SOUNDING THE ALARM
Malawi's forests on the brink
Deforestation and forest degradation are among the most pressing developmental challenges facing Malawi today. Rampant unregulated deforestation negatively impacts crop production and livelihood security, nutrition and public health, and national economic development, undermining hard-fought development gains and leaving Malawi less resilient to climate change. Unaccounted billions of kwacha are lost as a result of deforestation—stemming from poor management and the illicit trade enabled by corruption. Forest crime is increasingly organised, accompanied by the hallmarks of collusion, intimidation, and violence. Energy costs are spiralling. This dossier is intended to draw attention to Malawi’s deepening deforestation crisis. It features seven investigative reports, each conducted by a top environmental journalist on a topic of their choice, developed and published through their respective media outlets. A panel of experts have also submitted their opinion.
Journalists are sounding the alarm, and we all have a duty to respond.
Scroll through the investigations and expert opinions below and click ‘read more’ to read the full article.
Click the link to download the full dossier in pdf format
Systemic corruption has turned Malawi’s forests into war zones, with some forest scouts taking bribes from illegal sawyers to allow them access to the trees. And when the deals turn sour, gunfights and deaths often follow.
A brave undercover reporter risked his life posing as a charcoal middleman to gain access to Thuma and Dedza-Salima Forest Reserves, which have become battlegrounds between communities illegally harvesting trees for charcoal and the law enforcement trying to protect the reserves.
Malawi’s trees are disappearing at a rapid rate, as the government’s failure to promote alternative sources of cooking energy puts extreme pressure on the country’s already depleted forests.
The once lush forests of the Viphya Plantation in the Mzimba District of northern Malawi today lie bare and desolate, with 85 per cent of plantations here still awaiting reforestation, despite the MK1.7 billion that the government has sunk into the project over the past nine years.
Journalist Grace Nyenyezi Khombe visits Njentcherere dambo in Dzalanyama Forest Reserve, where she meets families who are turning to ‘tree hunting’ – cutting down indigenous trees to produce charcoal – as a means of survival.
High demand for charcoal in Lilongwe and other urban areas is accelerating deforestation in MuaLivulezi Forest Reserve in Dedza District.
Despite Malawi now being home to a variety of smart cooking energies, such as liquified petroleum gas (LPG), sustainable charcoal and briquettes, a lack of awareness and access is slowing the uptake of these alternatives.
Please scroll through and click read more for the full article.
Let’s put the statistics aside for a moment, because we have all witnessed the devastation with our own eyes. Vast swathes of our forests lost up and down the country. Rivers silted up, topsoil washed away, and ancient habitats lost.
Chair of Natural Resources Committee, Co-Chair of Malawi Parliamentary Conservation Caucus
The science is clear: forests are essential to life on earth. While forests cover only around 30% of the planet’s land area, they are home to 75% of all plant and animal life. Forests play a critical role in mitigating climate change and are essential components in the water cycle.
Chief of Party, Modern Cooking for Healthy Forests Project
The quality, the depth and strength of the stories in this dossier shows the seriousness, passion and dedication my fellow journalists have for environmental journalism in Malawi.
President, Association of Environmental Journalists in Malawi
The current deforestation crisis is a result of complex factors, ranging from population growth with the subsequent increase in demand for resources and services, to the collapse and failure of governance systems, exacerbated by corruption, politics, and failure to set our priorities and change our mindset.
Chair, Africa Energy Forum
When I was young, most mountains in areas that I have lived were covered with mature trees and they looked beautiful. Soche, Bangwe, Mpingwe, Ndirande and Michiru in Blantyre were amongst the mountains with lots of beautiful trees.
Director of Programmes, Lilongwe Wildlife Trust
Forests provide a variety of important goods - timber, food, energy - and services - soil and water conservation, pollution reduction and climate regulation. Despite their importance, forest resources in Malawi continue to degrade rapidly, largely due to unsustainable and illegal charcoal production.
CEO, CEPA (Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy)
Malawi’s Forest Conservation
The state of forests and forest resources in Malawi and the role of Government in protecting and managing them have changed dramatically over the decades, closely associated with the local political evolution.
Director of Forestry