In our produce markets, Malawians sell all kinds of fruit. The availability of the various types of fruit goes according to season. Right now mangoes are in season and will remain so for a few more months. Also in season are masuku (uapaca kirkiana). Some months ago, masau were in season.
With very few exceptions, these fruity commodities are picked either from trees that our ancestors left or are picked from the wild. There is not any sustained effort to plant more of such trees to ensure continuous supply. I once passed through Mwanza district and noticed that the tangerines that flood our urban centres (when they are in season) are actually picked from aged trees. I did not see any freshly planted seedlings or indeed nurseries of fresh tangerine trees.
Little wonder that we have now resorted to importing tangerines and oranges.
As for the wild fruit, not a single Malawian has shown any interest in developing a forest of wild fruit trees. I once bought seedlings of nthudza from Mudi Nursery and planted them at a Chinyonga home. People thought I was out of my mind. For many years running now I have been picking nthudza berries from these trees.
In Malawi, planting wild fruit trees would probably be considered a strange undertaking. Wild trees grow by themselves and all we do is receive from the bounty of nature. When nature does not favour continued growth of any of these trees, we simply pack up and cease to deal in them or in their products.
We are in the same predicament insofar as the production of charcoal is concerned. I once visited Chikuli, beyond Chileka in Blantyre, and noticed that some young men in that area were burning tree roots to produce charcoal because all the trees had been cut down. Charcoal business is, in my view, the number one enemy of trees.
Charcoal production would not be such an evil activity if its practitioners were so pragmatic as to engage in continuous re-planting of trees to replace the ones they burn into charcoal. But people would ordinarily not consider that as a possibility.
Trees take years to mature, which is why growing them does not appeal to anybody. In Malawi, people go for the kind of business that will give them instant returns. Banks re-enforce this kind of expectation because if anybody takes a loan from the bank, they will be expected to start paying back the following month or risk losing the property they pledged as collateral. Nobody will have the patience to wait for five, six, seven or 10 years for trees to mature before their income starts to earn an income.
We have a culture that falls far short of planning activities that span several years. This is getting us nowhere. Before Malawi Mangoes came to Salima, for example, nobody planted mango trees in a planned manner. The few mangoes that ended up at the marketplace were picked from old trees in the villages. People simply did not care what would happen when these trees would not produce any succulent mangoes any more, having become too old.
A speech purportedly made by the late president Pieter Botha of South Africa has been in circulation in the social media for some months if not years now. Many nasty things are said about black people in that speech. One such allegation is that the average black people do not plan their life beyond one year. There is both good and bad news here.
The bad news is that this assertion is not entirely false. If truth be told, we are not good at planned activities. I recently learnt that Israel, which is naturally a desert, has many trees now. Each one of the trees has been planted and is on a national database. If one of them falls, the system will pick it up and appropriate action will be taken. That is what planning is all about.
The good news is that the tendency not to plan long-term is only part of our culture and has nothing to do with our biological make-up. We can, therefore, change because culture is not cast in stone; it is fluid and flexible. Let each individual search within their community, identify the areas that need serious planning then mobilise the appropriate resources to engage in the necessary planning. That way, we will silence those who think like Botha.