Chimdenga Forest Block in the eastern Malawi district of Machinga stands out in protecting the environment against severe degradation, thanks to a forest co-management arrangement with community members.
Villagers in the area work together with the forestry department, Malawi Police Service and Machinga District Council to prevent deforestation and ensure sustainable use of natural resources.
The model is never short of admirers, including those from environmentally endangered areas.
Recently, Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi (Wesm), with funding from Malawi Environmental Endowment Trust (Meet), transported village forestry management committee members from Dwambazi in the central Malawi district of Nkhotakota to Chimdenga to enhance their skills.
According to Meet coordinator Karen Price, the study tour will help reduce environmental degradation which has left the country with massive soil erosion, depleted water sources and loss of biodiversity.
“Wesm is implementing a project to conserve Dwambazi Game Reserve Forest. The project is relatively new, hence, it was important that they share experiences with their counterparts at Chimdenga,” said Price.
To Machinga forestry assistant Child John, Chimdenga is an outstanding forest bloc.
“We started with Chimdenga bloc in forest co-management project because locals had already started protecting the forest on their own. It is effective because the community understands the importance of the forest to their livelihood and surrounding villages,” said John.
Apart from putting firebreaks on its borders, community members have put in place a plan which outlines how the forest will be run, penalties to encroachers and how to harvest trees. To benefit from their efforts, some community members have erected beehives in the forest.
“After harvesting the wood, some of the proceeds are given back to the community. For example proceeds from the forest are used to pay for school fees for needy students, constructing bridges and other social works,” said the forestry official.
The forest is a catchment area for Wenzide Irrigation Scheme and also a source of drinking water for the community.
Dwambazi Forest Game Reserve secretary Henry Juma said the trip to Chimdenga Forest Block was eye-opening.
“At Dwambazi, the community lacks ownership of the forest and that is why we experience a lot of deforestation and encroachment. The visit has opened our eyes and will improve how we manage our forest” said Juma.
According to Wesm Dwangwa branch chairperson McLoud Jere, their efforts to save the endangered reserve include the introduction of clubs specialising in guinea fowl rearing, fisheries, goat keeping and river management to reduce encroachment and boost people’s income.