Slowly, Chigodi and Napingo hills situated west of Traditional Authority (T/A) Kunthembwe’s area in Blantyre are turning into a farmland.
Three decades ago, says Roselyn Bandawe—a local from Nkope Village, a community that borders with Napingo Hill, the upland was buried in thick natural forest.
For years, according to some community members, nobody cared because charcoal burning is the only viable business for almost everyone and because of the ever increasing population, demand for land made the encroachment into the hills complicated. They had to wait for a disaster to strike to think the opposite way and the January floods were just enough for this. Most of the farm land lies on a sloppy area and Bandawe says that the floods left a devastating damage that also stamped serious hunger that has affected majority of the population in the area.
Kunthembwe is just one example.
The 2010 Malawi State of Environment and Outlook report indicates that total land area of forest cover has been decreasing tremendously. Between 1973 and 2007, it fell by 1 115 520 hactares.
However, communities in Kunthembwe are rising up to the challenge. They have formed environmental conservation clubs and named them after the villages boardering the hills. These are Nkope and Chigodi environmental clubs. Without any external financial support, the communities put their heads together to come up with measures to protect the environment and restore the natural glory in the hills.
“We are working with local leaders and I am happy that they have supported our idea. The chiefs have given us two areas to create forests apart from replanting on the hills. We are optimistic that in five years, Kunthembwe will be green again,” says lead farmer Lilian Dauda, who is among the people who coined the idea.
After months of several efforts and activities—which include establishing new forests with natural trees, establishing nurseries, coming up with by-laws against environmental degradation, controlling speed of water and adopting modern agricultural practices—the clubs have every reason to smile.
The Shire River Basin Management Programme (SRBMP) has recognised their efforts since it complements its mission to protect silting in Shire River as Kunthembwe lies close to the river.
With funding from World Bank, SRBMP has pumped in K70 million to support the clubs and other neighbouring villages to carry out conservation activities to protect siltation in Shire River. n
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