While tree planting and forest conservation has been at the centre of the Forestry Department of Malawi since 1976, deforestation seem to have gained more ground within the same period. These noble efforts have been frustrated by the increased bare grounds in the country side, especially on the periphery of the growing towns and cities.
Tree planting has been the main driver to rehabilitate the destroyed forest resource in the country. Tree planting and forest conservation efforts have been focused at the village level where communities are at the centre of the initiatives.
In the recent past few years the forestry sector in the country has turned to the management of natural regeneration in area where forests have been destroyed and lost as the most cost effective way to recover the forest cover. From the outset, this seems to be making headway.
The participation of communities in forest management is in tandem with the vision of the forestry sector in the country which has a laudable aspiration to guide, plan, coordinate, facilitate and promote active participation of all stakeholders in the sustainable development and utilization of forest resources, goods and services for socio-economic development.
The tree planting and forest conservation programme in the country is championed under the four month National Forestry Season (NFS) which opens on 15th December and officially closes on 15th April of the following year. The main objectives of the NFS are to strengthen and improve the management and exploitation of forest resources in the country. This is done through strengthening community based forest management and improving forestry extension service delivery and encourages developing appropriate forestry technology that promotes sustainable forestry.
Speaking at the launch of the 2013/14 National Forestry Season the Vice President of the Republic of Malawi Khumbo Hastings Kachale said trees and forests are important to people's livelihoods, hence the need to take care of them. He lamented that while the country continues to plant trees people did not take care of the planted trees as a result most of the trees do not survive.
"It is not important to put the tree seedlings in the ground and not care for them. What is most important is the management of the planted trees. If our country is to record high forest cover we must collectively take care of the planted trees and manage our natural forests well," Vice President Kachale said.
The National Forestry Season is being commemorated under the theme "My Forest – My Life" which calls on individuals to take responsibility of forests because humanity cannot do without trees and forests, explained Kachale after planting Neem and Mango trees to lead the nation in tree planting.
"My forest, my Life means that we must equate trees with our lives where one cannot be alive without them. Without our forests, we would be placing our lives at risk here in Malawi and even the world over," he said.
However, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Management Hon. Halima Daud bemoaned the rampant cutting down of trees and the increased illegal charcoal burning in the country. She explained that her ministry faced a huge challenge in managing forests because of the alarming rate of charcoal burning, wanton cutting down of trees and increased forest fires.
Following the closure of the season, Hon Daud paid impromptu visits to tree planting sites to selected areas in Chikwawa, Blantyre and Zomba districts where she found planted trees growing amid thickets of grass. She observed that such poor management led to destruction of planted trees and poor tree growth as small trees compete with weeds for fertility.
The Department of Forestry has received reports from the three regions of the country indicating that 63,196,846 trees have been planted during this season. The target for the season was 60 million trees. The distribution of tree planting is as follows: 7.4 million planted in the North, 40.8 million in the centre and 15 million in the South.
The department commends the efforts made through the participation of individuals, traditional leaders, private sector organizations, Non Governmental Organizations, civil society, faith bodies and schools. These institutions have provided tree seedlings to support communities in planting as well as caring.
The department recognizes that tree planting benefits not only the planter but the whole nation as well as the global village as trees sustain the environment including mitigating climate change.
Forest resources in Malawi cover an estimated 27% of the 9.4 million hectares. About 11% of this area is National Parks and Wildlife Reserves, 10% is in Forest Reserves and 7% is on customary estate. Plantation forests constitute about 1% of the total land area under forest cover.
However, the country continues to suffer from forest degradation largely because of poverty, population growth, agricultural expansion, infrastructural development and over dependency on wood fuel for energy. Over 93% of the population depends on biomass energy for heating and lighting. It is estimated that forest resources in Malawi are declining at a very alarming rate of 2.6% per annum. The decline in the resource is attributed to deforestation.
Household firewood and charcoal consumption, currently estimated at 7.5million tonnes per annum exceeds sustainable supply by 3.7 million tons, leading to an annual destruction of 50, 000 to 75, 000 hectares of natural forests. In the past 25 years, forest reserves have declined from 47% to 28% of which 21% are in protected reserves.
The demand for forest resources for livelihoods, infrastructure development and energy is increasing very rapidly. This has resulted into the development of interventions in the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS) that aim at addressing the current challenges in the forestry sector. The MGD recognizes the role of the forest sector under theme one that deals with "Sustainable Economic Growth."
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