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Towards 100% tree survival rate

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From 2014 to 2015, Feston Basikolo, 50, from Moses Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Chapananga in Chikwawa planted 30 trees around his house and garden.

To him, planting trees and caring for them has always been serious business since his childhood.

“Out of 30 trees, 27 survived and in this year’s tree planting season, I am planning to plant 25 more trees. This time around, I’m sure all trees will survive because I will be monitoring them closely. There is one thing I have noted, we talk a lot of tree planting but after planting the trees, they receive little or no care at all. It is high time the emphasis were on how to take care of the trees after planting them,” he says.

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Tree survival assessments show that up to 60 percent of planted trees survive the first two years, which is the critical period for planted trees.

Recently, President Peter Mutharika stressed the need for the country to attain a 100 percent tree survival rate in the 2016/2017 tree planting season.

He made the call at Kalambo Primary School in Lilongwe where he officially launched the 2016/2017 tree planting season also known as the National Forestry Season last month.

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The President said planting trees was one thing and caring for them was another thing; hence, every Malawian should take the responsibility of taking care of the trees and ensure that every tree planted should survive.

“The Director of Forestry says out of all the trees we plant every year 60 percent of the trees survive but this year we want 100 percent survival rate of the trees,” Mutharika said.

He urged Malawians to take advantage of the rains by planting trees everywhere and to take care of the trees they plant.

“Trees and forests give us clean air for our breathing. Trees and forests give us the water that we drink. Trees and forests give us life because air is life and water is life. When we destroy trees and forests, we destroy our life,” Mutharika stressed.

He said the 2015 floods were the worst that Malawi ever had and that they were due to wanton cutting down of trees which he said Malawians should desist from doing.

“We still have those memories when flooding rivers washed away schoolchildren with schoolbags on their backs. The cost of destroying our environment is very painful,” Mutharika recalled.

He attributed power outages that rock the country to environmental degradation, saying even State House suffers from blackouts and that he shared with Malawians the frustration of having no power.

Mutharika expressed hope that although most trees and forests were gone, it was possible to reverse the situation and reclaim the lost glory.

“We need comprehensive policies and aggressive measures to protect our environment,” said Mutharika, adding: “As Government, we have revised, approved and adopted a National Forestry Policy of 2016. The goal of the National Forestry Policy is to improve provision of forest goods and services to contribute towards sustainable development of Malawi.”

With this paradigm shift from simply planting trees to managing them for their survival, the country may become green again.

The Department of Environment and Climate Change again says it expects many trees planted during the current rainy season to survive.

Spokesperson for the Department of Environment and Climate Change which is under the Ministry of Mining and Natural Resources Sangwani Phiri says they are sure that a lot of trees will survive as there are enough rains.

He says although trees are planted every year during the rainy season in Malawi, the majority die while young but this year things will be different.

According to Phiri, trees that were planted in 2015-2016 tree planting season had a survival rate of 55 percent, meaning that 37 million out of 60 million of trees survived.

He asked stakeholders to contribute by planting trees during this season.

Moreover, there is need to put in place more policies that should encourage people to co-manage the forests so they see the mutual benefits of protecting them.

Impoverished villagers are hacking down Malawi’s forests to make charcoal undeterred by government efforts to confiscate the dirty fuel as a power deficit stokes demand.

Only a small percentage of Malawi’s population has access to electricity, ensuring a good market for the charcoal produced by communities living near forests.

In 2015, the Department of Forestry told Thomson Reuters Foundation researchers that deforestation rate was between 1.6 percent and 2.8 percent per year.

According to Malawi State of Environment and Outlook Report Environment for Sustainable Economic Growth 2010, on average 60 percent of the planted trees do not survive due to lack of capacity and resources to manage the trees.

It is recommended that management costs in the form of public works programmes should be included in tree planting programmes as this may be viewed as an incentive for communities to participate in tree planting and management.

According to the Malawi official report to Food Agriculture Organisation (FAO) 2010 and FAO forest classification system, deforestation rate is estimated to be one percent per year. The 1993 Biomass Assessment Report puts the deforestation rate at 2.8 percent.

If forests were declining at the rate of 2.8 percent annually, Malawi’s forest cover would be 1.5 million hectares. But this is not the case since protected forests alone account for about 2.2 million hectares.

Forest resources in Malawi are under massive pressure from human activities such as agricultural expansion, human settlement, unsustainable harvesting for energy and timber requirements and uncontrolled fires. Over the years, land under agriculture has been increasing at the expense of forest areas.

Information from the National Statistical Office indicates that area under tobacco growing increased from 194,000 to 253,000 between 2000 and 2007.

On the other hand, World Development Indicators show that agricultural land increased from 30,700 sq km in 1963 to 44,400 sq km in 2003 due to population growth, more forest land is being cleared for housing and accompanying agricultural land.

Overreliance on fuel wood for energy is another major cause of deforestation.

According to government, 96 percent of Malawians rely on charcoal and firewood for their energy requirements and firewood is the main source of energy and 96 percent of the rural population depends of firewood.

Charcoal production is very destructive. About 6.08 million standard bags of charcoal are estimated to be used in the four largest urban areas annually.

This requires 1.4 million cubic metres of wood and about 15,000 hectares of forestland cut per year.

Planting of trees every year and looking after them as Basikolo is doing is the best alternative that Malawians can pursue in the quest towards achieving a 100 percent tree survival rate that will in turn afforest Malawi and mitigate effects of climate change.

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