Good people, it seems easier for a Malawian plumber to step on the moon than for many of us to turn the country into a predominantly exporting economy.
‘Carving Artists Sourcing Trees from Mozambique’. That was the shocking headline in The Nation on Friday when our reporter’s encounters at Blantyre curios market exposed how the country could be wasting the most wanted foreign currency on importing materials that we once took for granted.
There are several other nothings that highlight our perchance for foreign goods: bananas, toothpicks, meat and music.
However, the most overpowering reaction was: Where are the trees?
‘Where Are the Trees’ is a hit by King Sounds and the Israelites.
The international reggae band may not be and may not be as popular as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, but the 1987 number from the album From Strength to Strength tackles one of the distressing questions of our time.
We have ransacked the vital vegetation the green stripe on the flag we religiously defend represents.
“Ebony is becoming scarce, forcing some artists to resort to forests in neighbouring countries and the likes of gmelina trees that were not widely used in this trade,” lamented the curios market chairperson Dailes Malimbasa.
The lamentation partly explains why the price of curios has been skyrocketing lately.
But the bigger issue is not counting their losses, but this: What are the complainants doing to replenish the scarce resource and use the remnants efficiently?
Carvings are not just about the polished miniatures of the good and the other side of this world.
They are also about merciless axes that take minutes to send a crude trees to the ground.
The felled trees are seldom used to the fullest.
It is worrying the businesspersons behind the carvings sometimes cut down an entire tree when they need no more than a trunk and selected branches.
This unsustainable harvesting is as widespread as witnessed in the hugely devastated Viphya Forest where timber makers cut trees for just a few planks–leaving behind branches, deformed trees, mounds of sawdust and other residues that are raw materials for other export-quality products.
This wastefulness makes Raiply, which churns out blockboards for international market from the so-called waste, appear more creative than the artists who identify themselves as such.
But the carvers cannot keep blaming charcoal makers for the disappearance of tsanya, phingo and other endangered species they need most.
The tree planting season has just begun.
The artists must stop at crying and singing the stale song.
They must take part in the ongoing restoration of the vanishing forests.
Plant a tree and there will be no tears it grows.
It may not be the type the carvers use for fashioning their stunning offerings, but it is likely to prevent a person in search of firewood from felling the surviving tsanya.
Government has announced an ambitious dream to plant 60 million trees this growing season.
All artists, who rely on forest materials as raw materials for their props, artworks and venues, must not only rally their fans to join in. They must take part in making the worst deforested country in Southern Africa a little greener. n