

He wondered why illegal wood transported on the road from the forest passes through all roadblocks in the country which are manned by police and Forestry officers. Kabunduli also alleged that some Forestry workers are involved in illegal activities in the forest by among others employing labourers to saw timber for them.

“That is why whenever there is a sweeping exercise, such labourers are always alerted and police or the soldiers do not find them in their shacks,” said Kabunduli while calling for the suspension of all forestry activities first to review contracts of all those involved in the forest as part of the solution to the problems.

During the meeting, some stakeholders, including the media, were unconvinced as to why the police and Forestry officers, with all knowledge about the illegal activities in the forest and where the culprits are found, were failing to make arrests.

Regional Community Policing Officer Andrew Bokosi gave a list of illegal activities taking place in the forest and his counterpart from the prosecutions gave the corresponding court fines.

But Suwedi said arresting people living in the forest was tricky because the people have licenses to operate their businesses.

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