The negotiations in Bonn, at the 23rd annual conference of the parties (COP) ended on a high note with renewed focus to do more actions to reverse climate change effects. A growing coalition of states, cities and organizations have committed to meet emissions reductions targets. African states and organizations in particular are made the most of their presence at the conference by voicing their concerns and ideas – pressuring developed nations to commit to more ambitious reduction targets. Africa is likely to be the continent affected most by climate change. Malawi is one such country – with high population growth, rapid deforestation, and widespread soil erosion, its agriculturally based economy is particularly susceptible to climate change’s negative consequences.
Malawi was previously heavily forested. However, over the years, people have been cutting down the trees and burning them where they fall to open up areas for farming – this is commonly known as “slash and burn” agriculture. In the past, these areas were farmed for one to three years, and then the farmer would move on, cut down some more forest, and start all over again. Whilst the population of Malawi was small, the environment was able to recover as the trees would regenerate. However in July 2011, the World Bank estimated that Malawi’s population has doubled every 25 years and in 2011 it stood at 17.2 million - this has meant that there is increased pressure on available land. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), forest cover is now just 34.4% of the total land area of Malawi (UN data 2010). This has fallen from 41.4% in 1990. The challenge for Malawi in the future, with its rapidly growing population, is to help communities to develop a more sustainable approach to environmental protection.
DAPP Malawi works with local communities to plant trees to build their capacity to mitigate the impact of climate change. Tree planting serves multiple purposes such as protecting against erosion, improving soil fertility, producing nutritious fruits, or producing firewood. Examples of species planted are: Jatropha, Moringa, Cassia, Avocado, Guava, and Papaya. One tree which farmers are mostly encouraged to plant in their field is Albizia Lebbeck locally known as Mtanga tanga which possesses properties of nitrogen fixing in the soil. The rural farming communities in the districts of Chiradzulu, Zomba, Lilongwe and Dowa have planted over 15 million trees between 2009 – 2016.
The Farmers’ Clubs program has imparted knowledge and skills to farmers to help in the adaptation and mitigation of climate change. Member farmers took a leading role in mobilizing non–participating farmers into constructing firewood saving stoves. The farmers organized education campaigns in their communities to educate their neighbours on the effects of harmful environmental practices such as the slash and burn and the careless cutting down of trees. It was through the practical comparisons of cooking using firewood saving stoves and using the traditional non-climate friendly, three stone cooking method that community members understood the importance of constructing the stoves.
The integration of tree planting is essential for increasing biomass cover, soil fertility enrichment and supporting the normal rainfall cycle. The tree planting campaigns carried out by DAPP Malawi have helped to assist in the absorption of carbon – as the trees act as carbon sinks. Additionally, DAPP Malawi has also worked with community members to create woodlots. These woodlots and the provision of tree seedlings has ensured the firewood saving stoves are even more effective.
Monica Changoyima from Jekeseni village is one of more than 30 000 rural farmers who actively planted trees at the Farmers’ Clubs project in Malawi. Changoyima was one of the community members selected as a beneficiary of the tree seedling distribution, she explains “DAPP Malawi noticed that as much as we had trees in the nursery we did not have the right agro forestry skills to care for the trees. So they came in with instructions on how we should plant the trees”. According to Changoyima the tree planting activities have significantly empowered members of the community. She says that most people are now aware of the importance of trees in the rain cycle.
“If we have a lot of trees in the forest we are increasing the chances of having good rainfall. Due to the destruction of forests the country has experienced changes in the climatic conditions,” states Changoyima. The women also realize that due to the unavailability of energy alternatives people are always going to rely on firewood for energy. This will have a great effect on the environment as well as increase their drudgery as they fetch for wood for various household uses. As such the wood-stove methods and introduction of tree-planting processes have helped reduce the impact of this. At rural small-scale farm level the impact is visible as the soil has improved its fertility and humidity and hundreds of thousand trees have been planted – ensuring the sustainability of livelihoods in the region.