Written by Chinsinsi Cheketa and Melie Chipula Bayani:
Nkhotakota, a central region district renowned for its charcoal production, has long faced environmental challenges due to extensive deforestation.
The interconnection of economic survival and environmental conservation came to light during a recent media tour, revealing a dual narrative of degradation and transformation.
On one side, the district’s lakeshore communities have been contributing to deforestation by selling firewood to fish traders. This practice, while economically vital, has left vast hectares of land bare, significantly elevating the risk of natural disasters, especially floods, which have plagued the district for years.
However, amidst the challenges, some communities have taken a proactive stance toward environmental conservation. Notable examples include villages under Senior Chief Malengachanzi, Kanyenda, and Kafuzira, where locals have initiated afforestation projects, created their own forests and adopted sustainable farming practices.
One shining example is the Mlambe Forest, a 1.5-hectare village forest established under the government-funded Climate Smart Enhanced Public Works Programme in the Kasangazi Catchment Area.
Jephta Kambiya, a member of the Kasangazi Catchment Management Committee, emphasized the strict protection of the forest, stating, “No one is allowed to cut down even a tree in this forest, and violators face fines imposed by the Senior Chief.”
Similar efforts are underway in the Nsenjere Catchment Area, where communities, under Senior Chief Kanyenda, plan to plant over 12 thousand trees during the current rainy season.
Naomie Kanyenda, Chairlady for the Nsenjere Catchment Management Committee, anticipates not only environmental restoration but also income generation by selling the trees to businesses like fish operators.
“We hope that by planting seedlings of Msambafumu, Chithowe, Mtangatanga, Jerejere, and Nsangu trees, we can revive the natural vegetation cover,” stated Kanyenda.
Despite the enthusiasm, some groups are experiencing challenges. Mediko Nkhata from Lupachi Catchment Area highlighted delays in receiving funds for their tree-planting initiatives. The concerns resonate across catchment areas in the district.
“Although the funds we receive are insufficient to cater to our needs, occasional delays in payment hinder progress, serving as a source of discouragement for many,” lamented Nkhata.
Addressing the challenges, Redfan Chilongo, Agriculture Extension Development Officer for Nsenjere Extension Planning Area, acknowledged the issues and assured rectification efforts.
Chilongo expressed optimism that such community-driven initiatives would not only restore vegetation and soil health but also become a sustainable income source for local groups.
“We are impressed with the progress achieved thus far, and we remain committed to actively engaging with the groups to ensure tangible results in their activities,” said Chilongo.
The Climate Smart Enhanced Public Works Programme, operating under the Social Support Resilient Livelihoods Project, aims to combat land degradation, biodiversity loss, and climate change.
Currently implemented as a pilot in ten district councils, including Nkhotakota, this programme signifies a collective effort towards a more sustainable and resilient future.