FOREST CONSERVATION IN MALAWI, AFRICA
Why do we run a Forest Conservation project in Africa? Deforestation in Africa is a huge problem and, in Malawi, an area of forest the size of a football pitch is cut down every 10 minutes!
- Rapid population growth
- Acres of forest being cleared for agriculture
- As forests disappear, mass erosion contributes to flooding
- No ownership by the local community
- The government is under-resourced
- Forest Conservation Committees established to protect forests
- Simple bylaws adopted and enforced
- Ensure families around the forests use Changu Changu Moto
fuel-efficient cookstoves to reduce wood used for cooking
- Encourage the planting of new trees to reduce the pressure on indigenous forests
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Forest Conservation in Malawi, Africa
Achievements and Future Plans
We have protected approximately 340 sq.kms of forest. We have over 1,700 Conservation Committee members working in the Kandoli, Choma and Nkhata Bay South forest areas. Our aim is to continue supporting the Forest Conservation Committees and promoting forest conservation in the hills to the south of Nkhata Bay District.
How We Work
We empower local communities to become the solution and work in partnership with them and government departments. Together we have introduced bylaws and educated the local communities on benefits of conservation.
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Why It Is So Important
High population growth has been the prime cause of deforestation across Malawi and has led to soil degradation, landslides, perennial rivers drying up, rain shortages and depletion of wildlife. Wood is taken from indigenous forests for building and to use for cooking. Increasing numbers of people have become involved in the production and sale of charcoal, particularly in areas near towns, further decimating the remaining forests. Trees are also cut down for firewood and timber used for housebuilding or are burned to make space for growing crops.
An area of forest the size of a football pitch is cut down every 10 minutes, and for this reason, Ripple Africa runs a Forest Conservation project in Malawi, Africa.
We are doing this by:
- empowering local communities to take ownership of their forests and set up local forest conservation committees
- working in partnership with communities and district government staff to introduce bylaws to protect the forests
- reducing illegal activity by supporting the conservation committees and Forestry Department to patrol the forested hills
- educating local communities on the importance of forest conservation
- promoting sustainable environmental projects such as Ripple Africa’s Tree Planting project and the Changu Changu Moto fuel-efficient cookstove project.
For years, Ripple Africa has worked to fight deforestation in Malawi through tree planting and fuel-efficient cookstove projects.
However, while Ripple Africa has been fighting deforestation in populated lowland areas, the charity has watched in sadness as the mature indigenous forests in the hills of Malawi’s Nkhata Bay and Mzimba Districts continue to disappear.
These forested hills are a primary factor in regulating the annual rainfall in the area and, frustratingly, deforestation here is pointless:
- The land is too steep and stony for farming.
- The hills are too remote for extracting firewood.
- Erosion caused by deforestation washes away any decent top soil left.
Just a handful of farmers are responsible for all this destruction through the practice of shifting cultivation. The practice is appalling, selfish, and illegal in Malawi. However, in the hills there is no regulation, so it continues unabated. The farmers:
- clear acres of forest
- burn the trees where they fall (as they are too remote to transport the wood)
- temporarily cultivate the land for just one to three years until crops fail – often they grow sorghum for beer
- render the soil infertile, and then
- move on and do it all again in another forested area.
Ripple Africa is doing everything it can to combat deforestation in Malawi on all fronts. However, Ripple Africa’s Forest Conservation project is special as it is saving the forested hills responsible for regulating much of the rainfall in the District. With 90% of the population in Malawi getting their food from subsistence farming, rainfall and climate stability are not just issues for environmentalists, they are inextricably linked to poverty, health, and survival for local people.
The aim of the Forest Conservation project is to preserve the forested hills of Nkhata Bay and Mzimba Districts before they are lost forever.
What We Have Achieved
The Forest Conservation project started in the Kandoli Hills in 2010. Protected areas were identified, bylaws were passed, and the Ripple Africa forest conservation project was born – making TV, radio, and newspaper headlines in Malawi.
The project has been very successful, and people who have broken the new bylaws have been arrested, charged and fined and, in some cases, sent to prison. In addition, the project is highlighting the importance of forest conservation to local people.
Following the success of this project, we moved on to introduce the project in the Choma Hill area near Mzimba, which has been heavily deforested for charcoal production as charcoal is widely used for cooking in the nearby urban area of Mzuzu. We are still in the process of introducing the project in this area and 60 Conservation Committees have been set up and are in the process of being trained. There is considerable local interest in protecting the hills here as there are very few forested areas left near Mzuzu.
We have also started to introduce the project into the large range of forested hills that run parallel to Lake Malawi’s shoreline between Nkhata Bay and Dwambazi. This is a huge area compared to the other two and is more heavily populated, making the task of protecting the forests much more difficult. However, we are working in partnership with District Forestry Officers and local Traditional Authorities to look at the most effective means of introducing the project into these hills.
How We Work
The joint committee learned they had the power to create local bylaws to legally protect their own forest land. Many Traditional Authorities and Village Headmen had been writing to Ripple Africa for years, begging the charity for help on the issue forest conservation and deforestation, and now Ripple Africa could help them to take action.
Local Traditional Authorities, Village Headmen, and Conservation Committees nominated the areas they wanted to protect, and Ripple Africa worked with the senior officials to draft the bylaws which banned all farming, burning, wood harvesting, and settlement in the protected forest hills.
Passing the bylaws was essential, but success depends on constant monitoring. Ripple Africa is working in partnership with the Nkhata Bay District Forestry Department to patrol the protected areas, and employs additional forest guards, provides the fuel and motorbikes necessary to patrol such a huge area, and holds regular meetings with the Conservation Committees to ascertain reports of any illegal activity in the protected forests.
Ripple Africa’s environmental team also works with the local communities to educate people on the importance of forest conservation and the dangers of deforestation in Malawi, as well as explaining the bylaws, answering questions and promoting sustainable environmental practice which benefits the community, such as Ripple Africa’s Tree Planting project.
In 2015, the team started to work in the same way in the area near Mzuzu to complement the tree planting initiative which was introduced here. As this is in Mzimba District, the process of consultation with District officials had to be carried out in the new District and a partnership built up between Ripple Africa and Mzimba’s District Forestry team. The Choma Hill area was targeted as this has been heavily deforested through charcoal production, to provide cooking fuel for the urban areas of Mzuzu. The project is proving extremely popular at all levels of the local community and we have a great working relationship with the Forestry extension team.
The Project's Future
We will support the Forestry Department with patrols and to meet with the Conservation Committees to ascertain reports of any illegal activity in the protected hills.
We are linking our Tree Planting and Forest Conservation projects with our Changu Changu Moto (fuel-efficient cookstove) project to reinforce the importance of conservation and encourage communities to make more effective use of their remaining natural resources.
With these ongoing projects we are doing our best to reduce deforestation in Malawi.
However, because of the distances that our staff have to cover to run this project, we are seeking more funding to enable us to purchase motorcycles and employ additional staff. If you would like to help us, please contact us.
This project addresses the following Sustainable Development Goals: