Community forests for supporting livelihoods

Lilongwe: Forest management has become a catalyst of economic development in the wake of climate change and this has spurred increased interest and adoption of the practice in some communities across Malawi.

Realizing the importance of wood and non-wood products in everyday life, locals are establishing and managing community forests and woodlots to aid income generating activities they are undertaking for their livelihoods. In Mchinji, members of Kaponya Cluster in Traditional Authority (T/A) Dambe are managing a one-acre forest to complement their fish production in a swampy wetland.

We started this forest in September 2015 by raising 5000 tree seedlings in our nursery and planted them in December the same year, said Robert Molosoni, vice chairperson for the cluster, a grouping of locals in community savings and enterprises. After three years, a green canopy now stands next to five fish ponds that the group are using for raising 17,500 fingerlings.

The forest is cushioning the ponds from sedimentation and siltation, ensuring that water is available throughout for our fish production, said Molosoni. In 2016, two out of their five ponds completely dried because siltation affected their water holding capacity. But maintenance of shrubs around the ponds and in the forest coupled with removal of silt has since quelled that challenge.

Last year, all the ponds had water throughout. The vegetative cover is helping to maintain water levels, said Charles Wilfred, a member of the cluster. In Kasungu, specifically Luziwa Village T/A Kaluluma, Mathandani Cooperative is also managing its own community forest.

The group is in the process of establishing a bakery of its own and would like to use the fuel wood from the forest for energy in baking. We have seen fellow cooperatives in Rumphi, Karonga and Nkhata Bay using their own forests to get wood, said Stanislaus Nyirenda, environmental and social safeguard monitor for Mathandani.

The cooperative is managing a 2.5hectare forest it established in 2014 largely with the aim of restoring the environment. For Mathandani, the restoration is purely through natural regeneration, which has been billed as one of the effective ways of restoring most of the degraded land in the country.

Malawi has close to 8 million hectares of degraded and deforested land, according to the country’s National Forest Land Restoration Strategy report. The strategy, launched last year, targets a number of national goals through forest land restoration (FLR) approach that include increased energy resources and poverty alleviation.

Key to the contribution of FLR under the goal of energy resources is the increase in supplies of locally managed and sustainable sources of fuelwood, which most cooperatives running rural bakeries are already benefiting from. In Kasungu, increasing costs of buying fuel wood for bakery production has forced members of Chang’ombe Cooperative in Chikukula Village, TA Kawamba to establish their own forest. Buying wood consumes not less than K30, 000 every month and this is costly to our business, said Robert Mwale, production supervisor for the cooperative.

In February this year, the cooperative planted 2500 trees on one part of a 3-acre piece of land permanently given to them by village head Chikukula.

We started with a three-quarter acre because we want the process to be gradual, Mwale said. Similarly, Salawe Cooperative Bakery in Nkhata Bay has its own forest in one of the hills in their village going by the same name.

In trying to alleviate poverty, practices in forest and woodlot management also target to strengthen linkages between agriculture, forestry and other sectors to ensure resilient socioeconomic growth. Kaponya’s community forest management is an admirable local intervention in achieving most of the national goals targeted by forest land restoration strategy as it directly supports fish production.

It is for this reason that government is promoting the establishment of community forests and woodlots. Initiatives by most cooperatives in establishing their own community forests come handy in this vision. Most groups running their forests have benefited from trainings provided by COMSIP through a component called environmental and social safeguards.

Under this component, COMSIP stresses on neutralizing the hazardous impacts of environmental degradation by building the capacity of people in managing the environment. This is usually done through training of clusters and cooperatives in the development of Environmental and Social Management Plans (ESMPs).

Training is also provided to safeguard monitors who champion the implementation of the ESMPs, reads the 2017 COMSIP Annual Report. According to the report, cumulative figures show that about 99, 000 members have received training in environmental and social safeguards while a total of 320 safeguard monitors have also been trained. Malawi is looking forward to restore forests in bare lands by increasing coverage of community forests to 500, 000 hectares from the less than 100, 000 hectares by 2030. This goal can be achieved if local people are empowered to appreciate the ecological support that community forests provide to the social and economic aspects of life.

Source: Malawi News Agency MANA