The jeep came to an abrupt halt, a few miles before we reached Lengwe National Park. I saw the Forest Officer jump out and stop a villager on a bicycle that was overloaded with a giant stack of firewood. The villager looked distraught as the Forest Officer confiscated the logs and sent him off with a cautionary warning. With a shrug of resignation, the officer explained that harvesting firewood in forest reserves and national parks was illegal and incidents like the one I had just witnessed were increasing tensions between the community and the Department of Forestry.
Their economic predicament forces them to risk being apprehended but under these circumstances, they take their chances.
The Changing Wealth of Nations 2018). Still, When forests are cut down, the resulting high rates of soil erosion adversely affect the water table which puts this already impoverished country into further economic and environmental stress. Additionally,
Environment Matters in Malawi
The incidence that I had just witnessed made me realize the vicious cycle of poverty and environmental degradation. As explained in the latest World Bank Country Environment Analysis (CEA) report, rapid population growth places huge demands on natural systems as more land is converted to agriculture and more forests are harvested for fuel. Climate change in the form of natural disasters and extreme weather events further strains this country’s degraded land and forests.
Recent environmental projects have focused on the Shire River basin, the most prominent hot spot of land degradation in Malawi. The ongoing Shire River Basin Management Program (SRBMP) has helped the Department of Forestry to work with local community members to manage forests more sustainably under co-management concessions so that they have co-ownership of the forests and can find a means to survive without having to cut trees inside protected areas which puts them at risk. In six large forest reserves supported under this program, efforts of enhance forest protection and regeneration are underway. The results are promising and for the first time in many years, forest rangers and forest-dependent communities are now partners and not adversaries.
Investments in livelihood generation through enterprise development, wildlife conservation and combating illegal wildlife trade and logging are also some of the activities that have been implemented under the project. The video below showcases Lengwe National Park, which has faced intense deforestation and wildlife poaching. By supporting the development of small scale enterprises, strengthening community governance, and increasing resources for law enforcement, the environmental situation in the area has improved.
In June 2017, a $5.6 million grant led by the World Bank and funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), as a part of the Global Wildlife Program was integrated into the Shire Valley Transformation Project (SVTP), which adopts a landscape approach - an integrated method for sustainably managing land for multiple purposes and functions.
A sustainable path lies ahead
For example, the recent National Charcoal Strategy (2017–2027) is an ambitious 10-year plan that promotes legalized charcoal value chains for climate-resiliency- where the government encourages people to apply for licenses to grow and manage their own forest areas allowing for the production, transport, and sale of charcoal to be regulated. With support from the World Bank and previously, the European Union, forest co-management plans that engage local communities would significantly increase sustainable wood production, reduce the tensions between the law enforcement agencies and communities and importantly, protect forest resources. Additionally, land reforms are boosting land tenure security and the government is making progress in taking wildlife crime seriously, promoting private sector investment in protected areas, and sharing tourism benefits with communities. All these efforts together with environmental education and awareness raising can help address some of the issues and transform the landscape to becoming more resilient.