In Malawi, the destruction of the environment is widespread. Sights of bare grounds and mountains with no tree cover, is commonplace. The destruction did not take place over night. It has taken ages with efforts to curb the destruction proving ineffective.
The consequences have been devastating. Left with no any cover, stories of rivers bursting and causing floods in the process have become perennial. In other areas, droughts continue to frustrate farmers.
But the destroyers of the environment cannot feign ignorance. They have always been aware of the consequences that follow destruction of the environment.
“I don’t think we were cutting trees without knowing their importance, no,” admits Tombozgani Kumwenda, a former charcoal producer.
During the period of his charcoal business, Kumwenda, a resident of Kennedy Village, Paramount Chief Kyungu in Karonga, a district found further North, was never in doubt of the role trees play. “But charcoal production was the easier option for many of us,” he adds.
Pressed by the hard-biting pangs of poverty, rural residents, Kumwenda inclusive, turned to production and selling of charcoal. With the raw materials chiefly being the natural trees, survival of the thick forest covers the district was endowed with then, was always in doubt.
A tough character, Village Headman Kenani imposed fines of around K5,000 (about US$7) on perpetrators. This was however not deterrent enough to Kumwenda and others.
“My subjects had no better alternatives than the charcoal business until recently when they were introduced to other sources of generating incomes,” admits Kenani.
He was referring to the beekeeping initiative Enhancing the Resilience of Eco-Systems Project (ERASP) introduced in the area. ERASP is funded by the regional Global Environmental Fund (GEF) and is complimentary to Programme for Rural Irrigation Development (PRIDE).
The district forestry and environmental officials organized residents in this area into beekeeping groups. A total of 12 groups were formed with a combined membership of 194. Kumwenda was one of the 4 men that formed a 12-member group named Dikeni Beekeeping Club.
The group members under-went training that covered a number of areas including beehive production, bee-colonization, harvesting, processing and packaging of honey and market identifications.
A year after the trainings, the group is already reaping the fruits. During the first harvest in April, Dikeni Beekeeping Club harvested 20 litres of honey from the 10 beehives they received after the end of the training.
Sales of the honey amounted to 57,000.00 Malawi Kwacha (about $80). “We shared the proceeds equally and saved some money,” discloses Syria Sichali, one of the youthful women in the group.
The money being saved will be topped up with upcoming harvests to buy production materials for more beehives. After the trainings, Dikeni and two other neighboring groups, Njalayamoto and Chilambiro, received 19 beehives each but they want more.
“We have the skills because we were trained in bee-hive production. What we don’t have are the production materials and equipment. We plan to use this money for that,” says Sichali.
Dikeni group is targeting production of 20 more beehives by end of one year. More beehives mean an increase in demand for bigger forests to hang the beehives. Unsurprisingly, communities are placing more value on trees than before.
Over a year into beekeeping, trees are beginning to feel safe. Charcoal production stopped with all community members aware of how jeopardizing destruction of the environment would be to their beekeeping business.
“We are each other’s keeper. We police each but the task is less taxing because we are fully aware that destruction of the trees will mean the end of our business,” says Irene Chilongo, one of the members.
And the situation has been encouraging to the forestry and environmental officials in the district. Assistant District Forestry Officer for Karonga, Kingston Tembo has already seen the signs of change. An area that used to be one of the reliable suppliers of charcoal is now embracing other sources of livelihood. “I don’t remember the last time I saw a bag of charcoal in this area let alone a tree fell for charcoal production,” admits Tembo.