Local leaders call government to involve community in protecting forests

By Tikondane Vega

Focus group discussion underway. Pic by Tikondane Vega-Mana

Blantyre, October 31, Mana: Community leaders in Mulanje district have stressed the need for government to strengthen grassroots structures if the fight of protecting forests and environment is to be realised.

This was said on Monday at Chambe hall in the district during the focus group discussion on National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA), a project being implemented by Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) and Environmental Affairs department.

Speaking during the meeting, Group Village Headman (GVH) Kazembe from Senior Chief Mkanda said for example, authorities should strive to work with communities saying it is possible for people to protect forests and environment at that level given all necessaries.

The GVH said before government started protecting forests, previously it was possible for locals to own the forests and protect without necessarily involving officials from councils or central government.

“They need to empower locals like giving them a small token of appreciations for them to work better. Mostly people who destroy forests and environment stay with us and at that level we can handle ourselves better.

“The problem now is that government is taking control of these forests on its own without involving locals who are based there. It is through this that people just say the forests are for government and consequently destroy it by charcoal or just cutting down trees,” she said.

The local leader has since admitted that lack of traditional knowledge and spiritual beliefs have contributed to destroy forests and environment saying people are no longer afraid to visit protected places.

Stanley Maliche, a member of Concerned Citizen for protection of Mulanje Mountain said the major problem is that stakeholders are working on isolation and agreed with GVH Kazembe that government should leave duty of protecting forests to communities themselves.

He said protecting forests and environment at local level is possible as long as structures are empowered adding forests like that in Mulanje Mountain can easily regain its lost glory if locals are involved.

Meanwhile, Dr Wellman Kondowe who is Mzuzu University Senior Lecturer and Lead author of Indigenous and Local Knowledge for NEA project said unlike in Nsanje district where communities are protecting Khuluvi due to traditional knowledge and some beliefs, in Mulanje things are different because people needs money to conserve, making conservation work difficult.

Dr Kondowe said it is important to engage the Indigenous and local communities who are often directly affected by conservation policies and actions saying they will continue to consult more stakeholders on the matter on how best forests and environment can be protected.

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