Monday, September 5, 2011

Flashback: Saving Natural Resources, Memories


Makanjira: Let us conserve natural resources to save wonderful memories

Wildlife and natural resources once meant little more than nobody’s
property; everything, from trees , game, to wild-products, it was all
for plunder and free- a familiar sign of that long-held prejudice that
there is nothing ‘human’ about being in the wild.
Then came the introduction of fences around national parks, game
reserves and nature sanctuaries; and communities felt they were meant
to deter them from accessing their own endowment, a part of their
That, too, is what went on in the minds of people from the area of
Traditional Authority (T/A) Ng’ambi in Machinga, the abode district of
Liwonde National Park.
They have chosen to believe otherwise now, and have quickly adapted to
the reassuring reality that wild life is for us and posterity; that
the fences are meant to contain problem-animals from wrecking havoc
among human beings and not otherwise.
New thoughts are beginning to emerge, too, with some of the community
members like Michael Jalasi now beginning to believe that, perhaps, in
the early 1900s our ancestors might have been rattled by current
events and the unbeatable logic of despair among wild animals and had
to go out in the woods for a while and think about the consequences of
depleting natural resources faster than they could be replaced.
For 74 year old Ali Zalimu, there never, at first, was a story told to
his children without mentioning wildlife- it was either about the
cunningness of Kalulu the hair, the unscrupulous behaviour of
nocturnal fisi (hyena), the courage of the chameleon as to win a
long-distance marathon against the likes of mighty Cheetah and Lion,
and the beauty of the countryside.
But he recalls that, as early as the 1980s, he began to tell stories
that begun with the end, a sure sign of dreadful fascination with doom
and demise, his faith in imminent extinction of the once beautiful
wildlife getting stronger by the day.
Zalimu is one of the people who, once or twice a year, flocks into the
National Park to harvest mushrooms as his wife, Miriam, collects

Makanjira: Doing all he can to save Malawi's game

“We are always happy to come into the (National) park and get firewood
that keeps us going for three weeks or a month on end- something we do
periodically when wildlife officials see it fit,” he says.
His once lost his best friend (Ali Itimu) to a marauding lion when he
(the friend) went poaching on May 17, 1991.
“But things have significantly changed today that there are very few
cases of poaching and abuse of resources in protected areas;
communities surrounding these areas are increasingly becoming aware
that the fences are not meant to deter us from visiting these places.
They are for problem animals that wreck havoc in neighbouring villages
from getting out of the protected areas,” attests Alick Prescott
Makanjira, senior assistant Parks and Wildlife Officer in the
Department of Parks and Wildlife, South. The department is now divided
into four: administration, research, wild life management and wildlife
education and extension.
It hasn’t been easy, though, as he observes. Some villagers have a
negative attitude that hinges mainly on memories of domestic animals
that might have been killed by the problem animals- these are hyenas,
elephants, lions and other predators.
“We have also come around this problem through Collaborative Wildlife
Management. Through this initiative, natural resources are managed
alongside villagers around Majete Wildlife Reserve, Mwabvi Wildlife
Reserve, Lengwe National Park and Michiru Nature Sanctuary. These
areas fall within the four divisions,” says Makanjira.
That is why, for instance, the Nyika/Vwaza project helped national
park officials to work together with community members. Schools built
for these communities still stand today, tidy and strong- a living
manifestation of how deep unity of purpose can dig.
For people around Michiru Nature Sanctuary, this sort of unity has a
shape and taste. It comes in the form of a mushroom, which they are
allowed to harvest after maturity. The taste is thus that of mushroom.
Officials say this has been of tremendous benefits, as people no
longer cut trees (live wood), waiting to harvest dead wood at the
right time.
As they wait for the right time, another right time comes: The time
between waiting and hoping happens to be the same grass for thatching
houses matures- so they get an occasional reward of thatched grass.
“This reward doesn’t come from parks, game reserves or nature
sanctuary officials; it comes from nature itself, every year- we just
orchestrate accessibility to these resources at the right time,” he
A question of a little late, but not too late. Malawi used to have
that fastest running animal in the world, the Cheetah, in Kasungu
National Park. No more.
Wild dogs (mimbulu); no more.
Malawi has started to sing funeral hymns for wild game that once was,
and is not.
It pains the likes of Makanjira that, while Malawi can only lay claim
to the fact that we once had such great animals of the wild through
the fossils dug from the ground- animals that once were part of the
warm-heartedness that is us- go to Zambia, and you will get them.
Yet, Zambians and Malawians call themselves brothers and sisters;
their father and mother being that border line in Mchinji.
While this should have been a wake up call, some community members see
no doom and gloom in this but continue to undo the prospects of their
own posterity.
Though positive strides have been made to curve around the problem of
abuse of natural resources, the risk remains for indigenous trees ,
says Daulosi Mauambeta, Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi
(Wesm) executive director.
This abuse has a name, and a tag: Charcoal trade. Mauambeta finds it
shocking that this form of trade has a well established cost
structure, but no action is taken to control it as one way of
promoting sustainable management of natural resources. With his
finger, he points to Lilongwe. Retailers there enjoy 33 per cent of
the production costs, private taxes eat 12 per cent, market fees 3 per
cent, transport 25 per cent, labour 6 per cent and the producer gets
41 per cent from the sales.
Blantyre’s charcoal sales’ cost structure reads like: The retailer
(the last seller, who packs charcoal in small plastic bags) gets 24
per cent, private taxes ‘eat’ 20 per cent, market fee claims 3 per
cent, transport 20 per cent and producers take 33 per cent to
In both cases, the producer- who is often the destroyer of trees- gets
the large chunk of money.
“Buying charcoal means encouraging such people,” said Mauambeta.
Blantyre District Forestry Officer, Geoffrey Kanyelele, agrees, but
offers remedies. People in cities are encouraging this sort of
behaviour by buying these products.
But because electricity tariffs are so high for the average citizen,
because only 6 per cent of the country’s population is connected to
electricity and the rest of the population stays in darkness, these
people must grow trees as well.
Kanyelele says most people in urban areas shun away from planting
trees. The reason, he adds, is that some people simply never want to
do something- like planting a tree- no, they fear that that will
benefit someone else!
“That spirit is killing our forests. However, my office is happy that,
in Blantyre, for instance, people come to realize the importance of
replacing trees. It doesn’t matter whether a tree has been felled in
Mwanza or Neno, you can plant one (tree) wherever you are. Surely,
that tree will have an impact,” he said.
The reason, perhaps, is that Blantyre residents have already planted
over 2 million trees half way though the Tree Planting season. He is
so sure that by April 15, official closing date for the exercise,
which started on December 15 and was officially opened by president
Bingu wa Mutharika, things will work out- beyond expectations.

Makanjira: When you hunt game to extinction, you also erase the wonderful memories

“We are coming closer to natural resources again, in terms of tree
planting. Soon, this problem will be behind us. That will happen if
we all become part of the solution,” said Kanyelele.

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