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Tuesday, 25 August 2015 07:12

Rumphi Forestry toughens fight against deforestation

Written by  Joel Chirwa

Rumphi, August 25, 2015: Rumphi District Forestry Office has decided to engage traditional leaders in its bid to reduce wanton cutting down of trees and charcoal burning which are among major factors contributing to the alarming deforestation levels in the district. 

The forestry office announced the initiative during a sensitization meeting held during the week-end at Bale in the area of Traditional Authority (T.A.) Mwankhunikira where charcoal burning and trading is rampant.

The indaba drew traditional authorities Mwankhunikira, Mwahenga, Mwalweni and Sub Traditional Authority Njikula along with their village heads.

Rumphi District Forestry Officer (DFO), Gift Nyirenda, told the meeting his office has engaged traditional leaders in the endeavour after observing that the current strategies of confiscation of charcoal and awareness campaigns are not effectively tackling the worsening problem.

“We realised that confiscation of charcoal, forestry products and awareness campaigns are not working and from now onwards we will be harsh with all the culprits involved in the malpractice.

“Let me warn that it will now be off the gloves. We will not only fine, confiscate [forestry] products but we will also arrest and prosecute all culprits caught,” he said.

The DFO also disclosed that the Forestry Department has come up with policy reforms with conversion of fines that are in the Forestry Act to give the law more and sharp teeth to bite.

He said for instance, if the culprit is ordered to pay a fine of K20, 000, that will be multiplied 20 times (K400, 000).

Nyirenda, however, advised traditional leaders to refrain from among others, shielding the culprits, and cultivating in disaster prone mountains and catchment areas as this puts them at risk of landslides and floods.

“We need to take preventative measures by desisting from allocating land for cultivation and settlement in mountains, catchment and other disaster prone areas like river banks.

“You have heard it elsewhere that people have been washed away by floods and landslides, it's because they settled or cultivated on river banks and mountains like Chiweta area,” he said.

Nyirenda observed that the general problem the country has is failing to take preventive measures before the disaster occurs.

On their part, traditional leaders conceded they have indeed lost control over their subjects to curb deforestation but apportioned blame on human rights activists, courts and unscrupulous forestry officers.

“We try to act strongly against the malpractice but when we act, we are always accused of violating their [subjects'] human rights to earn a living. This human rights issue has immensely diluted our powers to rein in the depletion of trees in our areas,” said Traditional Authority Mwalweni.

Senior Chief Mwankhunikira said he proposed that traditional leaders be given powers to dethrone errant junior chiefs but said that authority was challenged in courts.

“We need to name and shame village heads involved in illegal charcoal production and wanton cutting down of trees. We also need to remove them. Unfortunately when we exercise that authority we are taken to court,” explained Mwankhunikira.

In his contribution, Sub Traditional Authority Njikula said traditional leaders are restrained by some unscrupulous forestry officers who issue permission to loggers to cut trees in the forests.

“We do our part but we are always restrained by permission notes that are given to these people by some forestry officers.

“When we confront them, they always produce documents which have been issued by the forestry office, as such, we fail to take further action,” said Njikula.

Meanwhile, Rumphi District Council chairperson, Harry Munyenyembe, has disclosed the council will soon enact new by-laws to assist in protecting the remaining forests in the district.

“We are in the process of enacting by-laws that will deal with those involved in wanton cutting down of trees and deliberate setting of bush fires.

“The laws will come with heavy fines and punishments to deter those intending to engage in the acts. In this way we will save our remaining forests and trees,” said the district council chairperson.

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