This is a historic statement recently made by president of Timber Millers Cooperative Union.
With an initial membership of 300, the Union signed a concession agreement of 10,000 hactares with the Government of Malawi on 1st December 2011 and started their operations in Viphya Plantations.
Under the agreement, the union was given an exclusive right to harvest and use the forest resources within the concession area. It also made it obligatory for the Timber Millers Cooperative Union to replant of harvested and burnt areas and carry out protective activities within their concession area to prevent bush fires from destroying trees.
According to president of the Union, Paul Nthambazale Nyirenda, they failed to comply.
“Our members have been over harvesting and never even managed the young stands by weeding or pruning. We were also harvesting in protected areas such as river banks and we owe government over 190 million Kwacha in taxes. Worse still, our relationship with fellow concessionaires and the Forestry Department has also been sour due to our non-compliance. It is shameful on our part.”
As a step towards reformation, the union has started planting trees in their concession area and they plan to plant over 82,000 tree seedlings during the 2016-17 tree planting season. According to Nthambazale Nyirenda, they will strive to make their union one of the strongest local concessionaires in Viphya Plantations.
“We have put in place a number of strategies. One of them is to review our relationship with all stakeholders. And from now onwards, we shall not tolerate any member who carries out any illegal act in the plantation. We consider all the bad names that our union has been associated with history. We have also committed ourselves to paying what we owe government,” he added.
Minister of Energy, Mining and Natural Resources, Bright Msaka was invited by the union to preside over the recent tree planting exercise at Zimwanda Section.
“As inherited from our forefathers, Viphya Plantation is a very important resource to Malawi. Apart from helping to bring rains to this part of the country, it was a beauty to look at. But now, there is virtually nothing," lamented the Minister.
“You will recall that the union was dragging us to court and as we were battling in court, the trees were being destroyed. The commitment the union members have made now is commendable. We will be monitoring them to make sure that they walk their talk. The solution to bring back the glory of the Viphya Plantations lies in cooperation. All concerned parties need to collaborate to sustainably manage this forest,” added Msaka.
Apart from the concession areas currently managed by Raiply Malawi and Total Land Care, most of the 53,000 hactare plantations have been either burnt or harvested and little has been done to replenish it. The Viphya Plantations were established in the 1940s.