FIGHTING FOR MALAWI’S FORESTS

Deforestation in Malawi has reached devastating levels, with more than half of the nation’s forests and woodlands disappearing over the last 40 years. Our Regulation and Enforcement Specialist, Yolanda Ng’oma, gives a lowdown on how we’re working to strengthen regulation and enforcement of forestry laws as part of an ambitious new project.

Tell us about the forestry project LWT is involved in.

The project is called Modern Cooking for Healthy Forests (MCHF). USAID and UK Aid are giving $17 million over five years to support the Government of Malawi in the promotion of sustainable forest management in selected landscapes throughout Malawi. As part of this, the Government will also need to promote sustainable energy options in selected urban areas, to help maintain forest cover and reduce land-based emissions.

MCHF is a really exceptional project because it applies a landscape approach to address deforestation and degradation, using a mix of demand- and supply-side interventions. For example, it will address wood fuel supply and demand dynamics holistically by promoting alternative energy sources and efficient cooking technologies while at the same time increasing local delivery of forestry services and strengthening a regulatory and enforcement framework to support sustainable wood fuel production.

The idea is that if all of these things can happen and Malawi’s low-emissions development is enhanced, then forest cover will be sustainably maintained, and land-based emissions will be reduced.

Why is this project so important? What are the threats facing Malawi’s forests and how bad is the situation?

The project builds on the work and findings of a predecessor project – the USAID-funded Protecting Ecosystems and Restoring Forests in Malawi (PERFORM) project. One of the key findings of PERFORM was that, contrary to the previous belief that agriculture was largely to blame for forest degradation, urban demand for charcoal and wood fuel is actually the key driver of forest loss. 

Malawi is a poor, small, landlocked country with high population growth and limited energy resources. Between 80-95% of Malawians rely on firewood and charcoal as their primary fuel for cooking and heating. According to Power Africa, just over 10% of Malawians have access to the electrical grid: 46% of those are in urban areas, and just 1% in rural areas. That means 3.2 million households lack any access to power. Nearly 90% of the power Malawi does have is sourced by hydro, but frequent droughts means the national power company suffers repeated power shortages and rolling power cuts from inadequate water levels. 

Poverty is another persistent structural driver. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world as measured by Gross National Income (GNI) per capita. According to the IMF, per capita income has grown at an average of around 1.5 percent between 1995 and 2014, significantly below the average of 2.8 percent among other non-resource-rich African countries. Malawi’s economy is heavily dependent on agriculture which contributes about 30% to our GDP and 80% of our export revenue. Poverty, and the absence of income-generating options, drive Malawians to extract natural resources directly from their immediate environment, both for household use but also to sell for profit.

Which other partners are also involved in Modern Cooking for Healthy Forests?

The project is being implemented by Tetra Tech ARD, in conjunction with five partners:

  • Center for Environmental Policy and Advocacy: responsible for community engagement, crosscutting awareness, media development and advocacy.
  • mHub: responsible for capacity building of entrepreneurs who are focusing on alternative energy and/or fuel-efficient technologies and forest friendly enterprises.
  • Winrock International: responsible for helping the Government build capacity to utilise data, systems and tools to improve forest monitoring.
  • World Resources Institute: responsible for leveraging finance and investment to accelerate forest and landscape restoration and monitoring.
  • Lilongwe Wildlife Trust (LWT): responsible for working with the Government to strengthen legislation and build more capacity for effective enforcement of forestry laws.

 

Please explain more about LWT’s specific role? What are you aiming to achieve?

LWT is leading on improving the regulatory framework for wood fuels and strengthening law enforcement capacity to address forestry-related crime. These issues are essential to building a more sustainable forestry sector—specifically a more sustainable charcoal value chain in Malawi.

If we can strengthen the regulatory framework on charcoal production and use, improve the capacity to enforce laws on illegal charcoal production and illegal trade in forest products and also generate public awareness of forestry laws and regulations, then LWT’s work will also bolster other project aims. For example, our work could provide the incentives for investment in sustainable forest management, the adoption of charcoal kilns, the uptake of improved stoves, and help elevate the competitiveness of alternative fuels.

What progress has been made so far?

MCHF assisted the Department of Forestry to engage with Parliamentarians ahead of the entry of the Forestry Act Amendment Bill into Parliament on February 14th 2020. We held a workshop to sensitise Parliamentarians to the Amendment Bill, which assisted the passage of the Bill two days later.

 

How important is the new Act? What difference will it make?

As long as it is effectively implemented, the new Act could be a game-changer.

The Amendment Bill now has to be assented to by His Excellency, the President Professor Peter Mutharika. Thereafter it should lead to:

  • Better regulation of charcoal: The Amendment includes charcoal in its definition of “forest produce” and gives the Department of Forestry the authority to regulate charcoal (e.g., production, transportation, marketing, licensing and sustainable utilisation).
  • Increased transparency and accountability: The Amendment includes requirements for the Forestry Department to provide for and facilitate access to information and stakeholder engagement.
  • Increased conservation efforts: The Amendment broadens the management options for Government. It permits the Department of Forestry to enter into agreements with partners to manage public forests that will protect forests without further taxing the limited resources of the Department.
  • Better regulation and law enforcement: Prescribed forestry officers will be better equipped to carry out their enforcement duties, for example through the provision for firearms.
  • A provision for the forest development and management fund: The Amendment enables the Department of Forestry to direct funds from concessions and other public-private partnerships into the fund.

The Amendment also provides enhanced penalties and fines as well as additional orders that permit forfeiture to Government of any property that has been used in committing forestry offences.

Resources for further reading:

Malawi: Economic Development Document, IMF Country Report No. 17/184, May 29, 2017

Christopher Coutts, Tisha Holmes, and April Jackson, 2019. “Forestry Policy, Conservation Activities, and Ecosystem Services in the Remote Misuku Hills of Malawi.” Forests 10, 1056; doi:10.3390/f10121056.