Government of Malawi wants to conserve its natural forest and it
also wants to raise the standard of living for some of its poorest
rural people. One project, aided with money from the UK government,
aims to do both.
Miombo is a type of deciduous woodland which covers
a vast area of southern Africa. In the Zomba area of Malawi, the
miombo woodlands are very degraded. In order to grow enough food,
local people had cleared areas for crops and huge amounts of wood
for had been used as fuel by tobacco companies. (They now grow their
own on plantations.) The Government project is trying to rediscover
lost knowledge about the ecology of these woodlands and to investigate
products which could be harvested commercially.
|African Miombo Woodland
Experts have been working with local communities to
find out their needs and help with ways of meeting them while still
preserving the woodlands. They discovered that alongside the farming,
many products were gathered from the forest, mostly by women trying
to support their families. However, these products, such as thatch
grass, ropes, mushrooms and fruit, earned the women very little.
Experiments are going on into schemes which would bring a higher
income; these include bee-keeping and tapping Karaya gum, which
is used in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. The women are also being
taught about the true market value of their products and the need
for high quality.
The project staff are training the communities in the skills needed
to help the woodland regenerate and local people are now working
at thinning, firebreak maintenance, forest patrols and so on. Some
people are also being trained as managers. In addition, workshops
are being held for other communities so that what has been learned
can be passed on.