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The journey to save Dzalanyama Forest Reserve

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KAMOTO—Collective action is paramount

By Charles Mkoka:

“Water is indeed life. Imagine that, daily, Lilongwe urban residents have to clean their teeth, take a bath and have breakfast. All this is possible courtesy of the Dzalanyama Forest Reserve where this water comes from,” Leonard Sefu, Chairperson for the Board of Dzalanyama Catchment Conservation Trust (DCCT), explained to members of the private sector, development partners and government officials at a seminar held at Ufulu Gardens Suite Hotel in Lilongwe recently.

The idea behind bringing diverse partners was to develop synergy among partners in managing Dzalanyama Forest Reserve and its watershed and it was hosted by JICA-funded project for Conservation and Sustainable Management of Dzalanyama Forest Reserve (Cosma-DFR).

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Sefu spoke when he unveiled the newly registered DCCT. This is an institution that will develop synergies to save this vast ecosystem that has supported the human population through the provision of food security, biomass energy and water for both domestic and industrial use for so many decades.

“For DCCT to attain its mission, there is a need for understanding that conservation activities in DFR require a holistic approach; Department of Forestry, Cosma-DFR and DCCT is appealing to stakeholders to support the Trust in its many endeavours to save the reserve and its total catchment area,” Sefu explained in an interview.

The government of Malawi through the Department of Forestry and the Government of Japan through the Jica-funded Cosma-DFR project found it necessary to establish a Trust to assist the management of DFR and its watershed areas. The reserve has been experiencing enormous challenges that range from deforestation, encroachment and illegal logging to satisfy the rapid human population, particularly in Lilongwe’s urban locations.

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According to Sefu, a retired wildlife conservationist, the Trust’s vision is to promote responsible and sustainable management and conservation of natural environment and biodiversity, which will, in turn, ensure the equitable sharing of benefits arising from the reserve. The Trust is expected to work hand in hand with the Department of Forestry, stakeholders and local communities to reduce the above-stated challenges facing this important reserve that offers a range of ecosystem services.

Taking his turn, Akihito Sakurai, Cosma-DFR Financial Mechanism Expert, noted that about 97 percent of most Malawian households rely on firewood or charcoal as their primary source of cooking and heating energy. With alternative fuel sources underdeveloped, firewood and charcoal will continue to form a significant part of Malawi’s energy mix for the next few decades. Even in Lilongwe City, almost 90 percent of the population uses charcoal and firewood for cooking and heating. More than 60 percent of charcoal, consumed in Lilongwe City, comes from Dzalanyama. Illegal charcoal production and firewood collection are the main causes of deforestation in the reserve.

Forest degradation in Dzalanyama is impacting on important key ecosystem services offered by reserve. These services include support to agricultural productivity which enhances food security; habitat for both domestic and wildlife; and the quality and quantity of raw water discharged from the reserve.

The water utility service provider, Lilongwe Water Board (LWB), is one of the major counterpart organizations for Cosma-DFR. However, it is concerned that continued destruction of the watershed and pollution is affecting the quality and quantity of raw water and subsequently the resultant effect is continued high costs of water treatment.

The platform was convened to highlight the importance of developing synergy and partnership among partners in the conservation of Dzalanyama which will be coordinated by DCCT. In this regard, Teddie Kamoto, Deputy Director of Forestry, emphasized that “Partnerships are key in as far as management of critical ecosystems such as Dzalanyama is concerned. We need partnerships to work together in the management of these forest reserves. I am pleased to say that the government has now approved the recruitment of about 310 forest rangers. It is our expectation that 30 of those will be deployed in Dzalanyama Forest Reserve,” said Kamoto during the event.

Kamoto further observed that DCCT has come at the time when JICA-supported Project Cosma-DFR, a partner to the Department of Forestry is folding up in early 2022. This project came following an emergency appeal made in 2014 by the Malawian Government to the Government of Japan, after serious deforestation and forest degradation caused mainly due to illegal charcoal production, illegal logging and firewood consumption was registered in the reserve.

At the material time of the appeal, it was estimated that a total of 101 metric tonnes (mt) of charcoal was consumed per year in the three districts that border the reserve namely; Lilongwe, Dedza and Mchinji. Studies show that Lilongwe City residents consume 78 mt per year, representing 76 percent according to the LWB findings.

Dzalanyama Forest Reserve is a water catchment area whose water supports peripheral communities and those beyond, in terms of water supply for the surrounding three districts and Lilongwe City. The reserve is also a lifeline of the Lilongwe and Diamphwe rivers, providing food security and various economic livelihoods benefiting the people.

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