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3.0 Forest resources

Altitude in Malawi ranges from 50 meters above sea level (Lower Shire) to 3000 meters on Mulanje Mountain in the South and 2600 meters on the Nyika in the north of the country. With slopes varying from steep escarpment to plains, there are a wide variety of vegetation formations in the country. The interaction of slope, soil, geology and climatic variables has resulted in at least 19 distinct vegetation communities. Population pressure has however modified biotic communities resulting in woodlands/trees interspaced with agriculture crops. Most of natural forests are Miombo woodland type, with typically low annual growth rates estimated at 1 2 m3 per hectare per year. Most of the forests have low commercial value.

3.1 Forest extent

Malawi was endowed with vast Miombo woodlands. This natural resource has been subject to considerable reduction in area mainly due human activities to the present state. Table 1 shows the forest resource extent.

Table 1 : National forest extent, for both indigenous and plantation forests and woodlands.

FOREST CATERGORY

AREA(HA)

% OF TOTAL FOREST AREA

Forest Reserves

870,052

17

National Parks & Game Reserves

981,479

19

Government Plantations

90,000

2

Private Plantation

20,000

0

Customary land

1,988,255

63

GRAND TOTAL

3,949,786

100

Source : Forestry Department

Forest resources have been subjected to deforestation. Table 2 shows deforestation between 1972 and 1992, as determine by comparing Landsat MSS (1972) and Landsat TM (1992).

 

 

 

Table 2 : Deforestation between 1972 and 1993 for both indigenous and plantation forests of Malawi.

 

REGION

1972

FOREST EXTENT

(Ha)

1992

FOREST

EXTENT

(Ha)

TOTAL

FOREST LOST

(Ha)

 

RATE OF

DEFORESTATION (Ha/YEAR)

NORTH

1,507,266

470,238

1,037,028

51,851 (3.4 %)

CENTRAL

1,488,110

777,217

710,893

35,545 (2.4 %)

SOUTH

1,404,510

650,860

753,650

37,683 (2.7 %)

TOTAL

4,399,886

1,898,315

2,501,571

125,043 (2.8 %)

Source : Forestry Department

It can be seen that although the Northern Malawi has a low population (11 % as compared to 39% for Central and 50 % for the South of Malawi), deforestation rate has been the highest at 3.4 %. .

Forest distribution in Districts is uneven. Table 3 show that Thyolo district is the least forested in the country, followed by Chiradzulu and Dowa Districts with 4% forest cover. On the other extreme end of the spectrum is Karonga District with 69 % forest cover followed by Nkhatabay.

Table 3 : Forest cover percentage by District.

District

Forest Area (%)

District

Forest Area (%)

Chitipa

38

Dedza

22

Karonga

69

Ntchewu

10

Kumphi

44

Mangochi

38

Mzimba

25

Machinga

16

Nkhatabay

58

Zomba

7

Kasungu

28

Mwanza

31

Nkhotakota

52

Blantyre

30

Ntchisi

13

Chiradzulu

4

Mchinji

9

Mulanje

12

Lilongwe

16

Chikwawa

33

Dowa

4

Thyolo

2

Salima

7

Nsanje

34

 

Malawi forests can be divided into two main categories namely natural and plantation forests as follows:

3.1.1 Natural forests

Natural forests represent the remainder of the Miombo forests that once covered almost the whole country.

Forest Reserves are managed by Forestry Department and cover an estimated 0.87 million hectares, comprising 17 % of forest cover in Malawi. There are 82 Forest Reserves scattered all over the country. Most of them are on hills and mountains protecting these fragile areas from environmental degradation through erosion but also protects important water catchment areas.

Wildlife forest reserves are managed by Department of National Parks and Wildlife and comprise an estimated 0.98 million hectares which is 19 % of total land area. There are 5 National Parks and 4 Game Reserves, distributed throughout the country.

Customary land forests are owned traditionally by the smallholders and cover 3.1 million ha, which is about 63 % of forest area in Malawi, comprising of 22 % of undisturbed forest and 41 % of disturbed forest with 20 to 70 % of cultivated land.

3.1.2 Plantation Forests

Government plantation under Forestry Department has established 0.09 million ha, covering about 1.8 % of total forest area. 85 % of the of timber forests consist of softwood (mainly Pinus patula). The main hardwood species planted mostly for poles and fuel wood is Eucalyptus species.

Private plantations are mostly owned by tea and tobacco estates and cover 0.02 million ha making up about 0.4 % of forest area. There is also 0.02 million hectares of smallholder woodlots.

3.1.3 Trees on Farm

Trees outside forest represent an important variable in the energy equation of smallholders. These trees are either planted or grow naturally in the gardens, around homes and occasionally along linear features, like roads. Many smallholders live far from the nearest forest, yet when you travel around the country side, you see many trees scattered throughout the crop field, along streams, along garden boundaries and even a larger concentration of mainly fruit trees around the houses. Dead branches, twigs and pruning from these trees are used as fuel wood. Woody biomass in these area is very low, ranges from 0 m3 to 12 m3 per hectare. Although the amount of wood that can be harvested from this source is small per unit area, the over role volume is significant because smallholder farming covers over 4.5 million ha (49 % of total land area of Malawi).

Of interest is the fact that these are open grown trees experiencing little competition for nutrients and sunlight hence their large canopy enables them to grow at a relatively higher rate than trees grown in a stand.

The basic problem in forestry is that the population is concentrated in Southern and Central Regions of the country (90 % of the total population) while half the forest resource is in the Northern Region. The forestry resource is under threat due primarily to increasing population. In the Central and Southern Regions there is a substantial gap between fuel wood supply and demand from customary land, the deficit being met from forest reserves. At the same time, demand for wood products, mainly fuel wood is increasing due to population growth from urbanisation. It is estimated that about 70 % of the demand originates from urban and rural households (10 % urban and 60 % rural households) and 30 % from tobacco and tea estates. The population pressure also results in more land clearing for agriculture, which further accelerates deforestation.

Forest resource in Forest Reserves and National Parks and Game Reserves is generally not available for exploitation. Their function is to conserve the environment and biodiversity and also to provide refuge for wildlife. Forest Reserves, managed by Forestry department are mostly located in water catchment areas and fragile areas. It the forest resource on customary land that is most accessible to the rural majority of Malawi and naturally is a very important resource that caters for the wood and non-wood needs of the rural population but also for the urban people, especially for customary land forests that are close to urban centres.

Forest Reserves, National Parks and Game Reserves have been encroached by both subsistence farmers and commercial farmers for both crop production and settlements (Table 3). Over the last 20 years, National Parks 1 % was encroached at 54 locations, in Game Reserves, 4.8 % was encroached at 30 locations and in Forest Reserves 2.6 % was encroached at a record 571 locations. The over all effect of these encroachments is still low and insignificant. In general, National Parks and Game Reserves have been better protected that Forest Reserves. It is important to notice from the low encroachment level, that forest protection by gazettment has been very effective.

Table 4: Encroachment in Forest Reserves, National Parks and Game Reserves.

CATEGORY

EXTENT

(Ha)

EXTENT

AFFECTED

(Ha)

% OF

AFFECTED

AREA

NO. OF

AREAS

AFFECTED

National Parks

Game Reserves

Forest Reserves

613,756

367,723

870,052

5,871

17,908

23,012

0.96

4.87

2.64

54

30

571

 

TOTAL

1,851,531

46,791

8.47

655

Source : Forestry Department

Some natural forests are located within leased land owned by estate owners involved in commercial farming. An estimated 12 % of all leased land and freehold land are under natural woodland, forest and plantation. These natural forests are effectively unmanaged with the result that their productivity is low.

The problems of deforestation arise from poverty, population growth, infrastructure development and economic activities. It has been noted that among the top 5 causes of deforestation and forest degradation are (Chipompha, 1997) uncontrolled tree felling for fuelwood for curing tobacco in the smallholder and estate sectors, opening up of new gardens and farming areas, firewood for commercial purposes, infrastructure development and shifting cultivation.

 

 

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