Maranatha Mzungu (Photo from here)
BY WATIPASO MZUNGU JNR
As the dawn breaks, Lyness Saka, from Chisambi Village in Mzimba, straps her two-year old child on her back, and with wet strings in one hand, she heads for a bush 20 kilometres away from the village to collect firewood.
Saka has covered this distance since 10 years ago after the village finished their forest.
Malawi loses most of its forests to charcoal business, timber-makers and bush fires set by mice-hunters. The country has the highest deforestation rate in southern African at 2.8 percent per annum, according to Malawi Forest Information and Data.
The rate of deforestation increased by 9.6 to 0.93 percent per annum between 2000 and 2005 while 2.7 percent of its forest cover (or around 494,000 hectares) between 1990s and 2005.
Furthermore, Malawi lost 595,000 hectares of its primary forest cover 2005 and 2008 while less than one percent of the same was replenished.
Worldwide, deforestation has impacted negatively on the economy, women and children. The situation is worse in Africa where the status quo demands that women and children bear responsibilities of gathering firewood and drawing water while men tend to other equally important duties back home or when they go playing games (e.g. bawo) and drinking.
With no shoes on their feet, women and children cover kilometres and kilometres to gather firewood or draw water. In worst situations, children are forced to desert classes to accompany their mothers to carry out such tasks.
Any damage to the environment, especially forests, means that there will be less firewood, rivers and streams will gather silt and dry up leading to a decline in food production.
Electricity remains a luxury for most in Malawi as government statistics reveal only 8 per cent of the population has regular has access to electricity in their homes.
Worse still, electricity is becoming less reliable due to the perpetual blackouts consumers are subjected to thus everybody turning to firewood and charcoal for cooking.
It is not surprising, therefore, to find that even government officials, forestry officials, et al are scrambling for bags of charcoal along the roads as they drive from field visits elsewhere.
Economically, Malawi is losing 191 million dollars (147 million Euros) a year to environmental damage including soil erosion, deforestation and over-fishing, says a UN-backed study released September, 2010.
It is also impacting devastatingly on climate as it depletes carbon sink that could otherwise take up the carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere thereby forming a layer that traps and returns heat back to the earth’s surface – in what is scientifically known as global warming.
Joyce Chazuka of Mserera Village—T/A Mlonyeni in the rural parts of Mchinji— confesses that deforestation and the resultant inadequacy of firewood and soil degradation have negatively affected her life.
“When we had firewood aplenty, I could cook two times a day. That is not longer the case today. I can only manage to cook once a day—at lunch—and keep some of the food for our supper,” Chazuka explains.
It is becoming difficult as well for farmers draw their farming calendars because rains can no longer be predicted.
“We need to do something about it now or face the perilous times ahead of us,” explains Chazuka.
When he was launching the 2009—2010 national tree planting season on December 15, 2009 in Chiradzulu, President Bingu wa Mutharika concurred with Chazuka further stressing the need for Malawians to plant trees at every idle land.
Mutharika explained that the country is currently losing more of its forests mainly due to the energy needs coming in forms of firewood and charcoal.
“We need to plant not less than 65 million trees per year if we are to fight deforestation,” Mutharika urged.
Lake Chilwa Basin (LCB) Climate Change Adaptation Programme says it plans to facilitate and strengthen the capacity of local and district institutions dealing in environment and natural resources management as one of mechanisms for fighting climate change.
LCB is a five-year programme jointly implemented by Leadership for Environment and Development Southern & Eastern Africa (LEAD SEA) based at Chancellor College, WorldFish Centre (WFC) and Forestry Research Institute of Malawi (FRIM).
LCB Programme Manager, Welton Phalira, says with a NOK35 million (about K830 million) grant the organization has just received from a the Norwegian government, the programme will support partner institutions with resources to enhance their capacity to deliver essential services including training, agricultural production and diversification inputs and other income generating activities to the communities so as to enhance their resilience and adaptation to climate change.
“The overall goal of the programme is to secure the livelihood of 1.5 million people in the Lake Chilwa Basin and enhance resilience of their natural resource base. This will be achieved through development and implementation of basin-wide climate change adaptations in support of the Malawi National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPA) to enhance the capacity of communities to adopt sustainable livelihood and natural resource management practices,” Phalira explains.
According to him, the Programme will endeavour to strengthen local and district institutions operating in Machinga, Phalombe and Zomba to better manage natural resources and build resilience to climate change; facilitate cross-basin and cross-sector natural resource management and planning for climate change throughout the basin; improve household and enterprise adaptive capacity in basin hotspots; and promote mitigation of the effects of climate change through improved forest management and governance.
Group Village Headwoman Chonde of Mulanje is eager to mobilize her subjects into taking a leading role in fighting deforestation by planting more trees. She, however, fears lack of resources would choke her dreams.
“We’ve a lot of idle land that we can develop into woodlots and village forests. But the problem is that we don’t have seedlings,” said the chief. She asked Forestry Department to intervene.
As she returns home with a bundle of wood on her head, a highly-laden Saka wonders how the bush will support their firewood needs for the next ten years. Her village headman has not proposed any project on developing village forests yet.