It is not a secret that Malawi’s forests are diminishing at a faster rate than expected, a development that is threatening both the country’s environment and other agricultural activities which depend on rainfall.
For the past few years, well known local large forests such as Chikangawa and Dzalanyama have been reduced to mere bare lands due to wanton cutting down of trees for various domestic uses especially firewood, charcoal burning and production of timber among others.
According to a 2014 Wood demands and deforestation challenges Malawi survey done by W.T. Bunderson, rural firewood consumes about 50.2 percent of the country’s forests followed by charcoal burning which is mostly used by the majority of urban dweller at 25 percent.
Other sectors which have also contributed to deforestation here in Malawi are the tobacco industry at 7.7 percent followed by the brick making sector at 7.2 percent.
If left unattended, this trend could however become a major blow to the survival of the country’s major foreign earner crop which normally also relies upon the trees for its good production.
Malawi relies mostly on tobacco as it contributes 60% of the country’s foreign earnings, but despite the good economic side of this crop to the country’s economy, this crop too slightly contributes to local deforestation especially when curing flue cured tobacco which needs firewood.
According to Philip Morris International, a well known global manufacturer of cigarettes brands such as Marlboro and Benson & Hedges and one of the largest buyers of locally produced tobacco, it takes 10kg of wood to dry 1kg of tobacco.
To counter this problem, Alliance One Tobacco Malawi Limited through the Integrated Production System (IPS) farming system is encouraging tobacco farmers to have a woodlot that will serve as their source of fuel-wood and for barn use.
This system, according to Alliance One Tobacco Malawi Limited Leaf production director Ron Ngwira will help to save the remaining trees and conserve the environment through reforestation.
One of the many farmers who is implementing this woodlot per farmer initiative is 57 year-old Lameck Msukwa of Samuel Mshani village, Traditional Authority (TA) Mzukubola in Mzimba district.
Msukwa, who has six hectors of tobacco under the IPS program, has a woodlot next to his house, thanks to Alliance One Tobacco Malawi Limited for provision of over 12,000 seedlings acacia and blue-gum trees.
“Previously our main source of fuel-wood for flue-cured tobacco production was natural forest. We used to travel long distances in search of wood and we were greatly contributing to deforestation in this area,” he said.
Smiles said it was after he joined IPS farming system that ‘we were taught the benefits of having a woodlot.’
“Now, we have trees next to our houses and in the process, the areas which we deforested are now covered with some natural trees as well as those we have planted ourselves. We are assured that in the next few years, we will have our forests back,” he said.
Just like Msukwa, Boyd Ndhlovu is another large scale farmer who has also planted trees under the same farming system.
Ndhlovu inherited Kampala estate from his parents in 1989 and until four years ago, his main source of wood for his 25 hectors of flue cured-tobacco was natural forests.
“It was four years ago when I joined IPS that I was taught the importance of having my own wood-lot to conserve the environment,” said a 50 year old Ndhlovu.
Currently, Ndhlovu has a wood-lot with 12 000 blue-gum and acacia trees. Apart from planting trees, farmers through the IPS system are being urged to plant live barns.
“A live barn is a life-long project whereby a farmer is assured of not having the burden of constructing a tobacco barn every year and in the process saving the trees both in the woodlot and the natural forests,” said Chitipa based farmer Tchaison Kayange whose live barn is in use.
Kayange said the live barn is multipurpose as he gets mikangala (tree sticks) from the live barn while the woodlot is for flue cured tobacco which he usually grows every year.
“So far, it has become a norm for me to plant 600 tree seedlings every year which are provided by Alliance One Tobacco,” he said.
Chitipa district alone has seven Alliance One Malawi Tobacco Limited IPS schemes which translate into more trees being planted per year.
So far this woodlot per farmer initiative being championed by Alliance One Tobacco will go a long way in conserving the country’s environment and also at the same time reducing deforestation across the country. – Additional reporting by and Isaac KambwiriFollow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :