Soon after starting TREEZ, we realized that fires were the biggest threat to any tree planting/conservation project: without stopping the fires, the land simply will not regenerate, no matter how many trees one plants.
Additionally, it became clear that in areas that had suffered no fires, trees, shrubs and flowers were coming back naturally, and much stronger than had they been planted. So we decided to tackle the fires.
Now, over half the funds that TREEZ receives goes towards firefighting and fire prevention!
The dry season in Malawi runs from late April/May through to November. It is a LONG time.
As the months pass, the land gets drier and drier until it is brittle. Fires, once started, are hard to control as the dry season also coincides with the windy season.
And none of the fires occur naturally:
- Malawians burn the maize stubble in their fields and if not watched and tended properly, the fires will spread into neighbouring land
- Fires will be lit in the bush to give access to wood/trees
- Fires are lit as a distraction so that the Forestry will go and attend the fires while an area of trees is cut down
- Fires will be lit as a way to catch mice or other animals, for protein
- Fires will be lit to make tea/nsima (local maize porridge) and if left unattended, which is often the case, they will spread in the wind.
- Children will set fire to the bush our of boredom (kids will be kids :/)
Throughout these dry months, we have fire patrols whose only task is to alert us in case of fire. And in case of fires, we call in the football teams and other community group to come and help.
We also organize a 'controlled burn' in the fields bordering the edges of the forest reserve and we pay local community members to cut fire breaks so that in the case of a fire, it is contained and more easily reachable.
5 years in and we have reduced the number of fires on the south-western slopes of the mountain from 37 to 4.
All around Zomba Forest Lodge, there are now small trees, either that we have planted through TREEZ (mixed species), that the Mulunguzi timber co-operative has planted (pine) or trees that have regenerated naturally (of which there are many miombo woodland species). It is heartening to see that progress can be and is being made.
On the Plateau, as the distances are greater and areas hard to access, we think that having watch towers, will deter people from lighting fires carelessly. We are also hoping to fundraise for a drone as this will enable us to locate where a fire is more accurately and therefore reach it faster.
This combined with sponsorship/partnership from Kasonga village on the far side of the Zomba Plateau, we hope to be able to mimimise the number of fires and allow the Plateau to finally be able to regenerate.