Angry Communities Charging at Forestry Officers in Neno

At the mercy of charcoal burners At the mercy of charcoal burners - pic by Steve Kalungwe

The Neno District Forestry Officer Eric Mbingwani has blamed aggressive communities of Kambale and Chifunga trade centres as the ones fueling massive deforestation in the district.

Mbingwani told Zodiak Online on Thursday that the communities chase law enforcement agencies when they come to confiscate charcoal and impound vehicles used to ferry illegal forest produce.

He says for example at the said trade centres, communities have a deep-rooted mindset that charcoal business is the backbone of their survival hence resisting to abandon their business.

"We have established that these communities have set up special committees that support each other during court trials and they pay fines for the offenses. This forces the convict to go back into the forests so that he can be able to repay the loan," said Mbingwani.

He has however, asked courts to mete out stiffer punishments to offenders saying some communities have established charcoal business committees that bail out offenders, forcing the offender to go back into the forests to repay the loan.

John Kawiya, South Zone Law Enforcement officer in the department of forestry, said they have instituted an institutional integrity committee to look into issues of corruption and asked for drones to monitor illegal activities deep into the forests.

He said that "we concede that there is massive corruption among our own officers who connive with charcoal producers to beat the checkpoints, but we are dealing with them through a special internal integrity committee".

He however disclosed that drones are now being used to survey deep forests.

Neno District Commissioner Rosemary Nawasha has since asked law enforcement agencies to desist from blame games saying coordination is key to ending illegal harvest of forest produce.

But councilor Biswas Maganga of Chikonde ward is thinking that there is a syndicate among illegal charcoal producers and law enforcement agencies saying he wonders how the produce find its way through Zalewa roadblock.

But in response, Neno police officer in charge Edwin Magalasi has asked the councilor to work with his office in providing information on the matter.

"We ask for a cordial working relationship among different stakeholders in our district if we really want to break the so-called syndicate. We can't work in isolation so let us devise modern reporting mechanisms," said Magalasi.

The OC also pointed lack of mobility as a challenge to fully patrol and confiscate charcoal and other forestry produce.

But District Council Director of Planning and Development Charles Lomoni has challenged communities to guard the forests for future generations saying Neno is slowly becoming man made desert.

Nkulumadzi and Lisungwi rivers are being affected by illegal forest activities which has resulted in depletion of the ecosystem.

Tsamba forest at upper Neno and Neno Eastern Escapement forest reserve are the worse hit, resulting shortages of water for both domestic and agricultural use.

11 percent of Malawians are connected to the National Electricity Grid with only 2 percent using it as a source of cooking energy.

76 percent of urban dwellers use charcoal for fuel while 81 percent of rural people depend on firewood as a source of cooking energy.

The district has only 19 forestry officers against nine major forests with a total land mass of over one hundred thousand hectares.

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