By Macdonald Thom:
Most trees around the area were cut. Soils got eroded, the land lost its fertility.
With annual harvest greatly reduced, hopelessness crept in.
However, in recent years, people of the area, which is under Group Village Headman (GVH) Kumpotola, Traditional Authority Kasumbu in Dedza, have thought of restoring tree cover.
Lunia Kazembe, vice chairperson of the group leading afforestation and reforestation in the area says unity is what has helped them succeed in the initiative.
“We take care of the trees by weeding. We also make sure that goats and cattle do not enter the areas where trees are being planted. Our plan is to construct a fence around tree areas. We started this on our own and later we got support from MASAF IV [Malawi Social Action Fund IV]. Apart from this village forest, as families, we also plant our own trees,” she says.
One of the women in the village, Amina Manson, is happy with the initiative.
“At first we were facing a number of problems. We were going very far to fetch firewood. But after restoring this forest, things are now better. We are hopeful that things will continue improving,” she says.
“On our own, we are trying to plant as many trees as we can. But we are lacking many things. We will, therefore, appreciate a lot, if more organisations come to assist us,” she adds.
Apart from aiding tree regeneration , the people have also been involved in planting and taking care of tree seedlings. They also put in place measures of restoring soil fertility.
Today, there are patches of land covered in indigenous trees and others in the planted trees. GVH Kumpotola says it has not been easy.
“We analysed the situation. We went to all villages to explain the impact of deforestation in this area. Then we agreed to make sure that indigenous trees are restored. To achieve that goal, we put in place strict measures of ensuring that the trees survive. We agreed that if anyone is caught cutting down trees, should pay a fine,” he says.
The fine, according to GVH Kumpotola, was in form of a goat or goats, depending on the gravity of the offence. He says four people have so far been found cutting down trees and each one of them paid the fine.
The fourth cycle of Masaf IV Project has played a crucial role in the initiative. Village Headman Kumpotola is all smiles.
“We are happy with what Masaf IV has done. They were giving us tree seedlings that’s why we have reached this far. Our appeal is that we need more of such initiatives. We have a lot of bare lands in this area. We should go to those areas as well. We have over four hactres ready for that,” he says.
Under Masaf IV project, apart from afforestation and land resource conservation, people in the area also participated in road construction. Participants were getting K900 per day for 24 days. This money helped the beneficiaries a lot in their daily lives. The resources were used for, among others, buying fertilizer.
But to GVH Kumpotola, what is critical is the lasting impact the project has had on his village.
“The face of our village has changed. It is beautiful. In future people will easily find firewood. As local leaders, we encouraged our people to actively participate in taking care of trees. I would like to encourage all chiefs across the country to emulate what we have done,” he says.
This is a project which has seen 19,811 people in Dedza district benefitting. With most of the beneficiaries participating in road construction, forestry management becomes a relatively unique activity.
Masaf IV Project Officer for Dedza, Fred Kafakoma, hails all beneficiaries for the role they played in the implementation of the project.
“People are dedicated here. They have been inspired by their chiefs who have taken the initiative seriously. They have been successful because of their commitment. They have shown that if empowered, they can deliver,” he says.
Monitoring and Evaluation Officer at Dedza District Council, Emmanuel Dziko Sohaya says the project has helped people in the district.
He says in catchment conservation, in the first cycle, 57 projects on afforestation were implemented and these were followed up in subsequent cycles. He says over 57,000 trees were planted in three cycles.
“There are catchment areas which show that afforestation that we started bore fruits: trees are there. There are certain natural regeneration areas we were protecting. Trees have grown there. Gullies have been reclaimed. We have helped in restoring productivity of lands,” Sohaya says.
The Masaf IV project was being implemented using $70 million from the International Development Association (IDA).
NLGFC Director of Community Development, Stanley Chuthi, has hailed the communities where Masaf IV Project was being implemented.
“The lesson drawn from Masaf IV Project is that ownership is very important in public works programme. If you talk about Tikondane Dams, in Mchinji and reforestation in Dedza, people in the areas took ownership of the projects. That means even after the completion of the project, people from those communities continue taking care of the trees they planted,” Chuthi says.
“Communities which just receive money, don’t take care of the tree. You find that some of the trees will be destroyed by bush fire. It is, therefore, important to enhance ownership of the projects. People of Mchinji and Dedza have done well on this,” he adds.
Chuthi has, however, said there is need for more capacity building across the country so that ownership of projects is enhanced.