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I am delighted to be here in Ntchisi at Katunthama Primary School and to join you in tree planting exercise under the auspices of World Vision International and Communities of Msankhire.
This event signifies the importance European Union attaches to improving the state of forests and also building resilience of rural people's livelihoods in Malawi.
Forests make substantial contributions to livelihoods, jobs and the economy of Malawi. It is estimated that they account for 6% of the country wealth. Forests and trees supply sources of fuel (wood and charcoal), prevent land degradation, preserve soil fertility and protect soil and watersheds. Forests provide habitats for wildlife and biodiversity.
Yet, forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Over the last 40 years, more than half of the forests of Malawi have vanished, and those remaining are overexploited. The impact of extreme weather events such as floods is magnified by the reduction of forest coverage. Trees are not anymore there to act as a barrier to floodwater, and to increase water absorption into the ground. We unfortunately witness this more and more often.
EU believes that involvement of communities and building ownership of forest resources is a firm foundation to sustainable forest management. It is extremely encouraging to see here that communities are strongly committed to preserve, restore and manage their forests, in particular the youth, who have taken up the role of assisting parents and elders to take care of the trees.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I understand that forest management is a complex matter in Malawi. Corruption is rampant in the sector (the WB estimates that 38 million USD are lost every year in bribe along the charcoal value chain, which is strongly interlinked with forest management), political interference is strong, government skills and financial resources are often limited. Population growth and widespread poverty put increasingly pressure on forest resources for food and energy supplies.
This calls for a multidisciplinary approach that goes well beyond reforestation. We need to work together, though concerted efforts. The fight against deforestation is a common battle: it does not concern only the communities, but should be a priority for the Government, private sector, civil society and donor community too.
Over the last 10 years, EU has supported forestry in Malawi, protecting over 25 million trees and planting 2 million new ones. We are also supporting a wide range of interventions to improve the resilience and food security of Malawians, including through climate-smart agriculture techniques, and we are planning to continue to do so.
Investments in forests management yield large public benefits to other economic sectors, particularly hydroelectricity generation. I understand that Government has limited resources compared to the enormous needs of the country, but these scarce resources could be used to leverage additional private sector investments.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Making people aware of the problem is already part of the solution. Environmental awareness should be a priority in our work. I am confident that today's tree planting initiative and other initiatives nationwide will contribute to make Malawian aware of forest degradation in Malawi and the need to reverse this trend.
I take this opportunity to commend all present here and Ntchisi district staff and chiefs for supporting this cause and colleagues from World Vision International for the work done with the communities.