We strive to protect and preserve one day at a time :)
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We, the owner/managers of Zomba Forest Lodge, set up Zomba TREEZ (The Reforestation of the Environment and Ecosystem of Zomba) in 2014, and have been working with local communities and the Forestry Department to reforest and protect over 300 hectares on the south western slopes of Zomba Plateau.
For those of you who know Zomba Plateau, you know that it is a massif of rolling hills predominantly planted with pine, dotted with pockets of riverine forests and swarthes of grassland.
Zomba TREEZ works mainly on the south western slopes in the areas around Zomba Forest Lodge, with communities and sports teams we have come to know and respect. These areas were previously pine but which after harvesting, had been left uncared for, and much of it burned year after year. We are in the process of obtaining a governmental concession that will allow us to finally officialise and improve our environmental work in this area! We are very excited about this!
It takes hard work and dedication (and funds) but these efforts are sorely needed, and the communities now understand the value of our efforts.
As we move into the fire season (the dry season), this makes our work even more pressing as our teams end up on the Plateau firefighting alongside the Forestry Department, trying to prevent further environmental degradation.
The Run4Reforestation is our main fund raiser for the various activities we carry out which is why we need to make a big song and dance about it :)
The project started off being about reforesting and protecting water catchment areas but we soon learned that it wasn't just about tree planting. Over half our budget goes into fire prevention work which includes creating fire breaks to protect areas from fires and allowing the natural regeneration of trees, sponsoring football and netball teams to help with firefighting and maintenance of the planted trees, paying patrols to provide early warnings of fires, providing tools to help with all the previously mentioned activities.
In 2018, we held our first Environmental Awareness concert, held at Nankhunda Primary School, for the local communities, with Malawian pop star Moses Mkwawa as the main act. We also held our first Run4Reforestation, a sporting event aimed at raising awareness about the issues of deforestation and environmental degradation, and funds for TREEZ.
In 2019, we added a 'Battle of the Bands" to the Environmental Awareness concert, with 8 schools competing for the best written song about the environment, judged by that year's headline star act Jay-Jay C amongst others artists and recorded and aired by Zodiak Radio, a national radio station.
We also held the second Run4Reforestation to which we added a sustainability fair showcasing environmentally minded organizations and the Blantyre Farmer's Market joined us in making the day such a special event.
For 2020 we had great plans: we paid out over MK1,500,000 to conservation groups for their protection and maintenance of over 6,000 trees. Our Environmental Awareness and Education programme was going smoothly and we were looking forward to starting to organize the Run4Reforestation 2020... And then Covid-19 hit and we had to stop everything.
With reduced funding we are still continuing with our conservation efforts, just on a smaller scale.
The Run4Reforestation went ahead, but as a virtual run, run individually, in a safe space. And so many of you participated :) Well done all of you. Thanks to your efforts we raised more funds than we had ever raised before - which is just as well, considering how tough 2020 and much of 2021.
Those funds were quickly allocated to helping with the fire season on and around the Plateau. Sadly the 2020 fire season was devastating and caused the destruction of hundreds of hectares of planted and indigenous areas. In 2021, we suffered one fire on our side which due to extreme winds burnt a very large area but had it not been for increased number of patrols, the south western slopes of the Plateau were barely touched and our conservation efforts preserved.
The Zomba Tour Guides Association also received their annual stipend for the help they provide in protecting and preserving the Plateau and keeping trails clear as well as the maintenance of the seedling nursery.
A large chunk of those funds has been divided up between sports sponsorship (Happy Hammers, FC Berries, Nankhunda and Kasonga football teams, as well as their respective netball teams.
At the end of February, the tree counting for take place and the groups will be paid their dues for the number of trees they have each protected.
We have also set aside a budget for the firebreaks and the next fire season, which is now ... and that is pretty much what we can afford to do this year.
But it was not all doom and gloom: TREEZ teamed up with TIYENI who provide training in deep bed farming methods to a group of interested community members. The idea is that the soil is tilled at a deeper level and the beds made wider, manure-based compost is applied and water is better retained so as to increase the overall productivity of the soil and decrease the dependancy on artificial fertilisers.
Aaron, one of our TREEZ co-ordinators was so impressed that he went on to teach and apply these methods to his conservation group!
We also provided a permaculture training session to 10 other community members with the aim to teach them how to maximise the use of the land and build resilience within their homesteads.
We are now in the process of organising an on-site training course for those community members who have shown a keen interest in making a difference.
And we are implementing providing fuel efficient stoves to families within our communities in a sustained attempt at reducing the pressures of the people on the forest and wooded areas.
Oh and the Run4Reforestation is coming back in 2023, along with the Sustainability fair and a crafts market :)
So watch this space :)
Right now, we reckon we are protecting over 300 hectares of natural regrowth and maybe 500 of pine plantation and we are trying to extend the environmental work into the communities :)
Watch this space, as we continue to try to find means to protect, preserve and educate :)