Perceptions of land-degradation, forest restoration and fire management: A case study from Malawi

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    local environmental problems can help to identify barriers tosuch as soil erosion (Mkanda 2002) are a significant

    problem. Rates of forest loss in Malawi are generally high

    with recent figures showing a decline from 3.9 to 3.4 million

    land degradation & development

    Land Degrad. Develop. 21: 546556 (2010)

    Published online 28 June 2010 in Wiley Online Library*Correspondence to: G. M. Davies, School of Forest Resources, Universitykey words: community development; flooding; gully; Miombo woodland; participatory research; soil erosion; Malawi


    Local peoples experiences of rural development projects are

    often not reported despite strong arguments that locally-

    based, small scale projects are those most likely to achieve a

    win-win conservation/development scenario (Wunder

    2001), to meet development targets (Blaikie 2006) and that

    a communitys willingness to become involved in develop-

    ment projects is closely linked to their past experiences

    (Walters et al. 1999). Integrating understanding of peoples

    perceptions with observations of the functioning of

    environmental systems is critical for developing sustainable

    resource management activities (Redman 1999; Hanna

    2001). Previous work examining farmers perceptions of

    degradation has shown that they often have acute and

    accurate awareness of problems even if, to outsiders, they

    appear unable or unwilling to tackle them (Kiome and

    Stocking 1995; Okoba and Sterk 2006; Mairura et al. 2008).

    The insights that community-based studies provide into

    participation in development activities and the rational

    behind continued use of practices that cause degradation.

    Previous studies have identified a wide range of potential

    barriers including, for example, concern over the impacts of

    change on food security (Moges and Holden 2007),

    inadequate resource governance systems and common

    property rights (Reed et al. 2007), gender-based differences

    in perceptions of problems (Wezel and Haigis 2000) and a

    lack of simple tools by which farmers can assess existing

    problems and the effects of intervention (Okoba and Sterk


    Malawi faces a number of development challenges many

    of which have been thoroughly reviewed elsewhere (e.g.

    Dorward and Kydd 2004). With regards to natural resources,

    a growing population has created an increasing demand for

    agricultural land (Mlotha 2001,Walker and Peters 2006) and

    fuel wood. Timber shortages (Hudak and Wessman 2000;

    Bandyopadhyay et al. 2006) and land-degradation processservices. Copyright # 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.influenced by recent extension work and a desire to secure ownership of utilisable resource. Ecologists in themiombo zone should focus onimproving fire management practices and involving communities in creating diverse secondary woodlands that provide a range of goods andPERCEPTIONS OF LAND-DEGRADATMANAGEMENT: A CAS

    G. M. DAVIES1,2*, L. POLL1The Shanti Trust, c/o Makuzi Beac

    2School of Forest Resources, University of Washington

    Received 7 July 2009; Revised 16


    Understanding local perceptions of degradation and attitudes to firimproving livelihoods. Deforestation and annual burning are causinorthernMalawi. We mapped evidence of soil erosion and remainingwith heavily utilised footpaths. Areas between gullies showed signs obut were small, degraded and isolated. We interviewed local househperceived cause and preferred methods for restoration. All householdof flood damage. Most households believed erosion was a result ofproblems. Changing fire management practice was not seen as reperceived to be too difficult to control. Tree planting was the communexotic fruit and timber trees around houses and they often requesteof Washington, Merrill Hall, Box 354115, Seattle, WA 98195-4115, USA.E-mail:

    Copyright # 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., FOREST RESTORATION AND FIRETUDY FROM MALAWI

    1 AND M. D. MWENDA1

    ivate Bag 12, Chintheche, Malawirill Hall, Box 354115, Seattle, WA 98195-4115, USA

    h 2010; Accepted 24 March 2010


    nagement are critical for gaining support for restoration work andgnificant land degradation problems in the area around Bandawe,s of woodland. Gully erosion was common and primarily associatedificant soil movement. Remnant patches of nativewoodland existedto understand local awareness and impacts of land-degradation, itsre aware of the presence of gullies and reported associated problemsrestation. Burning practices were seen to have exacerbated erosionc as it risked reducing the productivity of grasses and fires werepreferred approach to tackling erosion. Their focus was on plantingt such work be done by volunteers. Such attitudes may have been

    ( DOI: 10.1002/ldr.995ha between 1990 and 2005 (United Nations FAO 2006).

    Previous estimates have however shown considerable

  • The climate of the area is characterised by a dry season

    PERCEPTIONS OF LAND-DEGRADATION AND FIRE MANAGEMENT IN MALAWI 547variation in rates of loss and include 2.3 per cent per annum

    between 1972 and 1990 (Bunderson and Hayes 1995) and

    1.8 per cent per annum between 1981 and 1992 (Hudak and

    Wessman 2000). Heavy grazing or frequent fire, the latter

    being an issue in our community, can have significant effects

    on slope hydrology affecting rates of run-off, soil erosion

    and soil fertility (e.g. Descheemaeker et al. 2006;

    Descheemaeker et al. 2009). Though clearance for agricul-

    tural land and firewood largely explain current high rates of

    forest loss and land-degradation, several studies draw

    attention to the importance of understanding particular

    local causes of these processes (e.g. Abbot and Homewood

    1999; Mlotha 2001).

    Miombo woodlands, which formerly covered large areas

    of Malawi, are dominated by species of Brachystegia,

    Julbernardia and Isoberlinia (Campbell 1996). They

    provide a wide range of resources including timber,

    firewood, edible fruits and mushrooms, fodder for animals,

    medicinal plants and bush meat. A number of authors (e.g.

    Hyde and Kohlin 2000; Fisher 2004; Bandyopadhyay et al.

    2006; Lowore 2006) describe them as safety nets that can

    provide resources or tradable goods in times when normal

    food resources become depleted. As well as utilisable

    products they provide a range of ecosystem services such as

    watershed and flood protection, maintenance of soil fertility

    and carbon storage (Harvey et al. 2003, Walker and

    Desanker 2004; Lowore 2006; Williams et al. 2008). Recent

    research has suggested that a number of these products have

    the potential for domestication and the provision of goods

    and services with a market value for increasing household

    incomes (Akinifessi et al. 2006). Fire plays a crucial role in

    the ecology of miombo woodlands but there is evidence to

    suggest that frequent fire, or a combination of burning and

    grazing can cause the degradation of existing woodlands and

    prevent the regeneration of characteristic species. For

    instance Gambiza et al. (2000) and Sankaran et al. (2008)

    found that fire return intervals longer than 415 years are

    necessary if miombo woodland cover is to be retained. The

    continued decline in Malawis forest cover, its need for a

    sustainable timber and fuelwood supply and the wide range

    of other goods and services provided bymiombowoodlands

    suggests that their restoration and sustainable management

    could play an important role in rural community develop-


    The Shanti Trust, a small development organisation based

    in Bandawe, initiated a community-led development

    programme to tackle the causes and effects of land-

    degradation and forest loss. The Trust has developed a tree

    nursery, providing a mixture of exotic and native timber and

    fruit trees, with the aim of helping local communities to

    restore and expand their forest resource base. In the current

    work we aimed to develop an understanding of the

    differential perspectives of local people and developmentCopyright # 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.that lasts from June to October (mean monthly precipitation

    18mm) and wet season from November to May (mean

    monthly precipitation 243mm). Average maximum

    temperature ranges from a high of 30.4 8C in Novemberto 25.8 8C in June (data from http://www.climate-charts.comfor Nkhata Bay (Lat 11836S, 34818E); accessed 9th March2010).

    From the lakeshore (480m a.s.l.) the land rises about 50m

    to a flat plateau that reaches to the foot of forested hills

    roughly 5 km away. Soils in the area immediately

    surrounding the villages are infertile and sandy with an

    extremely low organic content. The vegetation mostly

    consists of a mixture of tussocky perennial grasses that can

    grow over 2m in height. These are cut to provide thatching

    for homes that are re-roofed at the end of each rainy season.

    Grassland areas are burnt on an annual fire cycle. Aroundfacilitators (in this case the authors). We had four key

    objectives: to generate a semi-quantitative picture of the

    extent and impact of land-degradation processes around

    Bandawe including the effect of the current fire regime on

    these processes; to understand the perceptions of local

    people with regards to land-degradation and fire manage-

    ment; to d