The effects of climate change are already being felt in Africa on human health, livelihoods, food productivity, water availability and overall security, among others.
Between 1970 and 2006, Malawi has experienced 40 weather-related disasters, including 16 droughts or floods attributed to climate change. These weather events deepen food insecurity, poverty levels and deterioration in health conditions.
For example, flooding in 2001/02 led to famine and an estimated 1 000 deaths.
However, the urgency to address climate change impacts reached new heights in 2018 when the United Nations Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report calling for drastic, far-reaching and unprecedented societal changes to reduce carbon dioxide levels by 2030 to prevent catastrophic global warming.
Among the drastic
measures, the IPCC recommends that responding to climate change will require
planting trees. This report further
suggests that adding one billion hectares of forest to the world could limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050.
This study is reiterated by Swiss researchers who recommend that global tree restoration to the tune of 900 million hectares of canopy cover is the most effective climate change solution to date.
Malawi is a signatory to various international treaties, including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Kyoto Protocol. The treaty obliges the country to take various actions to address climate challenges, including putting in place appropriate instruments such as climate change policies and legislation.
For this reason, the country has been embarking on annual tree planting programmes. In 2018/2019 growing season alone, the country planted 50 million trees.
However, so many factors hamper the survival of these trees and community forests. Studies have shown that 40 to 60 percent of the trees survive the first year and most of them do not reach the fifth year.
Increased household sizes and the requirement for more agricultural land to meet growing families’ food and income demands has led to deforestation.
For instance, arable land has increased from 13 percent to 40 percent between 1961 and 2015 with a 1.6 percent annual decrease in forest cover.
In addition, trees remain a major source of fuel energy for the majority of the population. As such, efforts to improve sustainability of forestry systems and trees should be imperative when annual planting programmes are being taken into consideration.
Despite perceived benefits of annual tree-planting programmes, forest cover in Malawi is still on the decline.
The key question is: How can we enhance the survival rate of these trees to achieve the intended objective?
Among others, our efforts should attempt to address the reasons for low tree survival rates. They include lack of technical know-how on site-species matching, including planting eucalyptus trees close to water resources or planting pine trees in warm regions.
There is also lack of knowledge in management of trees from seed selection and nursery management to the field, lack of ownership of the trees by the communities as most tree-planting programmes are usually tied to a project or political initiatives and the lack of incentives to plant and manage trees.
Even though cash incentives for planting and management of trees have worked in some countries, the lack of sustainability and moral dilemmas cannot be overlooked.
Nonetheless, other innovative ways which can improve sustainability of the planted trees need to be explored.
New approaches in motivating communities to care for the trees after planting could help improve tree survival rates. In line with promotion of creating societal and community goods, the linking of community developmental agendas to tree sustainability can be a plausible idea.
Instead of counting how many trees were planted in a
year, incentives coupled with creative reward mechanisms for improved tree
survival rates can be a game changer to contributing to the global agenda of
creating new carbon sinks.