Lero ndili osangalala kukhala nanu kuti tidzale mitengo (Today I am honoured and glad to be hear to plant trees with you).
I feel greatly honoured to have been invited to be Guest of Honour at the launch of tree planting season for 2017. I am aware that my predecessors were also invited to be Guests of Honour at the launch of your tree planting seasons. Former Ambassador Asbjorn Eidhammer presided over the function in Mponela in 2014, Mr. Bjorn Johannessen in Kasungu in 2010 and 2009 in Ntcheu, and I also participated in tree planting exercise in Karonga in 2015. This to me is an indication that you have consistently promoted tree planting among your members and also that NASFAM values the importance of mainstreaming environmental practices in agriculture: Keep it up. By inviting us to preside over the launch of tree planting seasons also confirms to me that you value the support from my Government.
For the interest of the invited guests gathered here you might be interested to note that the Norway has for many years provided support to NASFAM as we strongly believe the importance of organising farmers. Alone your are weak, but together you are much stronger. Indeed, in the words of NASFAM, the Future Belongs to the Organised.
During my travels around Malawi I have personally witnessed the high level of deforestation in the country, which is estimated to be between 1% and 2.8%. This is also quite evident in Balaka. Trees have been cut down to make charcoal, for cooking and for selling to the urban residents in cities, for constructions. Trees have also been cut down to make room for more fields to grow maize and other crops. Population growth and lack of economic opportunities in urban areas force people to continue farming on smaller and smaller areas of land. These are some of the reasons that have contributed to the current high level of deforestation. I appreciate that reversing the situation is a challenge seeing that the causes of deforestation are many and complex, but is important to realize that destruction of forests, coupled with excessive settlement and other human activities, all lead to one result; uncontrolled severe soil erosion. And this in turn leads to low agricultural productivity and food insecurity. So if this trend is not reversed, we are bound to witness a reduction in food production and our environment will be less habitable.
Many of you, maybe all of you are fully aware of the many challenges you as a community is facing when all the trees in your neighbourhood have disappeared. It takes more time for the women to collect firewood, it leaves the soil unprotected from heavy rains which washes away the good soil, making the land infertile and unproductive. The areas where you used to collect mushrooms or even wild honey and traditional medicine have also disappeared. Streams, rivers and lakes take your valuable topsoil to far away places where dams and lakes are gradually filled up with sediments from the hills of Malawi. This is one reason why Malawi experiences frequent power outages and why rivers flood frequently. Some people argue that the floods of 2015, which displaced about 121,000 people and killed about 50 people were worse largely because the environment is heavily degraded.
Many efforts have been done over the years to reduce deforestation and to plant trees in areas where they have been cut down. We see small patches of forests in some areas but compared to the situation when your grandmothers grew up there are very few forested areas left in this part of Malawi. To plant a tree is a symbolic action. To make sure than one million trees are planted is what really counts. But even one million trees planted would not make much difference if trees are cut down at the same rate we experience today. One also need to make sure that natural regeneration is happening. And this is where I think NASFAM and many other organisations, including your own village institutions have a tremendously important role to play.
If you look around, most of what you see is land with few trees. But we know that nature has a fantastic ability to respond to challenges. A tree seed can rest for many years but given the right environment, it can once again grow to a big tree. My message is that you would need to decide on how to take this tree planting exercise to the next level. That would imply that you as a community agree to give nature a chance to rest. If an area that used to be forested is left alone for a few years you will see that bushes and trees are once again coming back. I have seen this in other African countries that used to be in the same situation as you are. And I have seen that by a collective effort it has been possible to change this. It requires support and leadership from the government but even more important is the sum of actions taken locally. You need to agree what should be done and not wait for somebody outside to tell you what to do.
Today you will start to plant various varieties of trees. When I and my colleagues leave in a few hours it is then your responsibility to nurture the young seedlings so they can grow to be big and strong. Much the same way you raise children. In the first few years they too need care, love and protection. I certainly hope to find a growing forest in a couple of years time in this area.
I wish NASFAM as well as the government representatives present all the best with this important exercise but even more so I certainly hope that you, the people that live here will get together and make sure that all the planted trees will survive. Because by maintaining and improving forests and other vegetation types, Malawi will have a favourable ecosystem that supports and sustains life, thus making Malawi a better place for future generations.
Mitengo iteteza nthaka (trees protects soils), isamaleni (take care of them).
Zikomo pomvesela (thank you for your attention)