When it comes to tree-planting, Malawi is racing against time.
By 2030, according to Forestry Department estimates, stakeholders have a mammoth task of planting 60 million trees just to put the government in pole position to restore 4.5 million hectares of degraded land by that year.
With roughly eight years to go before the targeted year, there are indications that meeting set goals could be a tall order.
No wonder, those that are deemed to be taking the right steps are being rewarded, the case in point being Southern Region Water Board (SRWB) which, earlier this month, got recognition from Vitens Evides International.
Vitens Evides International Project Manager Dana van der Velden indicates that the board was selected from 35 water utility bodies across the world after the board’s impressive interventions in restoring forest cover around Mlunguzi Dam, the main water source for the board.
‘The award seeks to encourage water utilities to enforce measures in environment conservation for uninterrupted water supply. What SRWB has done by embarking on afforestation drive in management of Mlunguzi Dam is recommendable. We believe other water utilities can learn from this board,’ Dana van der Velden says.
According to SRWB Chief Executive Officer Duncan Chambamba, the board has an agreement with the Department of Forestry that enables it to manage the dam.
“We signed a five-year agreement with the Department of Forestry for us to be co-managing Mlunguzi Dam catchment area at Zomba Plateau. This year, we planted 70,000 trees and we anticipate to plant 1.3 million trees by 2026,’ Chambamba says.
And, in one more attempt to ensure that the globe is not exposed to more damage, Malawi recently hosted the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Green Climate Conference in the capital Lilongwe.
At the end of the indaba, Sadc member states agreed to establish a regional framework for climate action to spearhead resource mobilisation as well as negotiations at the global level.
They also agreed to have a common position on climate change, which is expected to be inclusive of all concerns from key stakeholders and also feed into the African Group Position at the Conference of Parties 27.
The conference was organised to assess the status of climate action in the Sadc region.
Secretary for Natural Resources and Climate Change, Yanira Ntupanyama, describes the move as the first step towards becoming climate conscious.
“The framework is necessary. In fact, the framework is a step in the right direction for Sadc member states,” Ntupanyama says.
Even Civil Society Coordinator for Climate Change Julias Ng’oma is hopeful.
He, however, warns that, if recommendations are allowed to gather dust, all the goals set will come to naught.
A study by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicates that emissions from warming gases may as well hit 1.5 degrees by 2030, which happens to be the year Malawi has set to restore 4.5 million hectares of degraded land.
In the words of Natural Resources Minister Eisenhower Mkaka, it is high time Malawi embraced ideals of a green economy.
“All players, including the private sector, are called upon to become key drivers,” he says.
Ironically, as Malawi is preparing to become a green economy and, in the short term, restore forest cover on degraded hectares, other players in natural resources management have started cutting down trees.
On what ground? The trees are not needed!
As at now, at least 130 hectares of pine trees have been cleared at Nyika National Park, with officials indicating that the trees are unwanted.
In fact, the Department of Parks and Wildlife has indicated that there are close to 160 hectares of trees they want to get rid of.
When we visited the plateau last week, we found a group of about 39 people processing the trees for timber.
By that time, about 7,000 planks had been stacked, ready for delivery.
Department of Parks and Wildlife Division Manager for the Northern Region, Peter Wadi, says the pine trees are part of Invasive Alien Species that are replacing native biodiversity, hence the need to clear them.
Wadi says not all the 160 hectares of trees scheduled for clearing are mature trees, as some are being cleared while in their infancy to prevent them from further growth.
He says the trees that are being sawn are meant to refurbish infrastructure at Nyika and Vwaza Wildlife Reserves.
Apart from the pine trees (Pinus patula), other alien species are water Hyacinth, Black Wattle, Himalayan Raspberry and Prosopis, which are blamed for taking up feeding spaces for wild animals in the park.
According to Wadi, these alien species also make the habitat less suitable for other species to grow and flourish.
“The pines are the ones which have given us a lot of problems because they have covered a big area and, as such, to gain back the grassland, we are clearing the self-sawn pines. As at now, we have cleared about 135 hectares but we are still remaining with a big potion, around 30 or 50 hectares, which we think we would manage in about two months,” he says.
The park has about 100 other hectares of planted pine, which Wadi says will not be tampered with. These are pine trees which were planted some 70 years ago.
However, the clearing of the pine trees has created panic among some people in Rumphi District, who hold the view that trees that are being felled are benefitting few “connected” individuals.
One of the concerned members, Walita Mkandawire, says they have been observing vehicles loaded with timber coming from the plateau, which raises a lot of questions as to where the timber is being ferried to.
“Most of the time, the vehicles have been travelling on the roads in Rumphi in the evening, which raises suspicions of some foul play,” he says.
Vwaza Nyika Association (VNA) has asked the department to consider using some of the timber for making desks in schools that have surrounded the reserve.
VNA former chairperson, Chiza Mkandawire, says even 30 desks made from the timber can help address the problem of shortage of desks in 70 schools.
Commenting on the development, Rumphi District Forestry Officer Gift Nyirenda says, as a regulator, they issue transfer permits for every timber that is going in and out of Rumphi.
Nyirenda says, as the chairperson for the Technical Committee on Invasive Alien Species Project which Nyika National Park is implementing, he is fully aware of the pines-clearing initiative at Nyika.
“Using transfer permits; that is how my office will be able to easily monitor the exercise because we will be able to know the quantity of timber removed from Nyika,” he says.
Meanwhile, chairperson for Rumphi Civil Society Organisations Network, Viva Kagunya, says confusion arose because the department kept them in the dark.
“We now feel that they have made the right decision. Among other things, they will have a good feeder area for animals,” he says.
Nyika, Malawi’s first national park, was established in 1965 and is the largest of Malawi’s five national parks, covering about 3,000 km² (300,000 hectares).