Thuchila Forest in Phalombe, just like Dzalanyama in Lilongwe, is slowly dying. After wiping out the forest area on Mulanje Mountain, the surrounding communities have invaded Thuchila Forest in their search for fuel wood.
A visit to the forest last Saturday showed that most trees have been cut for charcoal and firewood. During the visit, there were about 15 charcoal pits whose owners had abruptly left when they saw forest guards.
Although the forest has guards that patrol it day and night, its vastness makes the work difficult, according to the forest’s chief security officer, James Mulope.
“The area is too big but the security guards, who are working hard to protect the area, are not enough. We need more personnel,” Mulope says.
Despite the challenges, Mulope says they have apprehended a number of people making charcoal and taken them to the police.
Phalombe police community policing officer Clement Madeira said the station has received a number of reports about forest encroachers, saying some have been arrested while others have been convicted.
“It is a worrisome situation. But the challenge is that the Forestry Act currently in use is outdated and does not provide for tough punishment to offenders. Thus when the charcoal producers are caught, they pay the fine and continue to destroy the forests,” said Madeira.
He disclosed that the police have invited eight village heads surrounding the forest to a meeting to discuss the matter.
Village head Phunduma said he has been warning his subjects against cutting trees in the forest but his messages have fallen on deaf ears.
“This is not news anymore because we have been talking about it for a long time now. Let us wait and see what will come out of the meeting with the police,” Phunduma said.
Spokesperson of the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining responsible for Environment and Climate Change Sector, Sangwani Phiri, said many forest reserves are under siege from people who burn charcoal or look for firewood.
Phiri also admitted that the Forestry Act is outdated and needs to be reviewed. He said government is in the process of reviewing the 10-year-old Act and that things will improve shortly. n