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Missed fortunes from natural resources

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DRAWING LESSONS— Members of Parliament from Malawi learn from their counterparts

Wailing sirens and a convoy of police vehicles escorting a Falcon coach with Malawian law-makers on board were some of the mesmerising things that people in Tanzania saw mid- August this year.

“What is happening? Is the president [John Magufuli] going somewhere?” wondered one of the onlookers.

“These Tanzanians really know how to welcome visitors!” enthused Commodius Nyirenda in the coach.

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This was during a sojourn the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources undertook to Tanzania’s forest reserves and national parks, ostensibly to learn from them how they preserve natural resources.

Their first stop was at Malawi Cargo Centre Limited (MCCL) in Mbeya, where they wanted to verify why the Government of Malawi had not used the facilities for over four years with a view to finding a means of reviving the cargo centre, which was built for storing both liquid and dry cargo before being transported to Malawi through the Northern Corridor.

Details emerged that the Malawi Government has failed to renovate and utilise its fuel cargo centres in Mbeya and Dar-Es-Salaam in the neighbouring country for the past four years.

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The investment in Tanzania, which is over 25 years old, was operational from inception up to 2013 and, according to MCCL, the facility is no longer in use because of infrastructural challenges.

“We should learn to be serious because that facility was created as a result of the civil war in Mozambique by then; so, it was meant to serve as a northern corridor. Now we should not forget that these eventualities can occur and we should not ignore them. We really need to take care of the facility,” said Welani Chilenga, Chairperson of the parliamentary committee.

How Tanzania manages her natural resources, especially forest reserves, was an area worth drawing lessons from.

Aside from using their wood for timber, the forest department also uses a new technology of tapping a substance called resin from the trees which, the officials say, affords them the opportunity of generating extra revenue from them.

A visit to Sao Hill Forest Plantation in Iringa region showed how serious Tanzania is when it comes to making a killing from her natural resources.

The Government of Tanzania has engaged a Chinese company, ATY International, to extract resin from trees which they use for production of various raw materials.

“To us, it is an opportunity to get extra revenue from our trees. At first, we used to sell the whole tree but, now, through extraction, we are getting surplus revenue,” said Sao Hill Forest plantation manager, Salehe Beleko.

Beleko said from various activities they undertake in their forest reserves, in one year alone they can manage to buy 20 vehicles using funds from the forestry agency alone.

“We advise authorities in Malawi to try this technology and invite the Chinese to teach them how it is done. Bee-keeping is also one of the areas that we dwell on and get a good amount of revenue from.

“The University of Dar-Es-Salaam offers degrees in bee-keeping, hence we have human capacity to manage the system,” he said.

Another interesting lesson from Tanzania is how they monitor bush fires using a satellite system from the Southern African Development Community.

Chilenga says the Department of Forestry Management in Malawi should work with communities surrounding forest reserves to combat the problems of illegal logging and wanton felling down of trees, which is said to be rampant in the country.

Chilenga says Malawi is struggling to eradicate the problems of deforestation and illegal logging because the government does not engage surrounding communities-but, rather, uses force to deal with perpetrators, a strategy that is not working.

Tanzania Forest Services Agency (TFSA) advises the Malawi Government to adopt a participatory forest management system so that communities surrounding forest reserves can stake a claim on the same.

According to the agency, when Tanzania’s forest reserves were being managed by the government, which was using firearms, there were a lot of illegal logging incidences and wanton cutting of trees.

“Formerly, communities were not being involved. We were using guns to protect the forests but that did not work because most of the forests continued being depleted as we did not have enough personnel to guard all forests. Since we changed the policy, cases of forest destruction have decreased,” says officer-in-charge, Anna Lawuo.

A visit to Tanzania’s Mikumi National Park, located about 288 km West of Dar-Es-Salaam and about 107 km from Morogoro town, proved how serious they are with tourism, gauging by the attractions available in the park.

Walking safaris through designated trails, photographic tourism, game drives, including day-and-night viewing, and cultural tourism are among the attractions that boost revenue at the facility.

Chilenga agrees that Tanzania has what it takes to preserve natural resources and cash in on them.

“What we have learnt here is that our colleagues have very good and strong policies. Indeed, we have leant a lot from them,” he says.

He further says, as a committee, they will push for the incorporation of Tanzania’s policies in Malawi’s forestry strategies.

“We are also very happy to learn that, through the conservation of forests in Tanzania, we are able to have enough water in Lake Malawi; we are going to acquire some of the knowledge so that both countries can benefit from the conservation issues,” he says.

According to a 2017 International Journal of Science and Research study, the major drivers of deforestation in Malawi’s Dzalanyama Forest are charcoal production, which accounts for 40 percent; firewood production, which accounts for 32 percent; infrastructure development (13 percent); timber production accounting for 11 percent; and agriculture expansion (4 percent).

Dzalanyama Forest is one of the many reserves that face massive deforestation in Malawi.

In the 2016 National Forestry Policy that government has developed, it has included a component of use of firearms in conserving Malawi’s forests and wildlife reserves.

“There used to be a forest filled with all types of natural trees and vegetative cover with beautiful scenery,” says one of the locals around Dzalanyama forest reserve, Rosemary Satha.

“Now we travel long distances in search of trees that we use to extract materials for herbal medicines as they no longer exist in this forest. They have been depleted by mankind. The forest reserve is no longer beautiful,” Satha says.

Much as it is impossible to completely eradicate the problem of deforestation in Malawi’s forest reserves, implementing practical policies in forest management such as Tanzania’s use of community involvement in forest patrols, unlike use of firearms in the case of Malawi, might help eradicate challenges of deforestation and degradation.

More so because environmental conservation will not be possible without proper management and collaboration between forestry and national parks officials, communities and other stakeholders.

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