Cover image: Senior Traditional Chiefs in their regalia at the forum | Photo Credit:Chimwemwe Topola
In Malawi, traditional leaders are critical stakeholders in the conservation and restoration of natural resources as they are highly respected in their society and are capable of enforcing rules. It is under this framework that the first-ever Chiefs Forum on Natural Resources Management and Transition to Sustainable Agriculture and Livelihood was hosted in Lilongwe from August 30th to August 31st, 2023 at the Botanical Garden of Malawi. The forum was blessed by the Malawian Head of State, His Excellency Dr. Lazarus Chakwera.
H.E Chakwera and the chiefs signed a Call to Action in their bid to improve governance to protect and restore lands and natural resources and to promote best practices for sustainable agriculture and livelihoods.
H.E Chakwera acknowledged the powerful voice and influence of the traditional leaders and urged them to reclaim their role in environmental protection as this guarantees the sustainable management of Malawi's diverse landscapes, therefore ensuring the wellbeing of the country’s people.
The president called upon the chiefs to curb lawlessness and corruption in the forest resources management by engaging with their subjects and facilitating behavior change initiatives that would also help stop deforestation and environmental degradation. H.E expressed his worry on the rate at which plunder of natural resources is taking place and called upon the traditional chiefs to join hands with the government and use their power to champion behavioral change and ownership of the community.
He then expressed gratitude for the chiefs' call to action, which he believes has a powerful voice, and asked for its effective implementation to put an end to environmental degradation.
"I am very excited to see that Malawian chiefs have decided to call to an end to the depletion of natural resources—trees and forests in particular—and that you want to take a leading role in these matters. Chiefs are agents of development because they are the link between the government and the citizens, said H.E Chakwera.”
"The government recognizes the role that chiefs play in the management of forests and natural resources. It is for this reason that the government has placed chiefs as key stakeholders and at the center of all technical and governance blueprints as highlighted in the policy documents and strategies in the Ministry of Lands, Natural Resources, and Climate Change," H.E Chakwera added while thanking the chiefs for taking the time to build consensus on how to strengthen their role and participation in the management of natural resources.
The Minister of Natural Resources and Climate Change, Honorable Dr. Michael Usi, assured the traditional leaders of the government’s financial and technical support to help them manage the natural resources. Dr. Usi said the Ministry is geared towards working with the chiefs to combat illegal charcoal manufacturing by, among other things, producing more briquettes and bamboo to serve as alternative fuel sources. The minister commended the chiefs for contributing meaningful ideas for environmental sustainability during the two-day meeting.
Reiterating the minister’s statement, Dr. Yusuf Nkungula, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Climate Change, said, "The government and its partners remain steadfast in providing the necessary resources, policy support, and technical expertise to ensure the success and sustainability of conservation and restoration initiatives.” Moreover, the ministry is dedicated to working with the chiefs to strengthen governance structures, enhance capacity building, and promote the involvement of local communities in decision-making processes.
In his statement, Inkosi Ya Makosi Gomani V, one of the participating paramount chiefs, expressed his appreciation for what the forum has achieved, especially the call to action, expressing their commitment towards protecting and sustaining the environment by, among others, establishing by-laws, dealing with encroachment in protected forests, sensitizing communities on sustainable agriculture and soil conservation, protecting water resources, and promoting regeneration of forest resources.
This forum convened over 200 traditional leaders from all the districts across Malawi, joined by numerous national and subnational government officials. The meeting was organized by the IKI-funded AREECA Consortium project, a large-scale FLR project led by GIZ and implemented by IUCN, FAO, World Bank, WWF, World Resources Institute and AUDA-NEPAD.