There are two guava trees just outside my office, and very often I see young girls from the nearby community attempting to climb the trees to get the fruit when guavas are season, like they are now.
I am reminded of my boyhood days when a number of us would invade the orchards of South African missionaries at Nkhoma Mission to get guavas or mangoes or other fruit. The missionaries had planted all kinds of fruit trees at Nkhoma Mission.
Almost all-year-round, bands of boys would go round the mission to help themselves to the fruit in season at any particular time. We did so without seeking permission from the orchard owners. Naturally, our parents would yell at us when they got to know about it. To pick fruit from somebody’s orchard without their permission was stealing, and no parent, much less a parent living at a mission station, would tolerate such mischief.
But the greatest mischief lay in our inability to realise that we needed to engage in tree planting so that we would be assured of a constant supply of fruit, way into the future. Failure to plant trees is a great mischief that torments this nation.
If people had tree planting programmes, they would sustainably harvest trees and put them to whatever use they desired and would be assured of more trees for future use. Unfortunately, this wisdom eludes us.
Each time I drive to Mwanza border, I take the interest to see where the tangerines that get sold to the entire nation come from. What I have noticed is that most of them are picked from old and tired trees. There is not much evidence of fresh trees being planted to replace the ageing ones.
The situation is a lot worse for non-fruit trees. If there are any people in Malawi who engage in voluntary and regular tree planting, they are few and far between. The majority of us would simply not be bothered about planting trees. And yet we would be quick to wantonly cut down some.
I once went to a place called Chikuli—about 20 kilometres beyond Chileka in Blantre rural. The main occupation of young men there at that time was producing and selling charcoal. But they had so overharvested the indigenous trees that they began to extract roots from which to produce charcoal. They were driven to such desperation because none of them had planted any trees.
Today, in much of rural Malawi the only patches of forest you would see would be located at graveyards. However, because of desperation, people are beginning to bribe chiefs to allow them to harvest trees from graveyards. That is how bad the situation is.
It is, of course, great mischief to cut down trees without permission from the authorities. It is greater mischief if the person cutting down the tree has not planted any to replace the felled one. Planting and caring for trees are not exacting tasks. The majority of us can perform them without any struggle. Each village in Malawi can maintain a woodlot, or indeed more than one woodlot, where they would harvest trees for any use, for example, firewood or building poles. Excess trees can be sold to nearby villages. If there is a deficiency of trees in any one village, some can be sourced from a nearby village, assuming all villages maintain woodlots.
Of course, this would require a great deal of commitment and patience. Patience because trees mature after a number of years, which means what you are planting today cannot be used next year, but maybe in five or six year’s time. Malawians need to develop the patience of what is known as delayed gratification. It is our instant gratification approach that keeps us from planting trees.
The rate at which we are going, many tree species will soon become extinct, our water catchment areas will dry up, heavy erosion will be commonplace, our lakes and rivers will silt up, the capacity to generate power will be heavily compromised, people will continue to unleash unprecedented hatred towards Escom for problems that are rooted in their own inability to take care of the environment.
I have the belief that if we search within ourselves and appreciate the points raised in this article, we will, as a nation, halt or even reverse the downward trend in environmental degradation.n