By Sebastian Nyirenda:
Forest apiculture is often considered as a strategic effort to protect and preserve forests through offering people alternative and improved livelihoods.
According to experts, communities that depend on forest products for their livelihoods know that bees are important not only for ecological reasons but also for generation of honey for sale.
But, as we have found out, in Mzimba District, forest apiculture through use of locally made beehives, is one of the factors that is promoting tree loss and degradation of forest beauty in a forest around Lunjika as people are using tree barks to make the beehives.
Take the bushy shortcut route to get to Lunjika Mission Hospital, in the area of Traditional Authority Kampingo Sibande in Mzimba, about 12 km away from Lunjika Turn-off on the M1 Road. Along the route, about 20 or so big natural trees have lost their barks.
Stripped of their barks, some of the trees have completely dried up while others are surviving by the skin of their teeth.
In an interview, Group Village Headman Mahuza Mkandawire, blames some of his subjects for being behind the killing of the trees.
“Due to high poverty levels, some of my people who cannot afford modern beehives engage in the malpractice of removing tree barks,” he says.
He says they beat the security system which the village set up and cut trees in the forest. According to Mkandawire, while some have been apprehended and punished before, the practice continues.
He further observes that it is cheaper to acquire beehives locally than to purchase a modern one. All the local one demands is a carpenter, a hanging wire, the bark of a tree and some nails. This may cost K500 only, he says.
With the modern one, it needs planks, metal sheet for water proofing it and plywood, among other materials. The cost could be as much as K30 000 or more.
Felix Namakhuwa, a citizen with interest in environmental issues, says trees that have received injury through stripping off their barks have few chances of survival.
“When injury takes place on the tree bark, some plant tissues get damaged and this disturbs transmission of food nutrients and water from the roots to the leaves,” he says.
He adds that failure of water and food nutrients to move from the roots to the leaves causes death of a plant, which could lead to loss of forest.
Namakhuwa further wonders why people go for locally-made beehives that promote deforestation when government, through projects such as the Agriculture Commercialisation (Agcom), supports bee keeping initiatives that are environmentally friendly.
Eliza Mhango says loss of trees in the area is causing heavy floods and, consequently soil erosion which is affecting crop production.
“Due to loss of trees, strong winds have blown off roofs of our houses,” says Mhango, adding that many people in the area have relocated to other places to escape from disasters and to seek water access.
She says with the depletion of the Viphya Plantation, many of those that used to rely on the pine plantation are now turning on natural trees in the area for poles and hardwood for planks.
District Forestry Officer for Mzimba, Lifred Banda, admits that forests in Mzimba in general are under siege.
“Wanton cutting down of trees is a big challenge in the district,” he says.
But he says his office is implementing a number of activities to deal with acts of deforestation. These initiatives include setting up Village Natural Resources Management Committees (VNRMCs) to lead communities in management of forests in various areas across the district.
“With these VNMRCs, we formulate and enforce bylaws to deal with illegal charcoal production, wanton cutting of trees and deforestation in general,” he says.
The committees also conduct periodic forest patrols with district patrol teams to enforce the Forestry Act.
Banda further says they also conduct sensitisation meetings with chiefs and various communities on effects of deforestation.
“We are lobbying for support from various stakeholders to assist in law enforcement, afforestation of deforested areas as well as management of naturally growing trees,” he says.
One of the challenges affecting operations of the Department of Forestry across the country is that of shortage of staff and lack of resources in general.
In an interview recently at the Association of Environmental Journalists (AEJ) media training workshop in Lilongwe, Chief of Party for Modern Cooking For Healthy Forests (MCHF), Ramzy Kanaan, tipped the Malawi Government to come up with projects with consideration on the available resources.
“Issues of human resources and finances are critical when it comes to managing big projects like forests, so my free advice to Malawi Government is that it has to venture into projects depending on these resources,” he said.
Minister of Forest and Natural Resources, Nancy Tembo, lauds development partners in forest management and natural resources, saying they are helping Malawi move towards achieving some of the natural resources related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).