Forestry sustainability in the tobacco sector in Malawi: a community concern requiring community approaches
Tobacco farmers depend heavily on tree resources for poles and firewood used in curing. Malawi tobacco farmers predominantly grow Burley tobacco which requires the least amount of tree resources per unit volume in comparison to dark-fired and flue-cured tobacco. Nonetheless, the sheer volume of Burley tobacco produced annually demands considerable amount of poles for barn construction. This has exerted immense pressure on existing tree resources in Burley tobacco growing areas. Associated with small land holding sizes, smallholder farmers’ tree planting and management has not equalled the amount of wood used. To address this, several tree planting and management approaches have been tried. These include: the provision of tree nursery inputs to individual farmers; issuing of free tree seedlings; and lately the inclusion of tree planting and management in contract growing conditions. The success of such approaches has not been satisfactory. Stakeholders, particularly the buyers under the integrated production system, resolved to directly get involved in tree planting and management. More often such plantations are established away from where the farmers are. As from last year ARET initiated an approach that aims at ensuring that the trees are planted by the farmers within their own areas. The approach recognises that the tobacco farmers are part of a community and so the community becomes the entry point. People are mobilised to identify their forestry needs. ARET provides technical and necessary material support. Where tree seedlings are required, they raise their own. The programme has run for one year in five pilot sites across Malawi with encouraging results: 25,300 trees planted in community woodlots, 17 live barns and 14 agro-forestry fields established. Woodlots so established are well cared for and survival of planted trees is close to 100 %. Depending on the success, the programme will be rolled out to other areas.