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8.0 People and forests

Forest development revolves around people. Their interaction with forests both as managers and users determines how the forest recourse will look like in the future. The people intimately related to forests are the hunter-gatherer populations for whom forests offer food, shelter and fuelwood. The relationship between people and forests can be dependency/consumption oriented or management oriented.

There are three main people-forest relationships that can be identified namely people who live outside forests, people who engage in forest-based activities and people who are urban dwellers requiring wood products especially woodfuel.

People relate to forests positively, negatively or indifferently. People may be benefiting from forests through jobs or commercial activities therefore relate positively or they may damage forest for various reasons or they maybe indifferent. For example one could be selling charcoal from unsustainable sources thereby degrade the basis for his own income and survival. The relationship between people and forests or trees are far from being simple and often can be very complex in nature.

The demands made of forests are diverse resulting often in conflicting demands leading to land use and forest utilisation conflicts.

Community forest concept is gaining ground in many parts of the country. Originally promoted by Government, communities are slowly understanding the concept and organising themselves to participate in the future of the resource. The emergence of NGO’s is offering mostly financial resources while Government remains the major custodian of forest technical skills. Besides, there is growing realisation that trees outside forests will play an increasing role as the source of various products and services. The role of trees outside forest will increase as people adopt agroforestry technologies that aim to improve unit area food production and at the same time increase wood production. Although there is a limit on how many trees one can plant on limited landholding, the aggregate impact will be large because the area involved is large and the tree grow faster than plantation trees due to the open nature of their environment and limited competition for nutrients and light.

8.1 Forests and urban people

The urban population in Malawi constitutes 14 % of the population. The trend of urban migration over the years has declined from 6% to 4.7% due to the development of growth centres in rural areas (NSO, 2000). This is a low urbanisation rate compared for example with Zambia which is at about 50%.

The original interest in urban forests was landscape architecture and horticulture for aesthetical purposes. The demands of urban settlers require that trees and forest play a broader role in meeting a diversity of needs beyond landscape architecture. Due to increasing number of poor people in urban centres currently at over 60%, there is growing need for urban trees and forests to provide wood products as well. These are products like woodfuel, charcoal and poles for construction.

The major reason why foresters may neglect urban forestry is that urban forests are a responsibility of Assemblies. There is therefore need for closer collaboration between foresters and Assemblies. Another constraint in urban areas is that many of the people are tenants with no rights on the land they live on. It is therefore difficult for them to look after trees when there is no guarantee that they will benefit from the tree.

While it isnot possible to predict quantitatively what will happen to urban forestry, it is possible to foresee the effect of choices made. It can be expected that urbanisation will increase and with it the influx of rural poor people many of whom will be unable to purchase fuelwood and construction materials. These will put tremendous pressure on local forests and trees resources resulting in degradation and clearing of tree and forest resources. As the immediate resources are depleted, fuelwood and charcoal will be transported from the peri-urban areas and beyond.

Urban forestry has unique problems. However, there are also opportunities for forestry development that needs to be exploited for the benefit of the urban people. Increasing urbanisation will result in increasing demand for poles, woodfuel and charcoal. Since most of these people have no land to grow their own trees, there are commercial opportunities for both Assemblies and communities in the peri-urban areas to grow trees for sale. Forests and trees growing near roadsides can be important for urban areas even if they are located a considerable distance from the urban area.

The future of urban forests and trees will depend upon urban planning that stays ahead of urban growth and the extent to which urban plans which are implemented incorporate forest and tree growing.



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