Lilongwe, September 29: John Milele Chikweza, 93, walks with a stick and narrates as one who has seen his environment and climate change. He was born here in Gomani area in Traditional Authority Kunthembwe in Blantyre.
He had single handedly broken the quarry which was used to make concrete for the floors of Dzunga Primary School and has lived here from the period it was a dense forested area to the present when it is on the verge of becoming a huge desert with dried rivers and dead interlocking spurs.
â€śWe had natural forests here and there was a lot of game. Even the rivers had a lot of water and the soils were so fertile that we lacked no food,â€ť said Chikweza.
Adding, â€śBut now all the trees are gone, we have scanty rains, we canâ€™t even grow enough to feed ourselves from this land. Everything has changed, even water is becoming scarce.â€ť
When people started burning charcoal from his area, he thought it was a way to uplift their economic standards which as expected they did and some bought iron sheets for their houses, but now they have to survive the heat and hunger due to dwindling yields.
â€śAfter losing most trees, we have also lost soil fertility and despite using conservation agriculture, my food only lasts less than eight months utmost and then I have to struggle with the others,â€ť he discloses his ordeal.
â€śThe situation doesnâ€™t seem to improve and last year we had little rains and the environment is still being destroyed through bush fires which burn the remaining tree shoots every year,â€ť he adds.
Chikweza says will never forget one fierily moment when he almost died from fire that was started by mice hunters in one field, 300 metres from his field.
â€śIâ€™m glad I survived, but I lost my bags of maize, flour, money and all that I owned as there was no time to get anything out of my burning house. I couldnâ€™t even cry loud enough for neighbours to intervene. All was burnt and had to start all over again,â€ť he said.
In the words of Chikweza, the land has become drier and less productive while seasonal fires started by hunters and charcoal burners clear more land and expose the land.
While Chikweza bemoans total disregard of environment from the younger generation, he believes something can be done.
â€śWe can let the shoots grow and plant trees to restore our lost glory,â€ť he said.
Just kilometers from Blantyre down in Mwanza, the struggle is the same. Rapid clearing of trees and burning of grasses and deteriorating soil fertility are at highest.
Brian Mtambo, District Forestry Officer for Mwanza still has a gleam of hope and believes that when given a chance of regeneration, the environment can magically transform and significantly reverse the negative effects which Chikweza is facing.
He speaks from a background that they once had 10600 hectares of Thambani forest in Mwanza burned with fire whose source is only speculated, but like Chikweza believes natural regeneration can be a solution.
Â â€śNatural regeneration is more effective than newly planted trees. The regenerating shoots have a developed root system and can withstand adverse conditions on their own and they are already acclimatized while the newly planted trees need to start all over.
â€śThe regenerating shoots stand a better chance and if we allow natural regeneration of natural forests we are bound to recover our natural environment. But we need to change the mindset of the people to prevent bush fires which are destroying natural regenerating trees in our forested areas.
We have the hope that Sustainable Land Management project by Ministry of Environmental Affairs and Climate Change which is running in Mwanza, Neno, Blantyre and other districts will bear fruits in increasing awareness on environment preservation. We believe this will inspire communities to take up the responsibility,â€ť said Mtambo.
He added, â€śIn many areas, chiefs have bylaws, even here in Mwanza we have bylaws which we developed last year with assistance from CEPA and we are just waiting for district councilâ€™s endorsement. The bylaws will help a lot but needs to sensitize all chiefs on the same.â€ť
Group Village Head Kawiliza from Mwanza also sees the potential of protecting existing forests other than planting new trees which have a great failure rate.
â€śWe planted over 5000 trees last year, but only hundreds survived. But the village forests where trees are regenerating are growing well. Right now we have made a firebreak for our forests, but most chiefs do not know the bylaws and this brings environmental management problems. There is constant conflict between chiefs and government officials because many chiefs are not aware of bylaws and government laws governing environmental management,â€ť said Kawiliza.
Malawi Environmental Affairs Department Principal Environment Officer, Clement Tikiwa told Mana reporter in September 2014 that the country has lost a lot of environmental resources to bushfires caused by farmers and other groups.
â€śâ€¦It is being estimated in the Malawi Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that between 1990 and 2005 the country has lost about 494,000 hectares of forests and one of the underlying causes is setting off uncontrollable bush firesâ€¦â€ť observed Tikiwa.
While kids do it for fun and men burn for a hunt or with cigarette leftovers, people like Chikweza are on the brunt edge of the environmental and climate scare. Every day, he wakes and he smells the air for a change in humidity for the rains, but it scares him.
â€śIt is warmer and almost impossible to predict rain like we did in the past. We just have it all of a sudden and it stops abruptly too. What can we do?â€ť
Â Lilongwe, September 29: John Milele Chikweza, 93, walks with a stick and narrates as one who has seen his environment and climate change. He was born here in Gomani area in Traditional Authority Kunthembwe in Blantyre. He had single handedly broken the quarry which was used to make concrete for ...