MALAWI – Paramount Chief M’mbelwa V of Mzimba District has piled the blame of encroachment and plundering of resources in Viphya Plantation on Raiply Company Limited’s tendency to sideline communities around the man-made forest.
M’mbelwa made the open remarks Thursday during a tree-planting exercise at Elephant Rock to mark the official closure of Raiply’s tree planting season.
He said some people surrounding the protected forest reserve carry out illegal activities such as wanton cutting down of trees and setting harmful bush fires out of frustration because they see no benefit from the entity they have, for long, taken care of as their own property.
“It seems the company [Raiply] does not recognize indigenous members of the community who have for years taken responsibility to ensure safety of the plantation,” M’mbelwa said.
The Ngoni chief argued that besides lack of direct access to benefits from forest products, people around the company (Raiply) are hit by unemployment challenges because the company opts to hire people from other districts and beyond.
“We have graduates with competitive education in the communities around this forest but none of them have easy access to jobs offered by the company operating on their door steps,” he said.
M’mbelwa said, however, he does not condone encroachers, vandals and those who demonstrate their wrath and frustration by setting devastating bush fires on the forest.
He said it was sad to see the once evergreen plantation, which was a pride of the Northern Region due to its beautiful scenery, absolutely bare due to harmful activities.
The chief added that no one can condone plundering of our own forest resources at will because everybody needs the trees for different reasons.
The Paramount Chief, however, insisted: “It is a reality that no one would feel comfortable and watch from the laurels as people from far have a lion’s share of a precious home property like the forest reserve.”
M’mbelwa’s observation sparked reaction from Senior Chief Kabunduli of Nkhata Bay District who concurred with the Ngoni chief.
Kabunduli, whose area is part of the Viphya Plantation, appealed to Raiply to pluck a leaf from Vizala Rubber Company where rubber trees are “always safe because the plantation is absolutely in the hands of communities.”
“You will not hear any form of deforestation or vandalism at Vizala Rubber Plantation because it belongs to members of the communities who enjoy its benefits,” Kabunduli said.
The Senior Chief explained that a bigger percentage of people hired for the jobs by the company (Vizala Rubber Plantation), depending on qualifications, come from communities around the plantation and are seriously vetted by local leaders.
He said members of the communities are able to access plantation products such as fire wood and latex fluid used to make plastic footballs and netballs for kids which are sold to boost household income levels.
“All traditional leaders around the plantation are salaried, besides the opportunity to willfully use the company cars to help in times of sicknesses and funerals, which cannot happen with Raiply,” challenged Kabunduli.
However, Raiply is on record as having been engaged in a number of social responsibility activities such as donation of desks and other facilities in schools around the plantation over the years.
During the exercise, 53 000 trees were planted.
The annual tree planting exercise is meant to replenish the trees that have been harvested by the factory as well as to rehabilitate degraded areas due to deforestation.
Raiply Malawi Limited belongs to a group of companies that operate in Eastern and Southern African countries with their headquarters in Kenya. It has more than 1, 400 employees in Malawi.