Malawi: Farmers plant trees to fight climate change

February 29, 2016
A translation for this article is available in French

Akisoni Msandula has been planting trees and encouraging other farmers to do the same since before the turn of the century. Mr. Msandula lives in Thandaza village, about 35 kilometres northwest of Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi.

In 1999, Mr. Msandula planted 700 trees around his house, and around his maize and tobacco fields. He explains: “The forest officer came to our village and informed us on the need to have more trees. I bought and planted cassia tree seedlings through the forest officer, but other farmers thought it was expensive and they did not plant any trees.”

He adds, “I advised my fellow farmers to start planting trees around their homes and fields, but they didn’t listen to me, and this is why we have very few trees in this area.”

Farmers in the village had been busy cutting down trees without planting replacements. Mr. Msandula says: “Many fields in my village have experienced massive soil erosion; women travel long distances to fetch firewood…. and it is now expensive to find trees for constructing houses for people and animals.” Deforestation is contributing to droughts, extreme temperatures, floods, and erratic rains in the area.

But Mr. Msandula is now reaping the benefits of his tree planting. His trees have grown quickly, and many other farmers in his village are now following his lead.

Veronika Biniwelo is a farmer from Thandaza village who also planted trees this year. She blames the shortage of water and the unreliable rainfall and floods in her area on deforestation.

She explains: “[In] recent years, we have experienced erratic rains … it is now difficult to plan for farming, especially the period for planting crops such as maize. In addition, disasters due to floods have affected us … for instance, last week a man died because of floods in the nearby river. This accident happened due to more running water since [the] few trees we have cannot help hold and control water.”

Overton Sinoya is the chief for Thandaza village. He started encouraging his people to plant trees annually after seeing the negative effects of deforestation on farming. He explains: “This year … we have identified land near the river bank of our village, and we have planted 3,000 trees…. I am also encouraging each farmer to personally plant trees every year and am discouraging charcoal-making, which has destroyed trees in my area.”

Joseph Mkayala is the forestry officer for the area. He is happy that the villagers are taking actions to reverse deforestation. He says: “I train these people how to plant and take care of trees. Because the area has few trees, I encourage them to plant trees which grow faster—such as cassia—for them to start reaping the benefits quickly.”

Apart from using trees in his household, Mr. Msandula generates income by selling pruned trees in his village. He says, “Annually, I get about $60 US from trees. I use the money to buy clothes for my family. This year, I planted 400 tree seedlings, and I will not stop planting trees until I die, so that the next generations of my family should also benefit.”