Malawi: Bushfires threaten gov’t plantations

Malawi: Bushfires threaten gov’t plantations

30 September 2009

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Malawi — Ridiculous, A worker at Raiply Plantations in Northern Malawi is not happy with the way his boss nagged him for making some careless mistake; he wears the robe of darkness and goes on rampage, setting part of the plantation ablaze!

Another plantation worker quarrels with another over food at lunch- the other worker has eaten more than his fair portion of collective lunch, and things go asunder. The offended party sets part of the plantation ablaze as part of his anger-healing process.

It is Monday, September 28, 2009. Pay day.The bosses delay payment by one more day and the workers, incensed, raze part of the plantation.

Anyone sacked from the plantation is sure to vent their anger on the plantation as well, and that has always been the striking fate of Vipya Plantations, government tree plantations concessioned to privately-owned Raiply.

Just last year, 300 hectares of forest went up in flames under similar circumstances, and this has angered Raiply Chief Executive Officer Thomas Comen.

“The cost for such behaviour is huge. These bushfires are destroying a lot of biological diversity in the plantation, apart from causing huge losses of money because we cannot sell trees that have been badly burnt for timber purposes,” said Comen.

Comen said cases of burning plantations were becoming common place, largely perpetuated by the angry employee, sacked worker, disgruntled community member, clueless hunter, and cigarette smoker.

“The situation is really bad. It takes 30 years to raise a tree, but only uncontrollable anger to go back to square-one. Why destroy something that has taken up more resources in a single sweep of anger, frustrating the country’s economic prospects?” he queried.

Comen said, however, Raiply was doing what it can to bring sanity where anger reign, and has established new grievous handling mechanisms to bring sanity home.

“We want everyone to report their grievances. This way, we will be able to resolve all grievances amicably, and in a way that does not bring destruction to the forests and losses to the company. Communities must own up to the fact that the plantations, in a way, belong to them. They will bear the brunt of climatic changes arising from distortions in weather patterns emanating from the effects of destroying the plantations,” said Comen.

Daulosi Mauambeta, Executive Director for the Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi (Wesm), blames community ignorance for the trend. He said most community members were still unaware of the effects of destroying natural resources even in face of tangible climatic changes taking place around us.

“People even think that climatic change is a Western phenomenon that has nothing to do with us. The truth is that the changes are here with us, and may not be reversed should we continue with our old ways. We need to change people’s attitudes,” said Mauambeta.

Traditional Authority Karonga, one of the prominent chiefs in Northern Malawi, where Vipya is located, has vowed to mete out strong punishments to people who cause bush fires and destroy the environment willy-nilly.

“These resources are not for us but our children. Anyone who punishes an unborn child will surely be punished heavily. Setting Vipya ablaze is like killing the unborn child and I will not tolerate that,” said Karonga.

Government has for the past two years increased budgetary allocations to natural resources and environmental management, raising hopes that, perhaps, what remains of Malawi’s environment and natural resources may not be lost forever.

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