Choma Hill Forest Conservation and Tree Planting

RIPPLE Africa is a small UK registered charity running grassroots projects in northern Malawi. These projects empower communities to achieve a sustainable future by providing a ‘hand up’ and not a ‘hand out’ RIPPLE Africa’s strength is in working in partnership with local communities on a long-term basis to help them find simple, community-led solutions to environmental problems threatening their future.

Choma Hill is a large wooded area on the outskirts of the city of Mzuzu and is the only forested area near the city where firewood can be found.  As it is not designated a national park, Choma Hill has no legal protection from the Government and deforestation is a major problem in Malawi – rapid population growth has led to land clearance for subsistence farming and there is a heavy reliance on wood for cooking.  On top of this, because many urban households use charcoal burning stoves, a thriving charcoal industry is threatening the forest. Ecotourism is a growing industry in Malawi but is dependent on the preservation of the forested areas that remain. RIPPLE Africa has an education programme and a fuel efficient cookstove project in the area, reinforcing messages about the importance of the forest at a household level. Funding from EOCA will enable RIPPLE Africa to:
– set up 16 new forest conservation committees run by community members to help protect Choma Hill
– work with local chiefs and forest conservation committees to introduce new byelaws to protect Choma Hill from further deforestation and encourage regeneration of already deforested areas
– enable the planting of 250,000 trees by farmers, community groups and tree planting clubs. Fast growing trees will be planted for timber and firewood, protecting the existing forest from further destruction.  Other trees will stabilise the soil, and fruit trees will provide additional food and income.

The Update

Update July 2017: 
Despite delays to the project caused by a prolonged rainy season, the Choma Hill Tree Planting & Forest Conservation project is off to a great start!

Much time has been invested in carrying out project briefing meetings to ensure collaboration with the local Forestry Department and District Senior Chiefs, as well as undertaking community project awareness campaigns in villages surrounding Choma Hill.

A total of 12 community project campaigns have been conducted in local villages: introducing the community to members of the project, gaining their support and seeking volunteers to join the Forest Conservation Committees. Local people have been enthusiastic and keen to get involved.

Although survey work has indicated the problem of charcoal production to be greater than originally thought, community meetings and campaigns have found a real desire to prevent further deforestation and a commitment to make the project a success.  Indeed, the problem of charcoal production has received national coverage with an article in The Nation, Malawi’s national newspaper in June, reporting that the Director of Forestry is drafting a strategy calling for a total ban on charcoal.

All the seeds, tubes and equipment have been purchased.  Beneficiary farmers and tree nurseries are being identified for the tree planting project. The next stage is to plant all the seeds and ensure the trees are cared for. The majority of seeds purchased are pine, but Blue Gum and Mbawa are also to be planted.  These tree species will provide an important wood source for locals and thus help preserve the native forest.

Final Update:
This project is now complete and with EOCA’s funding some 400,000 trees have been planted!! Combined with other contributions, the project has been an amazing success.
Conservation bylaws have been agreed to and the community and farmers are working well together to continue the success of this project.

Image: Tree Nursery