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23RD JULY, 2018

Malawi Landscapes ‘A Call to Action’

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The changing nature of our landscapes have been having adverse effects on our businesses, and importantly on the livelihoods of our local communities.  Being brought up in Malawi and living the majority of my life in Africa, I have seen first-hand the deforestation of Mulanje and Thyolo Mountains and how the climate of these areas has changed, and not for the better.

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The Team Up Initiative is working towards implementing sustainable practices, improving livelihoods and bringing long-term benefits and prosperity to the tea farming and production sector. I recently participated as a panel member on the Landscapes Session at the @TeamUpTea event in London, run by IDH and the ETP.  As a Group we feel that Team Up mirrors our own values, and with EP Malawi being the largest producer in the area, producing 42% of Malawi’s tea in Thyolo and Mulanje, it is imperative for us to be involved to ensure the future of our communities.

The two main tea growing areas of Malawi are Mulanje and Thyolo, which historically were connected by forests.  Now, the only forests on Thyolo Mountain are those on the Satemwa Tea Estate. With less forest cover the climate has become hotter and dryer, this not only has a huge effect on the local communities but has the potential to lead to environmental and ecological disaster.

The pressure of land use and the need for firewood has seen much of the natural and indigenous forests destroyed.  The UNESCO World Heritage site, Mount Mulanje has seen vast deforestation which has led to increased erosion and erratic and often damaging storms. As you climb up Mulanje all you hear is the constant tap, tap, tap of the trees being cut down, the native Cedar has literally been run off the top of mountain to be sold. It is not just these famous mountains either, as you drive from the airport you see that hill after hill is now without trees and bare.

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The effects on the climate have been detrimental to the provision of electricity which is predominantly generated in the country through Hydro. With the power supply decreasing, there are now periods of the year where the power outages are up to 20hrs a day or more. 

Eastern Produce Malawi is the only company to still have commercially managed forestry in the area. This ensures the use of sustainable fuelwood to run the boilers for our tea production. However, shortages of fuel have left some in the community desperate, leading to theft and leaving our forests denuded by up to 50% of what is required for fully sustainable production. Many other companies in the area have been forced to move to more carbon emitting and unsustainable coal or oil options as a last resort.

Due to advances in technology to produce sustainable energy, we can now look to seize opportunities to meet the ever-increasing demand of electricity by utilising Mulanje’s natural features. These opportunities include the development of a Mountain dam, which would have the capacity to provide hydro power, not only to the local area but also the national grid, as well as providing sustainable irrigation water for the local communities.  This however is not enough, we need to address the de-forestation issue through education and challenging the communities to grow their own sustainable forests and produce their own wood, rather than destroying the local natural resources.

To achieve this, we require multi-agency co-operation with the Government, local communities, private companies, international business, NGOs and donors.  There is no quick win or easy solution.  It will take years of hard work, effort and sacrifice but without change, Malawi’s increasing temperatures, erratic and often devastating weather patterns, will make the country a hostile environment for agricultural production, thus affecting vital food security, employment creation and growth of the nation’s economy.

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Graham Mclean

MD Agriculture, Camellia