Malawi sets the pace in addressing environmental degradation

The Regional Southern Africa Bonn Challenge (SADC+), a high level ministerial conference seeking to step up efforts to restore depleted forests, has opened in Lilongwe with Malawi unveiling ambitious forestry and charcoal plans to arrest and reverse forest degradation and deforestation.

Msaka: Opening the Conference
Msaka after launching the two strategies

The meeting is part of a global initiative agreed recently in Bonn in German, and seeks to restore 350 million hectares of forest cover worldwide by the year 2030.

The African region, which has been hit hard by the effects of environmental plunder, is gunning to implement the initiative under the African Forest Landscape Restoration (AFR100).

The AFR 100 plan represents the continent’s pledge under the Bonn Challenge to plant 100 million hectares of forests cover in the next decade.

Speaking at the official opening of the two-day meeting, Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining Bright Msaka, said the Bonn Challenge is a global call for action after seeing a deterioration in water quantity and quality, high levels of soil erosion, decreased soil fertility, reduced harvests, hunger, ecological imbalance, worsening poverty and loss of biodiversity.

He said Malawi, which has suffered the brunt of forestry degradation and deforestation over the years due to charcoal production and unsustainable farming practices, is under the challenge committed to restore 4.5 million hectares of forest cover, an ambitious but achievable feat.

Said Msaka: “Our presence here confirms our shared conviction that forests and associated natural resources are important and critical for the socio and economic development of our nations and our communities.”

The Malawian natural resources minister urged other countries in the region to urgently subscribe to the initiative to reinforce the cause.

“We are here assembled to actualize our unshaken belief that forested landscapes are not an inheritance from our parents, but a debt owed to our children,” Msaka said.

Setting the pace, Malawi took advantage of the meeting to launch two documents on National Forest Landscape Restoration Strategy (NFLRS) and the National Charcoal Strategy (NCS).

The forestry strategy outlines how recommendations from a Restoration Opportunity Assessment can be applied taking into account the interdependency of various sectors, while charcoal strategy seeks to address the country’s overdependence on charcoal as a source of domestic energy.

The charge d’affaires at the US Embassy in Malawi, Andrew Herrup, described the launch of the two strategies as “ground breaking’, adding that this will bolster Malawi’s efforts towards achieving the targets of the Bonn Challenge.

He said with 97 percent of the population relying on charcoal and wood as sources of energy, Malawi needs to push harder to provide greater access to electricity in order to pull herself out of the quagmire.

Herrup said with the implementation of the US$351 million Millennium Challenge compact, Malawi will have a strengthened and expanded power sector, which in turn will provide citizens with the much needed electricity for domestic and industrial use.

According to the African Union (AU), the issues under discussion are both economic and developmental in nature. The AU adds that the weakest link of Africa’s development lies in its dry lands, which have left as many as 14 million people facing hunger and starvation in Southern Africa alone.

The AU’s Coordinator of the Great Green Wall Initiative Dr. Elvis Paul Tangem, said drought and hunger has pushed levels of acute malnutrition to 37 percent in Kenya, while lack of water and vegetation is putting lives of both people and animals at risk in Zimbabwe.

He said renewed clashes amongst cattle herders in Northern Nigeria and some parts of Kenya are a result of depleted forests and vegetation, which has left communities battling for control of resources such as water.

Tangem further suggested that countries should consider redirecting their funding for chemical fertilizers to initiatives that can help promote development of sustainable natural fertilizer trees and plants.

“These can go a long in addressing some of the social challenges we are facing today,” said Tangem.

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