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Tobacco replenishing what it destroys

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It may be a negligible percentage deducted from tobacco sales at the auction floors. But it is turning things around, slowly.

The 0.02 percent of tobacco sales that is being remitted to the Department of Forestry through the Tobacco Levy Afforestation and Forest Conversation Programme is being used to replant trees where they were cut and to regenerate already existing forests.

The programme was introduced in 2011 with the core principle of making sure that tobacco farmers who cut down trees for curing their crop have a way of remedying what were – and still are – drastic effects of their actions.

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Today, four years down the line, the local committees that are the site champions of the programme have everything to feel proud about.

Year after year, the once empty yards are being filled with growing trees and the future is being silently renewed.

At least, this is the case in the areas of Sub-Traditional Authority (STA) Nyoka and Traditional Authority (T/A) Mkanda in Mchinji, one of the areas where the programme is being implemented in the country.

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Other districts that grow tobacco on a large scale include Lilongwe, Dowa, Mzimba, Rumphi, Kasungu, Ntcheu, Balaka and Mangochi. These also have the tobacco levy programme running.

In STA Nyoka, Group Village Head (GVH) Yenerani is perhaps the proudest among the people who are working together to replenish and regenerate forest reserves around the area.

“Droughts have been common here and during rains, erosions have been inevitable. Of course, the battle is still going on but we are looking at this initiative of replanting and natural regeneration of trees as something which will greatly be appreciated by our children.

“In fact, we are also benefitting because most of the problems that we used to face are being minimised. We also pick firewood and fruits from the forests,” Yenerani said.

He was speaking when we recently visited the replanting and regeneration project that is being undertaken in his area by Ludzale Village Natural Resources Management Committee.

Yenerani said the Forestry Department has been providing the committee with tools and implements including watering cans, wheelbarrows, shovels, polythene tubes and rakes. The trees they plant include acacia and msangu.

Mwaziona Tembo and Moffat Banda are chairperson and vice-chairperson of the committee respectively. They are in charge of ‘strong’ men and women who would easily undermine their authority.

“But we have our own way of dealing with everyone. What is most important is to respect every member while being mindful that we have the responsibility to offer leadership. So even though I am young, I am able to lead my colleagues,” said Banda, 24, who claimed he had even confiscated some items from those who contravened the rules of his committee.

On her part, Tembo said that through strict coordination among the committee’s members, the project was proving to be very successful “not just by mere words, but by the reality on the ground”.

She said: “The benefits are there for all to see. Fruits and honey are some of the things we are getting from the forests that we are taking care of. We sincerely thank [the Tobacco Levy Programme] but we would love to have more of the tools which we use.

“Otherwise, we are making great strides especially in replanting trees where they have been cut. We have managed to plant over 200, 000 tree seedlings even though our target was 100, 000 seedlings every year,” said Tembo.

So far, according to the committee, 36 hectares of land have been targeted for reforestation and natural regeneration and this represents just one-quarter of the actual acreage which needs this saving grace.

Lonny Chirambo, a Forest Extension Officer based at the headquarters in Lilongwe said it is clear that flue cured tobacco farmers usefirewood leading to the depletion of forests.

“So the levy was introduced as a way of making sure these farmers contribute something towards replacing the trees which they cut,” she said.

She is responsible for tree planting and acts as Desk Officer for the Tobacco Levy Afforestation and Forest Conservation Programme.

“The survival rate [of the tree seedlings] is impressive. Of course there are challenges which include delays in remitting the funds. This means monitoring and supervising the projects in our nine target districts is also affected, but we are trying our best to make sure something is done,” said Chirambo.

The money itself – an annual average of K25 million – might not be enough for the ultimate success of the programme in all the nine districts. But at least, says Chirambo, the fruits can be seen on the ground and every single tree that is planted counts.

On his part, Mchinji Assistant District Forestry Officer (ADFO), Chrispin Soko who, together with his team, is overseeing the reforestation and natural regeneration project in the district marvels at how the local committees are undertaking their campaign.

When he looks at the replanted trees in the area of Village Zuwalimo in T/A Mkanda, under Tadala Cluster Committee, he only hopes that the locals will save the situation by avoiding cutting down the trees.

He prays that every single tree that is planted will continue being viewed as an important part of the forest, an element that has its place amidst a multitude.

“The people are selflessly working for the sake of their future and that of their children. Every moment we visit the sites to see what is happening, there is something happening,” says Soko

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