Malawi has very diverse altitude, ranging, from 50 meters above sea level in the lower shire valley, to 2600 meters on the Nyika plateau in the north and above 3000 meters on Mulanje peak in the south. Subsequently, the country has a wide variety of vegetation formations.
At least 19 distinct vegetation communities are recognised in Malawi (Table 4.1). A greater proportion of Malawi's natural forests are dominated by miombo (Brachystegia) woodlands, which are unfortunately characterized by low annual growth rates and most of the forests have low commercial value. As a consequence these forests are used by the local people predominantly for fuelwood.
4.1 State of forests in Malawi
Forest resources in forest reserves, national parks and game reserves are generally not available for exploitation. Their function is to conserve the environment and biodiversity and also to provide refuge for wildlife. Forest reserves are mostly located in water catchment areas and in fragile areas. Forests on customary land are the most accessible to the rural majority of Malawians.
The forestry resource is under threat due primarily to increasing population. This is worse in the Southern and Central Regions where 90% of the population is concentrated while half the forest resource is in the northern region. In the central and southern regions there is a substantial gap between fuelwood supply and demand from customary land, the deficit being met from forest reserves. At the same time, demand for wood products, mainly fuelwood, is increasing due to increased population.
It is estimated that about 70% of the demand for wood originates from urban and rural households (10% and 60% respectively) and from tobacco and tea estates (30%). Land clearing for agriculture further accelerates deforestation.
Extensive forests, which previously covered vast areas of the country, have, over the years, been subjected to considerable pressure from human activities. Fig.4.1 shows the current extent of forest resource cover in Malawi (see also Map 3.1) and Map 4.1 shows where changes in forest cover have taken place between 1972 and 1992. The distribution of forests at regional level and in various districts of Malawi (in relation to population), is very skewed. The southern region, which, has the highest population densities (up to 235 per km2 in Chiradzulu district), continues to face critical wood shortages, while most wood is found in the north, where only 11% of the population live. Land clearing for agriculture, coupled with high wood demands, has led to increased deforestation. Between 1972 and 1990, total forest cover declined by 41%, representing an average loss of 2.3% per annum (Bunderson and Hayes, 1995, see also Map 3.1). The heavy reliance on wood energy is threatening the sustainable exploitation of forest resources.
Biomass energy accounts for over 90% of Malawi's primary energy consumption of which 37% is derived from customary forests, 26% from forest reserves, plantations provides 11% and crop residues 10% and other sources provide the rest 16% (MoEM, 1997). Expressed in aggregate terms this represents clearing of 50000 hectares per year.
Table 4.2 shows the most and least forested districts in the country. Forests in Malawi can be divided into two main categories namely, natural and plantation forests.
4.1.1 Natural forests
Natural forests are largely the remainder of the miombo forests that once covered almost the whole country. These forests are on customary land under the control of local authorities. They are also in protected forest and wildlife reserves.
There are 71 gazetted forests managed by the Forestry Department. They cover an estimated 0.87 million ha. comprising 22% of forest cover in Malawi. Most of them are on hills and mountains protecting fragile catchment and watershed areas from environmental degradation. The Department of National Parks and Wildlife manages national parks and wildlife reserves. They comprise an estimated 0.98 million ha. which represents about 25% of total land area.
Forests on customary land are owned by chiefs and cover 3.1 million ha, which is about 50.4% of the forested area in Malawi, comprising 17.6% of undisturbed forest and 32.8% of disturbed forest. Some natural forests are located on leased land in estates involved in commercial farming. An estimated 12% of all leased and freehold land is under natural woodland, forest and plantation. Natural forests are not effectively managed and this result in low productivity.
4.1.2 Plantation forests
Forest plantations have been established mainly by government and to a smaller extent by private estate owners and smallholder farmers.
Government plantations are established on 0.09 million ha, covering about 1.8% of total forest area. Eighty-five percent of the timber forests consist of softwood (mainly Pious patula). The largest proportion of plantation forests is at Chikangawa pine plantation in the north of Malawi covering about 50,000 hectares (59% of all plantation forests). The rest is made up of smaller blocks with a maximum size of 6,000 hectares. The main hardwood species planted mostly for poles and fuelwood are of the Eucalyptus type.
There are also privately owned Eucalyptus plantations mostly grown for fuelwood and timber. These plantations are mostly in the central and southern part of Malawi and they contribute about 20,000 hectares towards the total forest resource. The participation of the private sector in forest management is still limited, with estimated forests of about 25,000 hectares. Private plantations are mostly owned by tea, tobacco and sugar estates. There is also 0.02 million hectares of smallholder woodlots (see Table 4.6 and 4.7).
Apart from plantation forests, there are trees outside commercial forests that represent an important source of wood for the smallholders. These trees are either planted or grow naturally in the gardens, around homes and occasionally along roads (up to 12 m3 per hectare. Although the volume is small per unit area), the amount of wood that can be harvested from these areas is significant at a natural scale because smallholder farming covers over 4.5 million ha.
4.1.3 Forest industry and trade
Forest industry and trade in Malawi is represented by a handful of companies. There is, however, potential for expansion. The companies produce timber, plywood, block boards and matches. Some of the companies promote afforestation programmes.
Despite the existence
of large plantation forests in the country, Malawi has remained a net importer
of processed wood products. The main timber plantation at Chikangawa, representing
59% of the total plantation resource, remains under-utilised due to lack
of investors and it has suffered from frequent fires recently.
are threatening sustainable management of forest resources in Malawi. Eight
main issue indicators have been identified.
At present, Malawi remains one of the most densely populated countries, and has one of the highest population growth rates in Southern Africa (see Chapter 2).
The increase in population has resulted in an increase in demand for services and products offered by the forestry. As these population pressure increases, the capacity of the forest resource to supply products and services in a sustainable manner is threatened.
Poverty is a prevalent condition in Malawi characterized by serious deprivation of basic needs in terms of food, water and shelter. Four main factors are known to contribute poverty in Malawi, namely, low agriculture productivity, low non-farm income, low education and poor health (UNDP/GOM, 1993) These factors are linked with each other in a complex relationship of causes and effects.
Poverty in Malawi is widespread in both urban and rural areas and affects more than half of the population. The uneven spatial distribution of poverty levels is shown in Map 2.1 (Chapter 2). Areas with the high levels of poverty indices such as in south-eastern regions experience the greatest pressure on forest resources.
Considering all the major wood consumers, wood demand is about 8.5 million m3 per year while sustainable wood supply is 5.2 million m3 (Kainja, 1993). This calculation excludes national parks and game reserves. There is therefore a wood deficit of 3.3 million cubic metres between sustainable supply and demand.
Since poor people have small land holdings and lack access to farm inputs, their common strategy for survival is to sell forest products in order to obtain cash for purchasing basic needs and services. Forests and trees are therefore sold mostly as firewood and charcoal along all road sides leading to urban centres, especially big urban centres like Blantyre, Zomba, Lilongwe and Mzuzu. In a particularly bad year, when the agricultural harvest is poor, the trade in firewood and charcoal increases. So far, it has not been possible to establish real trend or relationship between the increasing demand for forest products and increasing tree-planting activities for commercial purposes.
4.2.3 Agriculture expansion
The agriculture sector in Malawi has been divided into estate and smallholder subsectors. While the area under customary land declined over the past 30 years, the amount of land under leasehold has increased since 1970. There were 229 estates in 1970. In 1980, the number increased to 1321 and in 1989 there were 14,671 estates (Eschweiler, 1993). Currently, the number of estates is estimated at 21,000, covering about 10% of the land area. Estate expansion has been most extensive in the central region, which accounts for 77% of all estates in Malawi.
Between 1975 and 1990, the area under cultivation expanded by 31%, giving an average expansion rate of 1.4% per year. Since this calculation includes fallow land, it can be concluded that the expansion must have come from clearing indigenous forests and woodlands (Eschweiler, 1993).
Under traditional management system there is hardly any scope for expansion of land under rainfed cropping systems as the remaining land is mainly marginal or unsuitable. If management of the existing agricultural land is improved, it is possible to increase crop production by increasing crop yields per unit area rather than by increasing land under cultivation.
However land under forest reserves, national parks and wildlife reserves has been absorbing an increasing proportion of agricultural expansion. Considering the increasing population and hence the increasing demand for land for crop production, there appears to be only two options, namely, to improve crop production methods to realise better yields from existing crop land, idle (under-utilised) land and marginal lands; or to encroach into protected areas. Agricultural expansion therefore remains a major threat to forest resources in Malawi.
4.2.4 Wood energy demands
Biomass provides most (93%) of the country's total energy needs. The majority of wood energy users are found in the rural areas where almost 85% of the population live. The various sources of fuelwood for rural energy production are shown in Fig. 4.2.
In 1992, it was estimated that two thirds of the total wood consumption represents rural demand for fuelwood for cooking and heating. The balance is composed of urban wood fuels for cooking and industrial requirements, building poles, construction, tobacco and tea curing, and building requirements and other miscellaneous uses (Fig. 4.3).
Various studies have shown that the national trend for fuelwood consumption is increasing. Over the period of 7 years (1983 - 1990), wood consumption increased from 8.5 million tons to about 12 million tons per year, an increase of about 41%. Within the same period, wood demand by the tobacco industry increased by about 29%.
However sustainable wood supply is 5.2 million m3 only (Kainja, 1993). This only excludes national parks and wildlife reserves. There is therefore a significant wood deficit between sustainable supply and demand, which will ultimately result in exploitation of forest resources beyond a sustainable level. Given the key role that wood plays both in the national economy (supporting agro-industry) and supporting rural livelihood (supply of wood and non-wood products), wood fuel shortage i a problem that must be addressed with urgency in order to avert a serious energy crisis and indeed a potential economic and ecological collapse.
The ability of the Forest Department to protect forests from fires has been greatly reduced by recent limited financial allocations from the government. Fires burn and destroy considerable amounts of the forest resource every year (Table 4.3). In 1995 alone, over 13,000 hectares of timber plantation were destroyed by fire.
This was equivalent to 104 million Kwacha damage in one year in timber value (Chipompha, 1997). This loss represents the total allocation of funds to the Forestry Department in the year 1996/97. However it is now established that more than 25000 hectares of plantations were burned between 1996 and the end of 1997. But there was also loss to biodiversity and other environmental losses that could not be quantified. While plantation fires are monitored by an elaborate system, natural forests are not monitored with similar vigilance. Information on frequency of fires, extent of damage and at what time of the year fires occur, is not available. This lack of basic data makes fire management very difficult.
Most fires are caused due to malicious reasons some of which are: rivalries between forestry staff and local communities, vandalism or as a result of forest staff retrenchment. In some cases, forest fires that are used as a management tool get out of control and bum the forest.
Lack of fire fighting equipment and fire early warming facilities have also affected fire control programmes. New technology exists for early monitoring for fires both in plantation and natural forest through satellite technology.
Natural forest resources of Malawi have not been spared from major pest attacks. In the early 1970's a grasshopper infestation threatened pine trees by feeding on pine needles. This was brought under control by spraying over the plantations affected.
Since 1979, three exotic aphid pests have invaded pine and cypress plantations throughout Malawi. The first was the pine needle aphid which first attacked Dedza Mountain Forest Reserve in 1984. The pest has now spread countrywide. It is estimated that the pest was responsible for 30% loss of wood production in 1989 (Chilima and Murphy, 1997).
The second is the woolly aphid, which is a source of great concern in pine plantations. In 1990, wood loss due to the aphids was estimated at a value of US$2 6 million in standing crop and another US$2.6 million in lost annual increment.
The third exotic aphid is the cypress aphid. The pest was first recorded in Mzuzu and Viphya Plantations in 1986. By 1988, the pest had spread throughout the country. The most striking impact was the dying of cypress. By the end of 1990, this aphid had caused damage estimated at US$2.4 million in standing crop and a further US$1 million in increment.
With assistance from the British Government, it has been possible to identify natural enemies for aphids to feed on them and thereby control their numbers. This project has succeeded in bringing aphid numbers under control. The programme continues to monitor pest manifestations, including the response of aphids to its predators.
4.2.7 Deforestation and encroachment
Forest resources have been subjected to deforestation. Fig. 4.4 shows deforestation between 1972 and 1992, as determined by comparing satellite images in 1972 and 1992.
Five main causes of deforestation are described (Chipompha, 1997).
Over the period from 1985 to 1993, livestock population has declined by about 22% (Fig. 4.5). This overall decline includes domestic animals like cattle, goats, pigs, sheep, and donkeys. Of the four domestic anneal types, cattle and pig numbers remained almost the same while sheep numbers declined by 54%. Goats and donkeys on the other hand increased by 22% and 38% respectively.
While it may appear that domestic animals as a pressure on forest resource has shown a declining trend, a 1995 assessment revealed that livestock numbers were actually as large as 2.3 million (FAO, 1996). With dwindling grazing land, rural communities are increasingly utilizing forest reserves for grazing purposes thereby increasing the pressure. Domestic animals generally trample upon young tree seedlings, but on the other hand forests are grazed have a reduced fire risk since some combustible material is eaten by domestic animals.
also fertilize forests with their manure. The overall impact of allowing
domestic animals into forest reserves is yet to be established. In the
absence of data, the threat of livestock to forest cannot be ruled out.
especially when forests lands are increasingly becoming the only place
where domestic animals can feed.
Various efforts have been put in place to promote sustainable management of forest resources and to mitigate the effect of pressures on the forests. Ten main response indicators are discussed below
Reforestation programmes aim to establish trees where they have been cut because the trees that were cut down could not grow again on their own. This practice commonly establishes forest plantations where tree seedlings are grown in nurseries and later planted out.
Some 17 government plantations growing mostly pine trees and managed by the Forestry Department have been established all over the country (see Table 4.6). The main purpose of these plantations is to provide timber and various other products mostly used in the country. Apart from these pine plantations, there are also privately owned plantations (Table 4.5) growing mostly bluegums (Eucalyptus species). These plantations are mostly under estate ownership.
Between 1985 and 1989 reforestation took place in response to the need to produce wood in a sustainable manner. Most of the replanting has been done in fuelwood and poles plantations where bluegums were the main tree type and in the timber plantations, where pines are the common tree type
Afforestation refers to the planting of trees in an area where there were no trees before. It taking place in plantations and woodlots, by communities or individuals.
Most of the afforestation in the country started In 1950s mostly for the purpose of developing pine plantations to produce timber for the construction industry. Planting continued Into the 1980s, and an area of around 74.000 hectares was covered In the established timber plantations (see Table 4.6).
Under the Wood Energy Project funded by the World Bank, the Forestry Department embarked on the establishment of plantations for Redwood and poles country wide. A total of 22,895 hectares were established, bringing the total of plantations to 94,300 hectares. The private sector has also established over of 35,000 hectares of additional fuelwood and pole plantations mostly on tobacco and tea estates.
In response to Forestry Extension initiatives undertaken by Forestry Department, and other supporting Departments and Non-Governmental Organizations, there are growing numbers of communities and individuals engaged in planting trees for various purposes including fuelwood, poles fruit production, boundary demarcation and shade. In the period 1988-1957 schools, smallholder farmers, Church groups, non-governmental organizations, estates and women's groups supposed government efforts in the afforestation programmes through the National Tree Planting Programme. Over 20 million trees were planted, half of them, by smallholder farmers.
4.3.3 Wood energy conservation
Reducing wood consumption by individuals is one way of reducing the level of deforestation. There have been initiatives designed to improve energy saving by introduction distribution and fabrication of energy saving ceramic stoves (mbaula) designed by the Energy Studies Unit. While the government was responsible for the design and marketing of mbaula, the intention was to pass on this technology to private entrepreneurs. Currently, private entrepreneurs are producing and marketing them, mostly In urban areas. Alongside this initiative was the production of pine charcoal to reduce need for charcoal from indigenous wood. The estate sector adopted the technology almost immediately and it resulted in cuts in their energy budget. The initiative has had limited success however, because of low adoption rates especially in the rural areas.
Development of more efficient stoves appears to be a workable strategy to reduce energy needs in cooking systems. However, while they are relatively easily adopted in the urban areas rural people living in an environment where fuelwood is still considered a free commodity, have problems in appreciating the benefits of the stove. Efforts should continue to develop an improved traditional cooking system that can be adopted by the majority of rural people.
The household energy conservation technologies may benefit from recent studies conducted by the Agricultural Research Extension Trust on wood consumption in estates which were able to reduce consumption by half from over 40 cubic metres to 20 cubic metres, per one ton of tobacco (MoEM, 1997).
Affordable alternative energy sources to wood fuels need to be identified. Likewise tariffs on electricity should be reduced. The starting point would be for ESCOM to engage in a cost cutting exercise to reduce costs. It is a misconception that charcoal is cheaper than electricity. Therefore electricity should be made affordable to many households by increasing distribution.
Solar energy development is still in its infancy in Malawi. It is noted though that Malawi is in a very good position for both the installations of solar electrical and thermal systems. Technology development needs to target every consumer whose access to the national electricity grid is limited (MoEM).
4.3.4 Forest policy and legislation
The National Forestry Policy, which was approved by Government in 1996, is aimed at promoting the sustainable contribution of national forests, woodlands and trees towards the improvement of the quality of life. The policy emphasizes the need for conservation of the resource for the benefit of the nation and to the satisfaction of diverse and changing needs of Malawi's population, particularly the rural smallholders.
The Government is in the process of developing incentives that will promote community-based conservation and utilisation of forest/tree resources. This is in line with the policy of alleviating poverty but the growing of trees by rural communities and individuals will further help to encourage self-sufficiency in wood and non-wood products in the country.
The forest extension programmes implemented by the Forestry Department aim at empowering rural communities to manage forest/tree resources, foster ownership of trees by rightful custodians of customary lands, and ensuring that such trees are utilized in a sustainable manner for the benefit of both the present and future generations.
The policy also aims at creating an enabling environment or framework for promoting participation of the private sector in forest conservation and management, eliminating restrictions on sustainable harvesting of essential forest products by local communities and promotion of planned harvesting and regeneration of the forest resources by village forest authorities. At present, over ten non-governmental organizations are participating in afforestation or forestry extension activities.
These forestry policy principles have been enshrined in a revised Forestry Act enacted in April 1997, that aims at protecting rights of people who grow trees/forests in order to ensure that they benefit fully from their investment in trees/forests. The Act will provide the legal framework for sustainable utilisation of customary land (forests or trees) with particular emphasis on the formation of local institutions (Village Forest Committees) aimed at promoting organized participatory effort in management of forest at grass root level.
4.3.5 Institutional structure
The Forestry Department comes under the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs. The Forestry Department is organized into five divisions as follows:
Apart from the government structure, there are a number of parastatals involved in forest related matters such as: the National Herbarium a Botanic Gardens of Malawi, University of Malawi Colleges in particular Bunda College of Agriculture, Malawi Industrial Research and Technology Development Centre, Malawi Investment Promotion Agency, Agricultural Research and Extension Trust, Smallholder Tea Authority, Smallholder Coffee Authority, Smallholder Sugar Authority, etc. A number of non-governmental organizations are also involved in forestry issues. Their presence is often localized but nationally they are represented by the Council for Non-governmental Organization in Malawi (CONGOMA).
4.3.6 Forest research
The Forestry Research Institute of Malawi (FRIM) started as a silvicultural research station at Chongoni in Dedza in 1957. In 1975, the Institute was moved to Zomba. The institute has programmes in tree breeding, Forest Entomology, Wood Sciences, Forest Pathology, Soil Science and Mensuration and Forest Ecology.
The main research areas at FRIM include silviculture (both natural trees and exotics), social forestry, forest mensuration, tree breeding, forest seed services, forest entomology, forest pathology, soil sciences and wood sciences.
Research programmes are reviewed by the National Forestry Research Committee which meets once every three years. It is during such meetings research that projects are prioritized to address specific problems.
FRIM has the largest concentration of professional officers (19) in the Forestry Department, reflecting the priority of Forest Research.
Besides at FRIM,
agro-forestry research is also conducted at Makoka and Chitedze Agricultural
Research Stations through the sponsorship of ICRAF. Agro-forestry research
in Malawi has eight objectives as follows:
The Forestry Department keeps the public informed about forestry issues through a variety of programmes. Because of the high degree of illiteracy in the country, the radio remains the major means of increasing public awareness on forestry issues. To this end, the Forestry Department jointly sponsors programs such as "Ulimi wa makono" (Modern Agriculture) aired by the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation. Forestry jingles, interviews, messages and commercials are broadcast frequently, often on a daily basis.
In addition, the department has produced a number of videos such as "Mtengo wa moyo" (The Tree of Life) and "Malawi's Highway to Desertification" as a way of increasing public awareness. Copies of these videos are available at Regional Forest Offices.. Several reading materials have also been produced. These include the Forest Extension Kit, Forest Calendar, posters, booklets, leaflets and Guidelines to the Forest Act. This material is available at Forestry Offices.
The department also uses cinema vans that go into communities showing forestry films on various forestry and environment themes. In these endeavours the department works hand ir; hand with other institutions, both government and non-governmental organizations involved in environmental and forestry issues.
Further the department maintains three libraries that together contain the largest single collection of literature on forestry. These libraries are at Malawi College of Forestry and Wildlife, Forestry in Dedza, at the Department Headquarters in Lilongwe and at FRIM in Zomba. Besides these libraries, there are various types of literature and maps available at respective forestry offices throughout the country.
4.3.8 Forest education
The Malawi College of Forestry and Wildlife provides training at Certificate and Diploma levels producing Forestry Assistants and Foresters or their equivalents. Besides regular courses, the College also conducts short courses ranging from 4 to 6 weeks each after which a certificate of attendance is issued. Graduates of the short courses are usually employed as forest nursery workers, forest guards and patrolmen/women. The College is the only forestry training institution in Malawi
Recently, some infrastructure development has taken place under funding from FINNIDA and the World Bank to increase in-take and to run both regular and short courses at the same time.
Higher training at degree and postgraduate levels is attained outside Malawi. Because this training relies entirely on the availability of scholarships and fellowships from donor Governments and Organizations, the Forestry Department has been working with the University of Malawi to establish a master's degree programme in Forestry which started in May 1998.
The first documented national forest monitoring exercise was associated with the Land Resource Evaluation Project in 1992, which benefited from financial assistance from UNDP/FAO. This project produced maps that showed forest status as well as estimated rates of deforestation.
The second project was funded by USAID in 1994. This project was originally aimed at monitoring the impact of change of agriculture policy that, for the first time, allowed the smallholder farmers to grow burley tobacco. The liberalisation of burley production was expected to result in environmental degradation. The Malawi Environmental Monitoring Programme was therefore developed to assess such changes. This project provided equipment and provided training in the use of the facilities for forest monitoring. The project has since broadened to monitoring a wider area on a pilot basis in the mid Shire valley focusing on biophysical and socio-economic impacts on the watershed.
The Fisheries Department has obtained a facility for receiving satellite data that can be used for monitoring vegetation changes as well as fire monitoring. With this development, working modalities will be developed between Forestry and Fisheries Departments in order to obtain common access to the data. This data will enable the Forestry Department to monitor forest cover regularly in order to provide timely information on where serious changes are taking place so that mitigative measures can be taken.
With these capacities the Forestry Department now has the facilities and skills necessary to
Implement a national forest monitoring program that would provide early warning on troubled forest areas needing urgent attention. However, operational funds and resources will have to be identified soon.
Since 1986, the government has allowed private organizations to run promotional programmes that encouraged tree planting by institutions and local farmers. The Carlsberg bottle top tree seedling programme was such a programme which helped to produce 5 million tree seedlings by 1995. Several other private and non-governmental organization have been actively involved in these tree planting promotional programmes with a variety of incentives to communities
In 1987, a National Tree Survival Bonus Scheme was launched by the Forestry Department as a component under the World Bank funded Wood Energy Project. Under this incentive scheme, an individual or community that planted not less than 100 trees got a monetary bonus of 5 tambala per tree if at least 100 trees survived after two years. The observation is that a tree's most vulnerable time is the first two years. The scheme is no longer operational.
The long-term major incentive remains the prospect of economic gains that are possible from sales of wood products. With a diminishing supply of tree and forest resources, it will become more profitable for the communities to grow and raise trees for sale. The Forestry Department will continue to review wood product prices to promote a favourable climate for the growing of trees for sale.
Contributors | Preface | Acronyms | Overview
Chapters: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | Appendix I
Lists: Maps | Figures | Tables | Boxes | References