In Malawi, tree planting has been an old practice right from Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda era. Despite the long period of time, there are a few trees, if any, standing with the exception of organised tree planting in forests such as Chikangawa in Mzimba, and a few others elsewhere.
Realistically, there are a few trees of any sort to show for the long period of the noise about tree planting that has happened in Malawi in the decades gone by.
Tree planting in Chikangawa has been organised and taken care of just like any other valuable crop. Trees have been planted in orderly manner. They have been sprayed against insects and diseases. Above all, the tree plantations had fire breaks to avoid wild fires. In the end, Chikangawa Forest got recognition that it was the biggest man-made forest in Africa. All this was during Kamuzu’s one-party rule, and it was very encouraging indeed.
The embracing of multiparty politics was allegedly the beginning of Chikangawa Forest’s destruction. Lots of dubious lumber jacks showed up to hazardously cut trees without replacement.
Uncounted truckloads of timber would be seen heading for Tanzania and Kenya, probably as export just known by the authorities. Despite having all the timber, learners in Malawi have sadly been seating on the floor or some cheap plastic chairs with very short life.
The story of Chikangawa is just as sad as the general tree planting exercises in Malawi. So far, there are very few trees to show for it. Even Kamuzu was surprised and annoyed during his last campaign meeting in Nsaru and Kasiya in Lilongwe, to see no trees, except some stunted mango trees. He asked the authorities what they have been doing during yearly tree planting exercises. He did not get any convincing explanation or answer.
It goes without saying that tree planting seasons must be productive to Malawians as they provide firewood, timber and also protect the environment from soil erosion. Therefore, taking care of trees is of paramount importance.
It is really appreciated that presidents launch tree planting seasons, just as President Lazarus Chakwera did recently at Tukombo, Nkhata Bay. This gives importance to the exercise. Tree planting will not be of any benefit at all if it ends at the launch. The next thing should be for the officials to find out the state of affairs of trees planted in the previous season.
If there is any advice, it must be given with the seriousness it deserves. It is time Malawi moved back to having extension workers who can look after the trees on the ground. In the past, there was a system of having woodlots in every household. For every land put to crops, 10 percent would be to trees. Even for those people who leased land for crops, such as tobacco, they had to show that 10 percent will be for trees. This was checked before one was given a land lease. There is need to put some stringent measures to tree planting, failing which, the annual exercise will just be a useless formality.
Meanwhile, the government must from time to time advise people only to cut a tree when they are able to replace it. Even schools should have woodlots. Time and again there are sad stories about schools and other buildings being blown off by high winds. The story would be different if the buildings are surrounded by trees that act as wind breaks.
The destruction of the environment in Malawi means that the tree planting should be taken serious, followed by taking care of the trees to be productive.