This year’s National Tree Planting Season is set to end on April 15, but the ambitious K5 billion Malawi Youth Afforestation Programme (MYFP) is yet to take off as the rainy season inches towards the end.
Random checks in five of the country’s 28 districts this week—namely Ntchisi, Dowa, Balaka, Mangochi and Nkhata Bay established erratic disbursement of funds, forcing district councils to keep waiting in the wings.
Through the programme Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe unveiled in his 2018/19 National Budget, government hoped to recruit about 10 000 youths to plant and care for the trees. The programme targeted to plant 25 000 hectares with trees and enhance regeneration on 100 000 hectares.
Under the package, K3.1 billion was projected to cover wages, K600 million for procuring tree seedlings and K164 million for fire-fighting equipment.
In a ministerial statement that gave an update of the project in Parliament, Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining said K1.5 billion of the K5 billion was included in the ministry’s budget and that K3.5 billion was to be sourced from the Local Development Fund (LDF).
Sources on the ground confided that Mangochi District Council was allocated K41 million, but had received about K5 million, Ntchisi was given K3 million out of the allocated K22 million and Balaka was yet to get any funding.
In a telephone interview this week, Dowa district commissioner (DC) Alex Mdooko said preparatory works on the programme were at an advanced stage but planting of trees seedlings was yet to start.
He said: “We just started this week using the initial funding, but we are still far from planting the trees. The district forestry office has specific statistics with regard to the actual number of youths to benefit and the area to be covered.”
Balaka DC Ali Phiri said his council has conducted sensitisation meetings with communities. He confirmed that the council was yet to get funding for the programme.
He said the council had already identified sites for planting the trees but is constrained by the lack of funding.
Mangochi DC Moses Chimphepo shared Phiri’s sentiments while DC for Nkhata Bay, Rodney Simwaka, expressed worry over the delay in disbursement of the K41 million allocated to the council, especially with the rainy season heading towards the end.
He said: “What we got was only enough for sensitisation, other preparatory works and to meet administrative costs. Currently, our team is in the field meeting youth groups.
“More delays in implementing the programme fully might negatively affect us when the rains stop abruptly.”
In Ntchisi, district youth officer Grey Kalampa was optimistic that when funds are fully disbursed, youths would undertake the exercise in three weeks.
He said: “Here we have an articulate plan where we started with sensitisation and had interface meetings with district youth networks. We intend to meet councillors and later the full council before courting area development committees [ADCs] then meet all youth groups at traditional authority level where identification of beneficiaries will be done.”
Parliament’s Budget and Finance Committee chairperson Rhino Chiphiko, in a telephone interview on Tuesday, said his committee has written the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining for an update on implementation of the programme.
He said: “We need to get the facts as we are soon going for a Mid-Year Budget Review Meeting.”
Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining spokesperson Sangwani Phiri said he did not have information handy on how much each beneficiary would get.
On survival rate for trees being planted, he said it depends on how management of forests is conducted.
Said Phiri: “We have devised a new system to ensure that they survive more. Using the revised National Forestry Policy (2016), forestry management committees have been empowered to enforce measures that protect forests.”
He cited the ban of grazing animals in forests and creation of fire breaks as strategies being employed to ensure that more trees that are planted survive.
During the launch of the National Tree Planting Season at Malingunde Dam in Lilongwe on December 15 2018, President Peter Mutharika said 60 million trees would be planted nationwide by the end of the season on April 15.