Alternative source of income may help to protect forest
By Gerald Kitabu
The improved Forest Management for Sustainable livelihoods programme (IFMSLP) could be one of the ways to enhance sustainable development and management of forests, secure equitable access to forest resources for rural communities, address issues of deforestation and threats posed by climate change risks.
Our reporter Gerald Kitabu cites cases of the programme as carried out in twelve districts in Malawi, from which Tanzania could borrow a leaf.
The old adage that says ``your chicken will not be safe if your neighbour is hungry`` also applies to forests surrounded by hungry communities with no alternative sources of income.
In many parts of Africa, the influence of human activities on forests has grown at an unprecedented rate and sometimes the situation is worse in forests adjacent to communities that rely on forests as the only source of income.
Although some forest species sprout especially during rain seasons, large part of the resource would completely disappear from the world map due to continuing encroachment and harsh conditions resulting from climate change risks.
Hundreds and thousands of hectors are sent to the grave yard every year under the pretext of alternative source of income by the rural communities where as other scores of the community citing human development as a major cause.
In fact, many rural communities are ignorant of the resource despite its enormous short and long term fruits one is expected to harvest from it.
For example, being a key to development, forests support other important sectors such as economy and culture. It also provides construction materials such as timber, poles and logs.
It also protects soil, maintain hydrological balance, provide catchments and recycle atmospheric gases among other benefits. Despite such benefits yet most forest species are under big threat of disappearing on the world map due to human activities.
It is against this reason that the Malawi government in collaboration with the European Union early this year embarked on the programme known as The improved Forest Management for Sustainable livelihood , which will cost about 14.9 million Euros.
Like Tanzania, Malawi also experiences massive depletion of forests. At least twelve districts have so far been affected especially in rural areas where forest is the sole resource to most residents, they are Nsanje, Chikwawa, Zomba, Machinga and Ntcheu. Also in the list are Dedza, Ntchisi, Kasungu, Mzimba, Rumphi, Karonga and Chitipa.
Apart from agriculture as a source of income in Malawi, forests are being destroyed by rural communities that have no other source of income.
Such rural communities and small scale enterprises would opt felling down trees for fuel, search for new settlement or clear the land for farming activities.
The programme among other things aimed at diversifying the economy, creating alternative source of income and improving the conditions of adjacent communities to rescue the forests.
Interviewed, Deputy Director of Forestry in Malawi, Paulos Mwale, says the programme is carried out in twelve districts through a number of strategies and targets four major results which include, strengthening governance of key forest resources in forest sector.
This is done through promoting locals comprising district Assemblies, traditional leadership, community and civil society to work on common basis for access, benefit sharing, roles, rights and responsibilities.
The government also Promotes sustainable livelihood carried out within affected areas by supporting the forest dependent communities to build capacity in collaboration with other stakeholders.
In this case the government is constantly supporting small scale entrepreneurs and nurseries that promote forests in their respective communities.
The government also ensures that such rural community secures equitable access to forest resources through increasing the area under the sustainable forest management arrangement.
In this plan, the government is strengthening the capacity of community institutions in planning as well as co-managing state forests in partnership with the department of forestry.
However, the government supports forest based and forest related income generating strategies and individuals or communal afforestation programmes to eas the pressure on indigenous forests.
Strengthened communication and advocacy within and among stakeholder groups is another strategy by the Malawi government which devises ways of generating interest and providing essential information for decision making towards feasible options among the existing and potential forest based ``income generating activities``
The focus of the programme is to address and emphasize both protecting standing forests and replanting barren areas to re-green them.
Besides the benefits that the government and the communities are expected to derive from the programme, tackling issues of environmental degradation and climate change risks is one of the program`s agenda.
It is must therefore that sustainable forest management would need communities with environmental knowledge and alternative source of income to rescue forest cover in Africa which is estimated at 650 million hectors accounting for 21.8 percent of the land area and 16.8 percent of global forest cover.