Stakeholders in environmental conservation in Malawi say illegal charcoal production, the leading cause of depletion of forest reserves in the country, would be addressed if authorities provide alternative sources of energy for cooking to citizens.
The stakeholders also hope that the amended Forest Bill, once debated and approved by Parliament, would help a lot because it has new stiffer penalties for perpetrators of forest crimes.
The observations were made during a forestry meeting focussing on national charcoal problem held on Monday in Lilongwe by the Malawi Parliamentary Conservation Caucus (MPCC).
The meeting drew together the Department of Forestry, Members of Parliament (MPs), Malawi Police Service, Agricultural Research and Extension Trust (ARET), Anti-Corruption Bureau and other institutions.
Nyasa Times understands that over 90 percent of Malawians rely on charcoal for cooking and 50 percent of these are urban dwellers.
Director of Forestry Dr Clement Chilima noted that this makes the fight against illegal charcoal production very difficult.
“In fact, there would be public outcry and backlash if charcoal is literally banned,” he said.
Over the years, Chilima’s department has even used Malawi Defense Force soldiers to deal with charcoal burners and other forest encroachers, making the department spend millions of kwacha on food and allowances for the men in uniform.
The director said the department has failed to sustain this and encroachers are resurfacing, apparently taking advantage of the department’s fewer guards who are lowly armed.
Backed by MPCC Co-Chair Welani Chilenga, Chilima described policemen manning roadblocks as being corrupt and failures, saying they allow bags of charcoal to pass through without any question.
However, Deputy Inspector General of Police responsible for administration John Nyondo defended his officers, saying ending illegal charcoal production and selling is everyone’s responsibility and that the police will always act whenever it receives formal reports that its officers are involved in charcoal mischiefs.
Chilima then brought on the spotlight the National Charcoal Strategy and amended Forest Bill, saying these could largely help alleviate the charcoal problem and the problem of forest depletion in Malawi, a view which attracted nods of approval from all the stakeholders.
“The National Charcoal Strategy draws attention to alternative sources of energy for cooking such as gas and electricity. We have a national sensitisation program to generate people’s interest in these energies”.
Continued Chilima, “The amended Forest Bill has new stiffer penalties for perpetrators of forest crimes with some paying fines as high as 15 to 20 million kwacha or facing longer custodial sentences. The bill is currently with the Solicitor General and we are pushing to have it tabled in the November sitting of Parliament”.
The stakeholders unanimously expressed their dismay that the bill has unnecessarily delayed with Alex Major, another MPCC Co-Chair, placing the blame on “some senior government officers” who he said are benefiting from the illegal charcoal.
“As MPCC, we will call whoever is delaying the Forest Bill. Whether it is the Solicitor General, they must answer why they are sitting on the bill,” emphasized MajorFollow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :