Phalombe, : Mulanje Cedar, a natural tree that grows on Mulanje Mountain, cannot be artificially planted as it is only replenished by God, locals believe. But environmental experts disagree.
The lack of common perspective between the traditional and scientific views has been the centre of accusations for greed and plunder of this valuable natural tree.
Such a situation has always pit locals against Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT), a nongovernmental organization working towards protecting the mountain. This has led to failure in restocking this tree regarded national heritage which facing unprecedented plunder.
Currently, only seven mature trees of its kind stand on the mountain, according to Dr. Tembo Chanyenga, deputy director at the Forest Research Institute of Malawi (FRIM).
This is unbelievable because when the tree was declared as an endangered species in 2013, there were over 54,000 trees standing, Chanyenga says.
Now with the tree staring extinction in the face, efforts are being made to save Mulanje Cedar by domesticating it through planting.
Several studies by FRIM show that it is viable to regenerate the tree physically than naturally. The process of planting the tree has already started.
In 2016, the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) through the Darwin’s Initiative started funding a project named Save Our Cedar. The initiative is set to plant 1.5 million cedar seedlings on Mulanje Mountain and other areas where it can thrive in the country by the end of 2018.
These places include Zomba Mountain, Chikangawa Forest, Chigumula in Blantyre and Lichenya and Thuchila on Mulanje Mountain. Targeted total land area for plantation is estimated at slightly over 5,000 hectares.
Kirsty Shaw, head of ecological restoration and tree conservation at BGCI points out that the tree appeared on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of most endangered species in 2013.
This means that without proper measures to protect it, Mulanje Cedar could become extinct any time soon, Shaw says.
Shaw believes that the current situation demands retaining the population of Mulanje Cedar (which should be correctly named Mulanje Cypress) by any means.
The first step, according to Shaw, is to demystify the belief that the coniferous tree can only be restored naturally.
The partnership of MMCT, FRIM and BCGI has partly managed to win the hearts of some community members who believe that the tree can only regenerate naturally. But some pockets of resistance remain.
While the locals shoot down the notion of planting the tree, three allied organizations have supported communities in Mulanje and Phalombe to establish 10 nurseries with 500, 000 Cedar seedlings for planting in some parts of Mulanje Mountain to prove a point.
During his recent visit to Malawi, Stephen Blackmore, botanist to her Majesty the Queen of England and chairperson for the Darwin Initiative, praised some communities for embracing the concept of domesticating Mulanje Cedar, describing the initiative as a new future for the Malawi pride.
Blackmore pointed out that the Darwin Initiative, which is interested in the preservation of all kinds of tree species across the world, was especially concerned about the situation in Malawi.
Mulanje Cedar was sliding towards extinction, hence the enthusiasm over the mission to save it, according to Blackmore.
It would be very sad for Malawi to become the first country on the continent to lose its national icon to illegal harvesting and failure to replenish the tree, Blackmore said while calling for increased exercises of planting the tree.
He added that while the replanting exercise is still underway, the mission’s success hugely depends on Malawians’ pure understanding of the importance of conserving all kinds of natural resources.
In this understanding, he said, is where the spirit of environmental protection begins.
In a bid to ensure that the Save Our Cedar project fully empowers citizens with knowledge on the simplicity of domesticating Mulanje Cypresses, the three partners � MMCT, FRIM and BCGI are providing technical advice to community members around Mulanje Mountain.
This is intended to raise Cedar nurseries and sell them to the Save our Cedar mission for their own economic gains.
Mulanje Mountain Community Conservation Committee Chairperson, Foster Kasamuka told Malawi News Agency (Mana) that the group has raised 34, 000 Cedar seedlings.
This has been done in Group Village Headman Kazembe in Traditional Authority Mkanda in Mulanje and that raising the seedlings was not a difficult task.
Kasamuka said it is high time people in the area let go of old beliefs for the sake of progress in effective environmental management.
We would like everyone to join us and try to plant the tree so that we can find out whether it is really not possible to plant it by hand, Kasamuka said adding that cedar is artificially replaceable and can take nearly fifty to sixty years to harvest.
Source: Malawi News Agency MANA