TEMWA – Restoring forests in Malawi

In June 2022 the Edith M Ellis 1985 Charitable Trust awarded a grant to TEMWA to support their Restoring Forests project in Malawi, ensuring that their life-changing, climate-protecting work can continue. 

Communities in Nkhata Bay North in northern Malawi are facing the ever-worsening effects of climate change: heavy rainfall causes soil erosion, unprecedentedly long dry-seasons affect crop production, and the subsequent loss of income leads to increased deforestation.  To tackle this, Temwa’s restoring forests project, together with the Temwa Carbon Balance scheme,
supports community tree-planting, sustainable farming and community-led management of local natural resources in the hard-to-reach villages of Nkhata Bay North. TEMWA have successfully planted 91,986 trees since 2020, with 40,911 seedlings out-planted this year and 33,850 seedlings currently being out-planted during this planting season.

Project context and aims

Around 90% of households in Nkhata Bay North are smallholder subsistence farmers, and 58% of people live below the national poverty line. The families in the area depend on being able to grow food, but are facing hardships due to the effects of climate change. Erratic rainfall, drought, flooding, strong winds, and crop pests are affecting food production and exacerbating vulnerability and poverty.  Extreme poverty forces people to use their resources unsustainably and leads to local deforestation, which erodes the soil, dries up water sources, and lowers agricultural productivity. This creates a self-perpetuating cycle resulting in worse environmental degradation, and food and income insecurity.  Temwa’s Restoring Forests project supports community reforestation, sustainable livelihoods, and community-led stewardship of local natural resources. The scheme empowers communities to protect and manage their own resources sustainably, while diversifying livelihoods, restoring forests, halting land degradation, and improving soil health.

Project achievements

Outcome 1: Degraded land restored

At the start of 2022, 40,911 seedlings that had been grown in the tree nurseries in 2021 were planted out by families and community groups in various locations including: 29
woodlots, 48 agroforestry farms, and 28 fruit orchards.  All of Temwa’s tree-planting is led by the community: members identify issues with resource management, and then they select
beneficiaries and tree-planting locations. Beneficiaries create a forest management plan for their sites, and Temwa supports and monitors their implementation. Tree-planting now takes place in about 100 locations identified by communities. 

Between April and June of 2022, a further 48,500 new seeds were planted in various nurseries in the Nkhata Bay District ready for the next planting season. These seeds were grown into plantable seedlings by being nurtured and cared for by community members in community based nurseries. Of the 48,500 tree seedlings which were raised last year, sadly only 33,850 seedlings have survived.  The survival of tree seedlings raised has been much lower than normal this year due to climate change; far hotter, dustier, and drier conditions have drastically affected seedling survival. The team in Malawi have been strategising ways to increase survival rates despite these unseasonal conditions, including using polytunnels to protect the seedlings as they grow.

The planting out of these seedlings started in December and continued throughout January.  Of this total, over 800 trees are being planted using the generous contribution from the Edith M Ellis Trust.  TEMWA have also been able to purchase a further 5,000 fruit tree seedlings in January with money raised at the end of 2022, making a total of 38,850 trees to be planted out.
Alongside the existing planting areas, new fruit tree orchards are being established in two schools and four villages, alongside the establishment of new fruit tree nurseries.

Most of the trees planted so far have been a fast-growing, agroforestry species, due to the high local demand for these.  However, in 2022, the communities chose to diversify the
trees planted to include fruit trees (including bananas, mangos, oranges and tangerines). 

Temwa facilitated engagement meetings on fruit tree afforestation in four villages, through which communities’ interest was established and commitments were made. Following these meetings, five new fruit tree nurseries have been established, including a nursery at the Usisya Demonstration-garden.

Fruit trees provide additional nutrition and income for families, and the survival rate for fruit tree seedlings is generally high. Despite experiencing high temperatures into the autumn, the survival rate of raised seedlings this season was recorded to be at 95%. In the Kalangalira Village in Mzgola, 99% of the lemon tree seedlings raised in June survived, and will be out-planted now the rainy season is starting. In October, Temwa trained 10 community members with knowledge and skills on grafting and budding both young fruit tree seedlings and planted fruit trees. Through this activity, 270 fruit tree seedlings have been grafted so far and these 10 community members can now replicate their learning from the nursery in their own homesteads.

Outcome 2: Increased adoption of forest-friendly livelihoods

Temwa’s Restoring Forests project adopts a holistic approach to afforestation, ensuring the trees planted are protected by communities.  This includes engaging community members in forest-friendly and alternative livelihoods in the targeted villages, such as beekeeping, wild mushroom harvesting, and growing cash crops. This diversifies family income sources, makes them more resilient to crisis, and reduces the need for reactive tree cutting as a survival strategy.

Community members are already seeing the benefits from the protected forest areas. Women and children from all the village forest areas have more easily accessible firewood, and can collect yellow mushrooms throughout the year from well-established pine woodlots which necessitate their growth. Community members have also been collecting Uapaka Kirkiana (sugarplums) from the Dube village forest which is contributing to improved diets.

Thanks to local bylaw enforcement and alternative livelihoods, such as wild mushroom harvesting and beekeeping, a reduction in the deforestation rates is being witnessed across the areas where the project is implemented. In 2023, work will focus on enlarging TEMWA’s forest-friendly livelihoods initiative. This month, a further 30 beehives will be purchased for two villages, which will act as deterrents against tree felling, while honey production provides nutrition and income benefits for families.

Outcome 3: Strengthened stewardship of local natural resources

Community member engagement – In recent months, the community has shown increasing engagement when managing their natural resources. Increasing numbers of community members are participating in the management of the established woodlots and existing forests, including weeding and building fire breaks, reducing the risks of hazards, such as rampant bushfires, and helping ensure optimal growth of trees. At the Munkhoza village, for example, 26 community members were involved in weeding their communal woodlot.

During the reporting period, Temwa has recorded increasing actions taken by the community to protect forests from wildfires. Seven of the eight village forest areas have been surrounded with fire breaks and, since these mechanisms have been implemented, there have been no reports of forest fires spreading, despite the high temperatures experienced. 

For instance, 15 community members from Mwandenga village mobilised themselves and prepared a fire break surrounding their village forest area of 1.5 hectares. Similarly, Munkhoza and Chazeka villages conducted a fire break maintenance exercise in their village forest areas.

Monitoring has also demonstrated that community understanding on sustainable use of natural resources has also improved. At the Dube village forest area, for example, the Village Natural Resources Management Committee responsible now issues permits to collect already fallen trees for firewood and a maximum of 10 poles for kitchen and toilet constructions.

Local governance collaboration – Through training, exchange visits, and community meetings, Temwa works alongside local governance structures, such as Area and Village Development Committees and Village Natural Resource Management Committees (VNRMCs). These structures are equipped to promote sustainable livelihoods and landscape transformation, increasing forest protection and sharing knowledge among peers.

These committees have become increasingly involved in the project over the last year. During the last tree planting season, for example, the number of active VNRMCs increased from 3 to 7. Temwa facilitated the development of village-level natural resource management plans in four villages, analysing the current situation and assessing community commitment. Key locations for forest regeneration and protection were identified, including 14.4 hectares of farmland identified for afforestation and soil conservation, and 21 forest areas identified for protection.

Temwa ensures that all the project sites are forming local bylaws that help protect the forests. This year, local communities, particularly their Village Development Committees, have shown amazing initiative and leadership in enforcing their bylaws independently. In the last six months, Temwa’s support towards conducting forest patrols is contributing towards improving the enforcement of forest laws.

Community stories

Beekeeping and forest protection 

The Mwandanga Village Group, established in 2018, focuses on tree planting and forest regeneration at the Biriwiri woodlot. The group focuses specifically on using beekeeping as a way of protecting the forest, while providing an income through the sale of honey. Currently, they have 34 bee hives, and are looking to expand this amount to increase their honey production.

The group were growing increasingly concerned about land being cleared with fires for large-scale farms, and trees being cut down. With Temwa’s support, the group has now planted 5,000 seedlings across the 1.5 acre woodlot. The group works together to protect the forest, sharing seedlings within the community and sharing skills and knowledge with friends, neighbours, and their own children.

The group have reported that, with Temwa’s help, they feel empowered and encouraged to continue protecting their natural resources.

Reforesting and improving soil health

The Ziambika Club was established in 2019 to improve vegetative cover and promote reforestation in order to mitigate the effects of unusually heavy rainfall caused by climate change. This year, the group has planted 800 acacia trees and 1000 gliricidia trees (which provide shade, and soil health benefits). They are also planting mango, avocado and orange trees which will provide income from selling fruits in the market in town.

Across five villages in Honga, there are 11 tree nurseries growing agroforestry and fruit trees. The group members expect the soils will begin to improve as they are more protected from erosion caused by heavy rains.

In the year ahead, The Ziambika Club are seeking Temwa’s support to plant more tree seedlings, use beehives to protect the forests and increase income, and use water irrigation pumps to improve crop growth.