FEATURE-Malawi deploys military to protect its fast-dwindling forests
By Karen Sanje
LILONGWE, March 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Malawi’s government is trying a new way to protect its fast-dwindling forests: Sending in the army.
With deforestation threatening the capital’s water supply, the government has launched 24-hour military patrols of the country’s major forests, with authorisation to arrest loggers and confiscate their equipment, said Sangwani Phiri, a spokesman for the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining.
The move is “a bid to avert unwarranted illegal cutting down of trees,” he said in a telephone interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The strategy, using soldiers from the Malawi Defence Forces (MDF), is one already being used by other southern African countries including Botswana and South Africa, and is common practice in parts of other countries, including India and Vietnam, he said.
Malawi’s government estimates that the country’s 3.4 million hectares (8.4 million acres) of predominantly natural forests are being depleted at a rate of 1.8-2.6 percent annually, largely for charcoal production.
“We are targeting all forest areas across the country, but we are starting with the Mua, Livulezi, Dzalanyama, Viphya and Mulanje Mountain forests, whose rate of depletion has been worrisome,” Phiri said.
The deployment follows what he described as a successful pilot programme in the vast Dzalanyama Forest, which spreads across the Central Region districts of Dedza and Lilongwe. The programme began in February 2015.