I am writing from the beautiful town of Usisya on the shore of Lake Malawi surrounded by the Kandoli Mountains. I am currently in Malawi for 11 days visiting our partner, Temwa. We are carrying out a participatory planning exercise with local communities to develop a business plan for The Nkhata Bay Natural Way project. The main aims of the project are the conservation of natural resources and to improve food security through sustainable farming practices. We are hoping that the project will start in March 2015.
We have received development funding from the Big Lottery Fund to carry out research and consultation with local communities in the upland and lakeshore areas of Nkhata Bay. We want to ensure that the project will be relevant to the needs of local communities and be designed in way that makes it accessible to the most disadvantaged groups: people living with HIV/AIDS, orphan and female headed households.
The Temwa team based on Mzuzu and Usisya have already conducted community research consisting of one-to-one interviews with potential project beneficiaries and focus groups with community stakeholders.We are now holding 10 community consultation events in villages across the four Tribal Authorities in this district. Many of the lakeshore villages are only accessible by boat.
So far we have completed 3 consultations in the upland villages. The participatory planning process is very important as we want village members to develop a sense of ownership of how the project will be delivered in their community and the changes that it intends to create. In this way we want to maximise the sustainability of the project so that after 4 years the changes in terms of agriculture, agroforestry, enterprises and environmental stewardship will become self-perpetuating.
We have already learnt that the range of micro-enterprises envisaged will need to be diversified. We will also need to identify specific approaches to engage young people in the project. It is evident that there is a strong desire to protect and restore natural resources and to plant tens of thousands of trees.
I have also had the opportunity to visit existing beneficiaries of the Community Tree Planting Initiative that ITF has funded since 2010. This included two of the people featured in our Tree Grower Tales – Joseph and Martha. Joseph showed me his fruit tree nursery and vegetable garden which he is expanding to a nearby plot of land. He is growing oranges, tangerines, guava, papaya and lemons. With the increased income he has earned Joseph has been able to establish a rice field in an inlet from Lake Malawi.
Joseph is also planning to address the deforestation in the Usisya area and wants to lead the reforestation effort. A number of community groups have been formed to spearhead the raising of seedlings and planting of trees on common land. Temwa is also working with a local committee on a plan to reforest Mpande Hill which is a striking, though sadly now largely bare, feature in the heart of the town.
Here is a song for all the Nkhata Bay tree planters: