Ensia

To everyone’s surprise, forests are returning to Malawi. Here’s why.

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Courtesy of Ensia

The East African country of Malawi epitomizes the global problem of deforestation. Now, there are signs it could epitomize the solution, too, as government, community members and grassroots organizations tackle the problem together.

Some 95 percent of rural Malawian households depend on wood for necessities such as cooking, clean water and sanitation. Many Malawians also depend on the money they earn from the illegal production and sale of charcoal made from wood, as well as commercial timber. And in recent decades, many Malawi forests have been turned into farmland. As a result, the country has the fifth highest deforestation rate in the world. In 1986, an economic consultant described Malawi’s deforestation problem as “unsolvable.”

With population growing rapidly, you might think the problem would be more unsolvable than ever today. Not so. Thanks to a three-pronged approach of planting trees, providing water filters and encouraging use of efficient cookstoves, the country is starting to turn the tide on deforestation.

Continuing to address the multifaceted issue of deforestation in the coming decades will pose an immense challenge. Nevertheless, with the combination of economic progress, efficient energy resources, right policies and ongoing community participation, tides might begin to change. Three decades after Malawi’s deforestation was described as unsolvable, solutions are emerging.

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