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Salvaging Dzalanyama Forest from extinction

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McDonald Maneya, a charcoal producer from Traditional Authority Khondowa in Dedza, holds an interesting view about the much-talked continued degradation of Dzalanyama Forest Reserve.

Maneya believes that despite the extensive charcoal production which is a threat to one of the biggest natural forest reserve’s existence, it can still be salvaged from extinction.

“As someone whose livelihood depends on the forest resource, we have put in place enough measures to sustain charcoal production. You can see from the way we cut the trees. We normally go for the bigger trees and reserve the small ones to grow.

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“Even with the big trees, we do not uproot them but we make sure we leave a stamp that can spout again. That is why you still see that our trade goes on and on,” says Maneya.

He, however, believes Dzalanyama Forest Reserve faces a threat to extinct due to actions by forest guards who lit bush fires.

“The bush fire that you have seen in the forest is lit by forest guards as a way to scare us. The fires end up burning the small trees that we reserve for future use,” says Maneya.

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Likewise, Zakeyu Bartson, a 35-year-old vegetable farmer from Kachepa Village Traditional Authority Chilikumwendo in Dedza believes it is not only human activities that are threatening Dzalanyama’s existence but that climate change could also be at play.

His thoughts border on the strange heat and the erratic rainfall he believes lead to the sporadic drying up of Diamphwe River which is the main source for Lilongwe City water supply after the siltation of Lilongwe River.

With Kamuzu Dam 1 and 2 on Lilongwe River, whose capacity stands at 4.5 and 19.6 cubic metres silting up, indications are that the water problem will be aggravated in the near future leading to erratic water supply in the city.

But according to Bartson, climate change is at play as manifested by rainfall variations over the years and abnormal temperatures.

These to a larger extent, he says, have lead to the drying up of Diamphwe River and not the human activity at Dzalanyama Forest Reserve where the river originates from.

“Over the years, the rains have been erratic in this whole area and that has led to insufficient water in the river. The increase in heat that we have been experiencing lately is also leading to the drying up of the river. All this is as a result of climate change,” observes Bartson.

Lilongwe Water Board Operations Engineer Leonard Ngundamtengo agrees with Bartson that apart from what is already known about the degradation in Dzalanyama Forest Climate Change has impacted on the hydrological cycle in water bodies around the forest due to the deforestation leading to drying up of some rivers including Diampwe that the Capital City banks on for future water supply.

“Kamuzu Dam 1 and 2 are being heavily silted and that is impacting negatively on water production for the Capital City. The sources for the Diampwe and Lilongwe river is Dzalanyama Forest which has been heavily affected by the wanton cutting down of trees whose impact can be visibly seen though the reduced water flow in rivers. Surely, climate change is also at play,” notes Ngundamtengo.

A 2014 preliminary study by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) supported by Dzalanyama Forest Conservation Project show that the tree biomass per hectare now stands at 50 tons which is half of the volume that was available 20 years ago.

Close to 25 million bags of charcoal are produced for consumption in Malawi’s Capital City, Lilongwe, which means the forest reserve will be depleted in the next 5-10 years.

Sixty percent of the trees cut in the reserve are for the charcoal production for domestic use in the Capital City while 400 mega tons of firewood, representing 10 percent total biomass, is harvested annually.

Assistant Director of Forestry Clement Chilima, who is based at Forest Research Institute of Malawi (FRIM), backs Maneya’s observation but warns that not all tree species in the forest can spout easily.

“The stamps that were being left by those cutting down trees have a chance to grow into full trees again and we believe that with care the trees can grow again.

“The other danger could be the bush fires that have become a common scenario in the forest. I believe curbing the malpractice would also give a chance to the forest to grow again,” said Chilima.

Kosaku Onaka, Japanese International Cooperation Agency (Jica) Forest Conservation Advisor for the Department of Forestry, says it will remain a mammoth task to save the forest from extinction if security is not tightened.

“Currently, Dzalanyama Forest Reserve is exclusively managed by the Department of Forestry.

On a different note, Jica policy adviser for forest conservation feels salvaging Dzalanyama should start with the communities themselves.

“… That Dzalanyama faces extinction due to human encroachment is not, I believe, not new to Malawians. There are close to 10 000 households within the forest’s catchment area whose livelihoods revolves around charcoal and wood production. It is our duty to make sure that they should be the first to understand the importance of this forest if we are to successfully salvage it.

He also feels the Dzalanyama degradation can be reduced if authorities engaged the communities who depend on the forest for a living.

Economic status of Dzalanyama Forest Reserve surrounding communities is estimated at 1,000 USD per year which is the lowest in Malawi and the world, according to Onaka.

“Large numbers of households in the surrounding communities depend on the charcoal production which is the main cause of forest degradation. They have been forced to get involved in such illegal activities for their survival,” he said.

However, there is almost no presence of the department in the reserve due to lack of proper infrastructure and security.

“The department conducts patrols periodically but the impact of the operations is insufficient. Therefore, we need to identify the problems and reconsider our strategy to make it effective,” says Onaka adding “the budgetary allocation is also absolutely inadequate.”

Lilongwe Water Board has warned that with the deforestation and environmental degradation trends of Dzalanyama Forest Reserve, water resources development planned for the city will not be sustainable.

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