Prior to the 1950s, most of northern Malawi was grassland. Then the government filled the area with pine trees. But later, timber cutters came and cut down all the trees without replanting any more.
“Malawians were very proud of their pine forest,” recalls Nebson Chiloko, Managing Director of Kawandama Hills Plantation, and self-professed lover of trees. “These timber cutters, they never thought of the future.”
More recently the country has been facing something of a deforestation crisis. Due the Malawians’ dependence on wood for meeting their energy needs—more specifically charcoal—the forests that once were, are no more. At the current rate of deforestation, Malawi could be stripped of all trees by as early as 2079, leading to soil erosion and water scarcity.
“Most Malawians, they look at trees as a free resource, in the sense that they
feel that they can just go and cut down the trees,” says Nebson.
In 2016, the USAID’s PERFORM Project awarded a $300,000 grant to Kawandama Hills Plantation (KHP), a Malawian company, and the Lucheche Cooperative (LC), made up of over 100 local farmers, to plant 300 acres of Corymbia citriodora trees. From which KHP woud use the leaves to distill export-quality citronellal, a fragrant lemon eucalyptus essential oil used in the natural insect repellent, cosmetic, pharmaceutical, and perfume industries.
Under this sustainable, environmentally-friendly business model, KHP and LC have improved 120 hectares of degraded land. And KHP, with wood biomass from the trees, now produces Malawi’s only legal and sustainably-sourced charcoal.
“The people in the area didn’t have a sustainable means of earning a living,” says Nebson, adding they used to rely on cash crops, which are expensive to grow and can only be harvested once a year.
“We really wanted to help the communities by working with local farmers.”
Now LC members have used their monetary earnings to pay for agricultural inputs, livestock, modern houses, and school fees among other things. In addition, LC members use the trees’ branches for their household energy and/or construction needs, such as fences and livestock corrals.
“The farmers sell the leaves to us for oil processing,” says Nebson. “The farmers are able to get more money from the leaves and harvest twice a year.”
“This project has really helped to improve the living standards of the surrounding communities,” he adds with pride. “The grant has helped expand our operations. Now we can provide sustainable employment.”
“The local farmers are now looking at trees as a valuable resource that needs to be managed.”
Malawi has one of the world’s highest rates of deforestation. The decline in Malawi’s forests leaves communities exposed to threats such as heavy and erratic rainfall, more frequent flooding and landslides, as well as rising temperatures and dry spells.
USAID/Malawi held a contest with its Implementing Partners to identify three interventions that are: a) programmatically successful, b) replicable or scalable, and c) are positively impacting the lives of Malawians. They asked NAMUH will help produce three compelling videos that showcase the winning stories from this contest.
The first film was focused on Malawi’s deforestation concerns. We were to focus on the USAID PERFORM project that is helping mobilize communities to preserve the country’s remaining trees, start natural resource-based enterprises (NRBE), reduce their reliance on wood, and adapt to their changing climate.
Challenges & Result
We ventured out to northern Malawi to film at the Kawandama Hills Plantation, a Malawian company, which has expanded its plantation with USAID grant funding, and is supporting the Lucheche Cooperative, a group of smallholder farmers. Through this expansion, KHP has increased production of two sustainably-sourced products - essential oil and legal charcoal - and provided the smallholder farmers with increased economic opportunities.
At first we had lodging a distance away which meant earlier mornings and long drives. But we soon found ourselves staying at a cottage on the plantation, which was great.
It’s always tricky to determine the right subject to film. As many people who come across as viable subjects don’t translate well on camera. NAMUH wasn’t provided with adequate time to do more thorough pre-production and the suggested characters were not the best on camera. But once we were on the ground, we came up with a workable solution, reworked the script to suit our chosen subject, Nebson, the Managing Director of the Kawandama Hills Plantation.
Shooting in the early morning and late evening, and using a drone, we managed to capture some incredible light through the trees, and produce a beautiful 4-minute film. The film’s narration was led by Nebson, a forester who is passionate about trees. His enthusiasm for his job really comes through and he was able to explain clearly how the USAID PERFORM Project works for both local farmers and the company, enabling increased incomes, further employment, ownership and responsibility of the trees and how to sustainably harvest citronella and produce charcoal. All key to USAID’s message of creating self-reliance and resilience.
Partners: Kawandama Hills Plantation & Lucheche Cooperative
Location: Chikangawa, Malawi
Project Manager: Lisa Stewart
Videography: Morgana Wingard / Jaco Bester
Photography: Morgana Wingard / Jaco Bester
Editing: Morgana Wingard
Sound Design: Morne Marais