Business people have asked for an amicable end to the battle for Viphya Plantation, saying ejecting timber makers’ cooperatives will hit the fragile economy hard.
The concern comes ahead of uneasy talks between government and Timber Millers Union (TMU) comprising seven cooperatives the Department of Forestry ordered out of the country’s largest timber producer last month.
In an interview, some of the casualties predicted an avoidable collapse of the economy, especially in the North, since most businesses in Mzuzu and surrounding districts are either owned by timber makers or subsist on funds trickling down from the hugely ransacked forest zone.
This could be more the reason companies and individuals operating in the man-made forest were supposed to harvest and manage the trees more responsibly, government officials and conservationists argued.
However, TMU executive member Esther Kathumba said: “The majority of the businesses in the region and beyond thrive on money from the plantation.
“One timber-making machine or two offer jobs to over 10 Malawians and lots of other people whose livelihoods depend on their earning. They are feeding their families and educating their children. What more with those who have shops in the city and beyond?”
Government on August 10 announced its intention to terminate TMU concession, citing fundamental breaches of the 2012 agreement guiding harvesting, replanting, pruning and management of trees on a 10 000-hectares south of Viphya Plantation.
TMU president Paul Nthambazale said they have spent nearly K300 million ($527 241) on replanting efforts covering about 77 percent of the expected 2 400 hectares for the past three years.
He indicated government also erred in allotting part of the concession area to some companies and politicians.
Director of Forestry Clement Chilima refused to comment on specific claims by the business community, saying government will wait for the arbitration process the Mzuzu High Court ordered when it granted TMU an injunction restraining their eviction.
“The damage is there for all to see. Travelling in the plantation, it is clear the protected area is in bad shape. It will be great if the union backs its claims with necessary documents when arbitration begins,” said Chilima.