Restoring Kasungu’s degraded landscapes to build resilience
Kasungu has about 23,000 participants under the CSPWP.
KASUNGU, Malawi-In Sub-Traditional Authority (STA) Mdunga in Kasungu East, John Chibisa, a subsistence maize farmer, has experienced dwindling harvest the past few years despite attending to his two-acre garden with the required husbandry practices on equal footing each year, writes Wanangwa Tembo, MANA.
“Every year the harvest goes down. The land size has not changed and the fertiliser amount used is the same.
“I used to harvest over 40 bags of maize from my plot but the harvest has been reducing. For instance, I harvested 37 bags in 2017, 33 in 2020 and 28 in 2023. I’m worried it might go down further this year,” he says.
Chibisa’s experience is shared by many farmers in the area including Isaac Chimtumbuka who fears the trend would plunge the community into untold poverty and food insecurity in the coming years if nothing is done.
Luckily, Chimtumbuka is aware of the reasons behind the plummeting harvest the community is experiencing.
He says: “Agriculture extension workers have made us aware that this is to a large extent a result of land degradation so the soils are no longer as fertile.
“As you can see, the topography here is steep. We have cleared all the trees so the water running down the slopes has carried with it all the fertility leaving our gardens impotent.”
Land conservationist at Kasungu District Council Patricia Kanyika concedes that Kasungu is one of the most degraded districts requiring speedy interventions to reverse the trend.
Particularly, Kanyika singles out Chamama, Mkanakhoti and Chulu Extension Planning Areas (EPAs) as being heavily affected.
Nationally, the country has lost over half of its forests in the past 40 years rendering nearly 80 percent of the total land area vulnerable to experience degradation
“Land degradation is an effect of deforestation. The other effects could be flooding, contaminated water and erosion. These could translate into serious food shortages because Malawi is an agrarian country.
“The most outstanding effect has been that most of our land is no longer suitable for farming. We have lost our arable land and this poses a serious threat to food security, nutrition and growth of agriculture in general,” Kanyika says.
Her view is shared by the Environmental District Officer Herbert Bolokonya who says Kasungu is not far from the national trends of land degradation and deforestation.
“Specifically, an analysis of soil erosion in selected EPAs in the district indicates soil erosion rates ranging from 1.07 to 10.0 tonnes per hectare per year.
“Forests are also experiencing a high deforestation rate estimated at 2.8 percent representing an annual average loss of 250,000 hectares of forest cover. As the statistics say, land degradation and soil erosion are on the negative trend and are supposed to be corrected,” Bolokonya says.
At least 80 per cent of the country’s 20 million-plus population live in rural areas engaging in farming as their most dependable source of income and food.
In that regard, land degradation could be a significant hindrance to the country’s overall economic development and achievement of the 2030 sustainable development targets.
The World Bank Group 2019 Malawi Country Environmental Analysis attributes the massive clearing of forests and the resultant land degradation to population growth.
It says: “Population growth places a huge demand on natural systems with more land being converted to agriculture and more forests being harvested for the wood fuel supply. Climate change magnifies these impacts by putting greater strain on land and forests due to increased incidents of natural disasters and extreme weather events.”
Among others, the Bank cites weak land tenure security, unsustainable land management practices, shortage of funding for environmental management and weak institutions at lower levels of governance as proximate drivers of environmental degradation.
Globally, studies show that at least 20 to 40 per cent of the world’s total land experienced degradation thus affecting nearly half of the global population.
In Kasungu, forests have been cleared largely due to agricultural expansion and tobacco farming activities.
The district has the largest number of estates in the country and is one of the leading tobacco producers.
The hope for the district now lies in the Climate Smart Public Works Programme (CSPWP), a component of the Social Support and Livelihood Programme which the government is implementing with support from the World Bank.
“The interventions under the CSPWP are centred on land and soil conservation following the catchment approach. In the catchments, several interventions are implemented.
“These include swales, stone bands, ridge alignment, marker ridging and vetiver grass planting, planting of fast-growing species through nursery establishment, and natural regeneration. All these aim at reducing land degradation and deforestation,” he says.
According to Bolokonya, the project interventions are beneficial by looking at the assets that are created but says there must be a mindset change towards implementation of the land resource conservation technologies by the grassroots.
Specifically, the assets created during the implementation of the project help in the reduction of soil erosion and improve soil moisture retention which helps in plant growth.
Additionally, the gully control measures help farmers turn unproductive areas into productive land while the constructed stormwater drains assist in reducing uncontrolled runoff.
Bolokonya says: “The knowledge and training that are given to the participants are supposed to provide a ripple effect in the replication of interventions into their fields. But this is not the case. More efforts in sensitising the communities have to be continued.”
On his part, STA Mdunga, who drums up support for CSPWP activities at Kapululu catchment, says the sure way of restoring the forests and tackling land degradation is seeing to it that communities plant more trees and take care of them.
He says while most tobacco companies provide tree seedlings to farmers, many farmers do not plant them.
“This is the reason we have not won the war against deforestation. Farmers receive the seedlings but fall short of planting them. In my area, it is now a must that every household must plant trees.
“The process will start with us leaders whereby every chief will plant not less than 50 trees and it must cascade down to households,” he says.
Mdunga says his efforts are meant to supplement the ongoing second cycle of the CSPWP activities taking place in the district’s 20 catchment areas.
He says through the CSPWP, the area has managed to replant trees in the deforested Kaphirigwenje hills and reclaimed gullies that came as a result of the clearing of trees.
“We are taking care of the trees we planted during the first cycle of this project and now we have prepared more tree nurseries as a community contribution to the project to show that we own it,” he says.
Through the CSPWP alone, communities in the district are expected to plant at least 500,000 trees this planting season as part of the project’s afforestation component.
Kasungu has about 23,000 participants under the CSPWP.
Overall, the CSPWP aims at restoring the environment to shrug off climate change shocks that threaten people’s livelihoods while at the same time building livelihood resilience for poor and vulnerable people like Chibisa and Chimtumbuka.
So far, the community contribution towards the land conservation initiative has already helped to improve the survival rate of trees in the catchments thereby signalling the sustainability of the efforts.
Progress assessment reports show that unlike in previous interventions where the emphasis was only on planting trees, the CSPWP has helped to ensure that the planted trees are taken care of and as a result, most of them survive.
Malawi has committed to achieving land degradation neutrality by 2030, rehabilitating 4.5 million hectares of degraded land for crop production and restoring 820 00 hectares of native forests by 2030, and communities in Kasungu are making steady contributions towards this vision.