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Where are K5 billion trees planted?

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In 2018, government allocated K5 billion for a tree planting programme for the youth across the country. Was the money lost in the woods or they are growing on the trees?

By Deogratias Mmana

Four years after government allocated K5 billion for youth tree planting programme, there is a sense that the programme has not achieved its purpose.

In the 2018–2019 national budget, Treasury allocated funding for tree planting and care programme that also included employment of 10,000 youths who were expected to work in groups and in their localities for the task.

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The then minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe said when he presented the budget statement that time that the youths were to be supported by the government in a similar fashion as is the case with the public works programme.

“This, honourable members, is expected to minimise the effects of deforestation and climate change that this country has experienced.

“In addition, the trees will provide vegetative cover to reduce soil erosion and control flooding. It is expected that this programme will continue for the next three years to ensure high survival rate of the planted trees,” reads the 2018–2019 budget statement delivered in May 2018.

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By the design of the project, the government assigned the Department of Forestry to handle the project but the department later extended the project to the Ministry of Local Government.

Four years down the line, the two ministries have no definitive data for the exact places where the trees were planted and the number of trees planted under the programme.

The forestry department told Malawi News that Treasury managed to release only K1.5 billion out of the promised K5 billion.

Tangu Numeo, who was desk officer for the project, claimed all councils in the country implemented the project.

She said 4,026,625 trees were planted in two forestry seasons, including the 2019– 2020 season.

She said: “Over 11,000 youths were engaged across the country. Trees were planted and in other areas activities to support natural regeneration of trees were implemented. The trees are being taken care of by youth groups. Please sample districts to visit and see the same.”

Ministry of Local Government spokesperson Anjoya Mwanza said the project was implemented by local councils.

Executive Director for Malawi Local Government Association (Malga), Hardrod Mkandawire, while faulting the implementation strategy of the project, said 70 percent of the targeted youths were involved in the process of implementing the activity.

Mkandawire claimed that fruit tree seedlings were planted at household level for easy supervision while indigenous tree seedlings were planted along the rivers, hills and forests.

But he faulted the implementation, saying the targets set for the districts against the youth groups were so large that achieving them were a tall order.

He also said resources allocated to the districts against the workload were inadequate.

“The number of youth groups allocated to the districts were too small in relation to the existing groups. There was also inconsistent funding against timelines,” Mkandawire said.

He advised the government to implement such a programme in line with the forestry calendar.

He further said more resources should be allocated to the activities than administrative funds.

An environmental activist Matthews Malata faulted both the Ministries of Natural Resources and Climate Change and Local Government and Rural Development for failing give a proper account of the trees planted, arguing that huge funds might have been wasted.

“We need to appreciate tree planting is expensive and therefore we must use technology (Forestry Electronic Management System) that can help the department to track trees planted but also keep an updated inventory of trees we have been planting and that information must be accessible online. The system will also help generate key data that will inform policy decisions. Without proper accountability this will just be another scam and I pray we don’t end up with such discoveries,” Malata said.

Malata described as a mockery the K1.5 billion that was disbursed for the project out of the allocated K5 billion

“The forestry sector is perpetually underfunded and withholding the little resources that were meant to push progress makes things even worse. The department should account not only for the resources but also trees that were planted. As a pilot project, many stakeholders are interested to learn what happened and a report would help clear some of the grey areas,” Malata said.

According to the National Forest Landscape Restoration Strategy, Malawi has nearly 7.7 million hectares of degraded and deforested lands across the country.

It says the land can be restored through a wide range of interventions, including afforestation.

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