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Economic and social activities are the main determinants of demand for forests goods and services (FAO, 2000). The population of Malawi is estimated at 10 million, with a declining growth rate at 2 % due mostly to AIDS pandemic that is affecting mostly the productive age groups. The growth rate will decline further in the next two decades due to the combination of AIDS pandemic and impact of family planning and reproductive health campaigns.

Malawi remains one of the poorest countries in the World with per capita income of US$ 220. Over 60 percent of Malawiís population live below the poverty line. Most of the households cultivate between 0.5 and one hectare. 40 % of the population are illiterate. With an economy that is dependent upon agriculture and the rate of population growth more than three times the growth rate of the economy, the economic future is not bright.

The combination of increasing population and poor economic status will exert a heavy pressure on natural resources including forest and tree resources. The pressure will originate from increasing demand for more land for food production and wood fuel energy.

Demands on forest and tree resources are increasing in intensity and diversity over time as population increase and some portion of the population become affluent. Some of the main demands from forests and tree resources are forest services, non-timber forest products, wood energy, and industrial forest products.

Forest services

These include eco-tourism, watershed protection, carbon sequestration and biodiversity conservation. Achieving sustainable financing to manage forests for non-marketed services is a major challenge.

Non-timber forest products (NTFP)

Increasing attention is now being focused on NTFP as sources of alternative or complementary sources of income. The major constraints remain inadequate information on utilisation, management and marketing of NTFPs. Some of the common NTFP are Cane furniture, ornamental flowers, mushrooms, firewood and fruit juices.

Wood energy

A recent household survey showed that about 94% of the people in the country are using wood fuel for energy. This represents an increase trend in wood dependence from the original 90% of the population. At the same time use of electricity has declined from 4 % to 2% of the population. With increasing population and no alternative in sight, wood fuel demand will increase over time.

Industrial wood products

The total annual sustainable yield from all industrial plantations is estimated at 575,000 m3, available over the next two decades. If more planting is done, sustainable yield could be increased. Current total consumption by both formal and informal sector is however only 33 %. There is therefore untapped potential.

Sustainable wood production is being threatened by forest fires and poor management due mainly to inadequate financial resources. The wood industry has expressed concern about the future if no corrective action is taken now. The decision has already been taken by Government to involve private sector in effective management of industrial plantations through various modes of partnerships.


The driving forces

Factors that will shape forestry sector will include economic growth, population growth, land use change especially deforestation, changes in social dimensions, wood energy demand and the evolution of policies within and outside forestry sector.

The coming years will also see increasing concern over degradation of the environment resulting from pollution, climate change and water degradation.

Critical to the future of forests is the rate of growth of agriculture sector together with settlements that are associated with it. With increasing population, low level of technology and a subsistence rural economy, forests will more likely be cleared to increase crop production.

The energy sector is closely related to forestry sector. Wood fuels provide 94 % of energy in the country and there are no viable alternatives in site. The increasing demand for wood fuel will affect the forestry sector.

It is important to recognise the potential role that technology could play and affect the forestry sector. Technological changes could improve wood processing efficiency and reduce waste, other forms of energy could became available thereby reduce pressure on wood fuels or new products could replace wood products.

The forestry sector will also experience increasing influence from national, regional and international policies that are guiding forest development world-wide. Increasing globalisation, concern for climate change and interest in preserving biodiversity are the global themes that will play an important role in shaping forestry sector in Malawi.

By far, the two key determinants of the future of forestry appear to be the developments that will take place in agriculture and energy sector.

Policies and institutions

The forest policy of 1996 is a departure from the traditional forest approach, which emphasised forest protection to the present policy that emphasis multi-stakeholder participation including local communities. The new policy also recognise the role of the private sector not only in utilisation of forest but also in the management of the resource. Through the National Forest Programme (NFP) Malawi Government through a highly consultative process with all stakeholders has identified the key themes affecting forestry in Malawi, identified priority actions to be undertaken and also identified key roles and responsibilities of various stakeholders (NFP, 2000).

The changes in policy have also included institutional change. Traditionally, forestry institutions have concentrated on government forestry departments and agencies. Since many parties external to forestry department have significant influence on the sector, institutional change has to be examined from a broader perspective although Forestry Department remains the institution with vested interest in drawing attention to the needs and potentials of the sector.

There are two key institutional changes that are underway as the result of the change in forest policy namely industrial plantations management by the private sector and community management of forest and tree resources.

Forest services outlook

The key factors that will determine the outlook for forest services will include recognition and appreciation of commercial potential for non-timber goods and services, development of effective valuation methods for pricing forest services, balancing the provision of commercial benefits with social and environmental services, mobilisation of investment in favour of forest-provided services and main streaming non-timber forest products.

Outlook for NTFP

NTFP are both socially and economically important for people living near natural forests. Over 20 NTFP have been identified in Malawi, the major ones being fuelwood, fruits and mushrooms.

The outlook of NTFP will be determined by several key developments some of which are increasing commercialisation of NTFP at local, national and international level, a shift from local consumption of NTFP to marketing of NTFP as key alternative source of income, mainstreaming of NTFP in sustainable forests management planning and research in the sustainable management of NTFP.

Outlook for timber plantation forests wood-based products

The wood processing industry consumes sawlogs and peeler logs. At present, there is sustainable wood supply for the next two decades at the present level of consumption. The present consumption rate is using up only 33% of the sustainable supply. The potential for more wood can be archived by restocking the current plantations and implementing effective forest management. The potential for external market is however clouded by the dominance of the South African forests industry in the region.

For long-term local supply of sawlogs, there is need to resume planting in timber plantation now and maintain the momentum annually. Alongside replanting, there is need to identify sustainable source of finances to manage properly forest plantations.

The forecaste for peeler logs is rather uncertain because there hasnít been any significant planting over the last decade. Since the plantation rotation is 25 to 30 years, there will be no peer logs in year 2020. If planting resumed today, peer logs could be ready for harvesting no earlier than 2025. There will therefore be need for restructuring the wood industry to adapt to low diameter tree sizes and to produce panel products like particleboards or chipboards in place of plywood.


Outlook for the area of forest and tree resources

Area of natural forests over the years has remained unchanged, with the exception of forest reserves that have continued to grow in number. Over the years there has been no significant change caused by pressure for crop production and settlements.

There is indication that pressure for land will increase over the next two decades due to increasing population. This pressure will originate from people living in the neighbourhood of forests as indicated by growing number of cases of encroachment for settlement and crop production.

There hasnít been significant expansion of plantation forests for both industrial and fuelwood and poles plantations. In the case of poles and fuelwood plantations, they have actually reduced in area, especially the plantations that were handed over to local councils to manage.

There is no indication that plantation forestry will increase in area in the medium term. For timber plantation, the current wood is under-utilised and poorly managed. In the medium term, the prudent course of action is to bring the existing plantation under proper management and develop a market for wood products.

For poles and fuelwood plantation of significant area, there will be problems to get land that isnít being earmarked for crop production. With current wood prices set low by government, no investor would be attracted to invest in forestry.

The future of forest lands will be determined by the ability of planners to provide adequate benefits from forests to the communities than they can get from clearing forests for crop production. Collaborative forest management is being used to promote communities participation in sustainable forest management by sharing costs and benefits. This approach has promising prospects for meeting both local needs and global interests of biodiversity conservation and mitigation of climate change. There is also potential for communities to make income from collaborative ecotourism whereby tour operators and local communities can work out mechanisms for sharing responsibilities and benefits.

There have always been trees outside forests around homesteads and in farms supplying multiple products and good. With increasing agroforestry practices using tree species as a means of improving soil fertility, there will be increase in number of trees on the farm. The key factors that will drive the planting of more trees on farm are a conducive pricing policy and increasing pressure for wood fuel.

Regional implications of forest outlook for Malawi

The changes that will take place in Malawi have implications on collaborative choices and cooperation at regional level. National policies will be influenced by regional and global factors. Malawi being the coordinator of forestry sector, there will be need for Malawi not only take into account international opinion in forestry policy formulation but also to provide leadership in the SADC region.

The areas that will require particular attention on international, regional and sub-regional level are developing and refining trade regimes, establishing mutually acceptable criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management, watershed management, networking and information sharing and collaboration in Forests Research, Education and Training.


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