Honourable Folks, this year big shops stashed into the trash can the plastic bags they were giving us, their customers, for free.
Someone in the corridors of power must be feeling extremely good to see corporate Malawi walking with its tail between the hind legs like a timid puppy when the ban came like a rainy cloud on a sunny day. Reason: these plastic bags take more than 100 years to decompose and are, therefore, an environmental hazard.
The big shops scoured around for degradable plastic bags acceptable to the Malawi Government and found some thicker and heavier ones that look like they’ll start decomposing right in your hands.
You won’t get them for free this time, the till operator will sell them to you at K100 or more. Shopping won’t be the same again.
Well, a small price to pay to save the environment, you might argue. True, very true indeed, if only it were true. Unfortunately, if plastics are the biggest threat to the environment, then it’s indeed breaking news to some of us. We pray for more information.
Common sense tells me that bad as they are, plastics aren’t causing as much damage to the environment as do my poor folks in our crammed village who have combed down virtually all the natural trees in the neighbourhood.
There used to be mkundi, mvunguti, kachere and other natural trees scattered all over the place. Mango and other exotic trees blended nicely with our grass-thatched mud huts, providing us with fruit, shade and fuel-wood.
A very big all-seasons river called Thuchila, with its source at Mulanje Mountain, snaked its way past the village, quenching our parched throats with its cool, fresh water in its graceful flow to the Ruo then Shire, Zambezi and finally, Indian Ocean.
As I was growing up in the 1970s, Thuchila exuded the elegance of a giant river that would be there for the next thousand years, narrow, deep and graced on its banks with big, natural trees that God Himself planted for us.
There was also bango and many other types of grass on its sides. Then there was shrub which provided a home to birds such as mpheta. Folks also used to harvest the same shrub for the construction of nkhokwe.
Today, the Thuchila that used to flow past my village shows up only during the rainy season. The rest of year my folks scramble for a piece of what used to be the river bed. This is where they grow their maize and a type of tobacco called rabu which is mostly used for making snuff.
All the trees—yes, all of them and everything else that God planted on the banks of Thuchila, are gone. The river has changed its course—in fact, you can’t tell the course because when it rains heavily each year, the angry waters run in torrents, destroying everything on their way, cutting new courses on bare adulterated soils in the process.
If you went to my village and saw four or more big trees at one place, that place is most likely a graveyard. Not even at the foot of distant hills do you see trees. It’s a bare rock you will see and gardens opened wherever there’s a grain of sand except at the graveyard.
The MPs from my area may have chosen to ignore the problem, probably because their votes come from the same folks whose numbers have now become a threat to their own environment and themselves.
There were about nine million people in Malawi at the time of transition to multiparty democracy. Now, 20 years later, we are estimated at over 18 million with a growth rate of three percent. I’m not sure about the exact demographics but, in the part of Malawi I call home, there must be over 200 people per square kilometres of arable land. That explains why even the bed of what once used to be a perennial river is now turned into pockets of gardens.
If the scenario is different in your part of Malawi, just remember it was like that at my home when I was growing up. The fact is that the population is growing fast almost anywhere in Malawi and competitive politics of the multiparty dispensation prevents our leaders from addressing the difficult question of ideal family size.
Instead, they allow us to have as many children as we can so long as they aren’t born every year, till anywhere and apply subsidised fertiliser. All they can do is ban plastic bags. Will the ban restore the fertility of the land at my home? Will it bring back my Thuchila River? Will the ban on plastics save your part of Malawi from environmental degradation?