Sunday, 19 February 2017

RENEWING THE PAST




Nokia 3310. Mighty in those seasons
Is roaring back so they say
Nokia has its own reasons
It will be back among us to stay.

Don’t forget the once forgotten fashions
Dressing, haircuts and all
In those days, they defined people’s passions
Today, once more, they take the fore.

I am not quite certain. Perhaps you are
That one day. Yes one day
Our forests and our woodlands that we once cherished
Will come back as a perimeter around us.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

SUGGESTIONS ON CHIKANGAWA PLANTATION



The destruction on Chikangawa Forests has been a story amply mourned both in and out of the media. But scarcely have we seen practical suggestions on what needs to be done coming out clearly so that the story that is very sad can be changed into joy. Otherwise, large areas of the forest have continued to plod towards inexistence. Government ministries and departments that could have managed to safeguard the plantation from this sort of scathe have been overpowered by powers that proved far much superior. But not all is lost. And this is the time we as a nation need to do something to re-snaffle something out of this national treasure that we cheaply let slip off our hands.
One thing that is very clear is that this restoration process needs investment in terms of both resource and time. The trees that we have managed to harvest in the past decade were planted as early as 1950s. This teaches us one major lesson: having long term vision. I am sure that those who laid the plantation’s foundation were at no point deterred by the likelihood of them not being in physical contact with the economic benefits that were to come out of the forest. But one thing they surely never envisaged is the invasion by sharp and hungry saws that we have seen in the past decade or so.
The government at that time was also very generous in terms of committing financial resources towards the planting of trees. You don’t expect the dressing of 50000 hectares of land with seedlings to be a lowly costing adventure. Now that we have brought Chikangawa back to its initial state, what can fail us to do what our friends and government did five or so decades ago? We just need progressive mentality.
First of all, as a nation, we need to come out in the open and admit the ‘sin’ we have committed in Chikangawa. Recognising it as a national disaster is key to its restoration. Now after recognising it as a disaster, long term and short term plans should be put in place to work on the restoration programme. A special working committee of some sort to spearhead the drive would add spark to the initiative.
A study by expert forestry consultants should be constituted to among others quantify the extent of deforestation, the amount of money required to reforest the whole terrain, the number of years this could take, the best tested afforestation approaches that can work, and the best way of combating fires, which has proved to be the greatest enemy to the restitution of the forest.  This would form the nation’s working base for planning.
Another thing we need to do is to make sure that the programme generates as much funds as possible for running daily affairs. This would be the duty of the working committee. Many are the time government has attributed its lack of initiative on a number of fronts to lack of funds. We don’t expect such a large-scale initiative to be an exception. These funds would be invested in annual seedling production, their planting and community mobilisation. The working committee, or whatever, government decides to call it, would also work towards coordinating different groups that show keen interest in the affairs of the forest.  Otherwise, what we see is a disjointed group of people with concern on the deplorable state of Chikangawa forest. The impact of whatever action such groups put in place, very often leave hard to see marks. But if such action is well coordinated,   we would have been talking of success by this time.
Besides this, it would be wonderful to see government use the National Tree Planting Season to champion the reforestation of Chikangawa forest.  This would help government see a clear picture of the impact the season makes on the ground. Otherwise, what hear from the nationally spread tree planting exercise are reports that a very large percentage of seedlings planted every year rarely develop into trees which, in short, defeats the whole purpose of the initiative. If we could target such efforts to a specific area per like Chikangawa, the cost benefit scale would skew towards the positive side. 
If we try these steps as a nation, without attaching any politics, and without considering the distance gulfing the present from the time the next round of economic returns will trickle in, I believe that it cannot take us more than a decade for Chikangawa to wear back the green it used to enjoy until middle 2000s.

IN DEFENCE OF LICENSING CHARCOAL PRODUCERS IN MALAWI




Rapid urban population growth and acute insufficiency of reliable and affordable forms of energy in Malawi have greatly increased the domestic demand and use of charcoal for energy. The resultant devegatation and other impacts on the environment have been wide and damaging. On its part, government, reiterating its growing concern, is contemplating legalising charcoal production by licensing all producers. The idea, though still in its infancy, has already been massively criticised. Many fear that the step amounts to authorisation of deforestation in the country. But considering that Malawi’s deforestation rates rank first in southern Africa and second in African and that currently there are thousands of, mostly underground, charcoal producers, the need for the country to revisit its current ineffective policies on charcoal cannot be overemphasised. This work is basically crafted in support of government’s current proposal. 
In the first place, the introduction of a licence system will greatly minimise the challenge of monitoring and control. Being a banned practice, the thousands currently involved in it do their business behind the scene by among others engaging in night time production and transporting the product through carefully negotiated routes. This makes the industry slippery in the hands of the enforcing agents thereby precluding any attempts to impose control over it. As a result, collection and management of valuable data becomes challenging. Currently, the industry is characterised by destructive harvesting and carbonation methods, which have prominently contributed to the current environmental devastation. Licensing is, thus, a timely intervention. It would make all producers accessible hence easy to conform them to standards and expectations stipulated in the reformed policy.
In addition, since licensing will make charcoal traders accessible, reaching them with support and innovative technologies will be easy. There’s a general outcry that the traditional carbonation system, currently in wide use, is very wasteful. Innovative interventions to minimise biomass loss are needed. For instance, there is need to expand the utilisation of modern carbonising kilns as well as researching extensively on the possibility of value addition to the produced charcoal and charcoal-efficient burning stoves. The huge volumes of by-products at the carbonation stage also need to be properly recycled. All these require a steady interaction between the stakeholders in the industry, which is currently so minimal given its banned status.  Turning the charcoal industry into a fully regulated system by licensing will, therefore, connect stakeholders making it possible for them to exchange vital information for the industry’s sustainability.
Although charcoal production and selling is a source of livelihood for thousands of people, it unfortunately, remains a largely disregarded sector. Its banned status only emphasises the wide perception that charcoal is ‘forester’s enemy’. This overlooks the industry’s current economic weight and its contributive potential towards national development. The proposed licencing system will unlock this economic value turning charcoal production into a sector useful in alleviating some of the country’s major economic woes. It has the potential to create jobs, and if charcoal can attain the official status of a ‘business commodity’, it can really help lift many families out of dire poverty.  The revenue generated from licenses will help beef up the country’s enforcement capabilities which are presently feeble owing largely to under-resourcing. Once formalised, government would be looking at ways of addressing the industry’s infrastructural challenges such as roads to link production sites and markets. Government and other stakeholders would also be able to intervene in spheres such as pricing mechanisms and equipping of producers and retailers with business loans and marketing skills such as cooperative trading system.  With such business support, it would be possible for charcoal traders to diversify their businesses beyond charcoal, which would be a significant milestone. So, as can be seen, formalising the charcoal industry has benefits far much beyond environmental conservation.
Finally, as a country, we are in a situation where we have already lost large volumes of vegetation. As such, we need to couple conservation with restorative efforts. One of the approaches that can be considered is the ‘individual reforestation approach’ of destroyed lands. Currently in wide use in with many success stories in Madagascar, licensed charcoal traders in Malawi can also fit in this schema. It really makes sense to target those involved in deforestation, such as charcoalers, in forest restoration initiatives. With the proposed intervention, each of the licensees would be expected to develop a personal plantation on which charcoal will be entirely produced. This would thin dependence on natural and protected forest lands. This is not possible in the current set up where charcoal producers are not formally known. If this is achieved, the charcoal-deforestation link will be shattered since most charcoal will be produced from special energy plantations owned by charcoal licence holders. That is why this work puts its weight behind the idea of licensing charcoal producers.  
However, if we are going to avoid the repeat of the chaos caused by license holding harvesters in the ‘then’ Chikangawa forest, significant amount of care needs to be taken by those superintending discussions on the proposal. Sticking to the current business-as-usual model robs future generations of their ability to supply their own energy needs. That is why we all need to support the proposed reforms.


Saturday, 15 February 2014

SHORT STORY



THE MISSED TARGET

It was a bright Sunday morning. Having showered all night, the clouds swept down the horizon giving way to bright sunshine. I woke up feeling weakness as if my sleep was insufficiently done. I draped myself with a large white towel; by then a mere shadow of the snow white colour it initially used to enjoy. I proceeded out of my room.

The house was still. The children had already left for church. However, it was unusual that they did not disturb my sleep, as they always did, to ask for money for church offering, though I had amassed enough proof that that money was fundraised from me for after-church shopping escapades at a nearby small market. In charge of this scheme was my youngest daughter. She could walk into my bedroom with guiltily hesitation and start the bargaining process by pretending to remind me that I would be late for the morning English service. Then in a slow toned voice, she would make the request with the wringing of her tiny fingers incorporated to blur all ill-intentions. Though the amount requested was suspiciously increasing weekly, I would give it to her unreservedly much to the joy of the other children who would be waiting with impatience just near my bedroom door.

I looked at my wall clock. It told me that the time was just after nine. I went into the bathroom to take a cold shower hoping to be vitalised. Halfway into my shower, I heard a knock at the main door. The intensity of the knock told me that the knocker had little time to waste. But who could that be? I chose to ignore it by continuing with my bathing.  The knocking continued before the door clicked open and banged closed a moment later. Then I heard whispering voices right inside the house. They couldn’t be my daughters. Having gone for church, I expected them back just before noon because from church, they usually went to the nearby market to squander the money they disguisedly raised from me as church offering. 

“I feel a presence inside here, probably in hiding. Come on!” one of the whisperers urged the rest. I couldn’t tell how many they were but from the look of things, it was a good number of them.

I still could not figure out the identity of the speaker nor the intention. Another order was spat to the outside, urging everyone into full alert. That is when I sensed that what was unfolding was something very serious. I wrapped myself with the towel and tiptoed to the tinted window of the lavatory. I saw few men in military gear carrying what looked like guns. Or were they bats?

I tightened the towel around my waist, and rushed into my bedroom to get into proper clothes. I couldn’t remember the recent time I had stepped on the wrong side of the law to warrant such a weighty military operation. My search for a possible reason was futile. I was one hundred percent innocent. But this did little to keep me in calm. The prospect of receiving a torrent of questions disturbed me. I heard that the military were very rich in interrogation expertise such that it is always hard to prove your innocence in their face. One would always be entangled in self-contradictions and ambiguities which are reason enough for you to be taken ‘for further questioning.’ This is what terrified me most because you are taken to prison where you are remanded amongst serving prisoners where, I also heard, unforgettable lessons are dropped on you by the long servers.  You would spend ages before your further questioning would resume and complete. Besides that, my children were at church. Where will they say am I if my fears are vindicated?           

As I finished buttoning my shirt, a sound of forceful opening of the room’s door almost chocked me. Sounds of boots scattered into different compartments of my house. I was told to kneel and keep my both hands raised. As I complied with hesitation, a firmly pressed stick over my head quickened me into the demanded position. One man, probably the leader of the team, briefly spat some words on his black radio.

“Target found! Repeat-Repeat, target found! Keep on your feet!”

I heard a vehicle ignite before a number of uniformed personnel flocked towards my bedroom. I was briefly manhandled to discipline me because of my call for proper explanation for the unwarranted invasion of my place. That left me in an unconscious condition of some sort because it was after some moments that I realised my blindfolded and handcuffed state. I was lying down in what seemed to be a very fast moving car. My mouth was stacked with a cloth that kept me from shouting any resistance or call for help. With the scattered neighbourhood, I knew there was nobody to battle on my side.

My captors did not ask me any questions but they seemed ready to use any force to win my compliance. I avoided the brutality by complying with their every need. I found myself in a dimly lit house. Looking around I could not spot the door nor illumination windows. The flow was a steel rig. I was sitting on a simple table chair in front of a very fat black man whom was beyond my recognition. My hands were still handcuffed. 

Upon examining my face, my back and my face again, the huge man summoned one of my captors. A man quickly presented himself in front of the huge man doing all the ritualistic salute of respect. It was clear that the huge man was dissatisfied with something. From the huge man’s fuming words, I could tell that I was a mistaken target. Relief started to sink in me.

The huge man was still fuming in front of now the whole team that went to get me with his eyes on the blink of popping out. How could they do that costly mistake? In a split second, he withdrew a short gun from his combat pocket and eradicated the leader of the operation. For a minute, my heart beat irregularly. What was unfolding before me was terrible. The rest seemed not even unphased by the incident. Two of my captors dragged the blooding body from the sight of the huge man, as a fresh order of immediate replay of the operation was announced.

A new leader was installed and was quick to promise to deliver. It was then that I discovered that I was not in the hands of a lawful military unit. I waited patiently for the huge man to proclaim my freedom. It never came. I found myself locked in a dark room alongside three comrades who were languishing with frailty.