By Charles Mkula:
Government and non-state actors have joined hands to bring back to health the ailing charm that once attracted tourists, researchers, scholars, business players and development planners to Zomba, Malawi’s former capital city.
The infectious lure of the district’s weather patterns influenced by striking scenic environmental endowments backed by a vibrant cultural inheritance are enough motivation to make the district attractive to visitors and investors.
During his maiden visit to appreciate conservation efforts, Minister of Natural Resources and Climate Change, Dr Michael Usi, noted that poor environmental management practices have degraded the district’s natural resources and that stringent protection strategies were required to bring back the lost glory.
Touring the Zomba-Malosa Mountain Forest Reserve, Usi called on environmental protection stakeholders to develop approaches that will identify and implement strategic no-go zones in order to protect the forest and the districts water sources, most of which are on the stretch of Zomba Mountain.
Zomba Mountain, a ridge dividing the Upper Shire River on the western side and the flat plains of the country’s third largest lake, Chilwa, on the east, is also a water source for many rivers that flow into the two water bodies.
Likangala, Thondwe, Domasi, Mulunguzi, Naisi and Namadzi are the main rivers that form part of the Lake Chilwa catchment area while Linthipe and Likwenu make part of the Shire River Basin. All these rivers, including the small artificial lake on Zomba Mountain, the Mulunguzi Dam, and Lake Chilwa, a Ramsar site, hold diverse aquatic species and serve domestic, irrigation, livestock grazing, wildlife and recreation purposes for people living downstream.
According to the Zomba District Socio-economic profile, the annual value of small-scale fishing industry, water-bird hunting and rice cultivation the Lake Chilwa catchment area is estimated at about US$20 million (MK14.6 billion).
The Lake Chilwa wetland supports about 164 bird species, 43 of which are Palaearctic migrant species and 14 are intra-African migrant species.
The Mulunguzi river on the mountain, is a recreational attraction and the source of household water for residents of the city of Zomba and surrounding areas.
However, inadequate capacity and equipment to use in implementing aquatic/water resources management programmes; environmental degradation due to high deforestation and poor land use practices threaten the preservation and restoration efforts of Zomba districts biodiversity and ecosystems.
Meanwhile, Zomba Development Network, a group of Zomba-born members resident in Malawi and diaspora have teamed to inspire the district to become self-reliant by utlising available resources for improved livelihoods as well as to contribute to district and national development.
Stepson Mbewe, a member of the network says the group intends to mobilise the local masses to appreciate and sustainably utilize the vast resources the district has.
“Our natural resource base challenges us to be innovative and as such we contemplate establishing mega farms modeling the operations of Admarc. We also are looking into the possibilities of generating hydro, solar or wind electricity on Zomba Mountain,” he says adding that the group intends to explore and maximise the benefits from existing and potential opportunities in the ecosystems.
Once covered with thick scenic indigenous biodiversity before colonial foresters uprooted the vegetation to create exotic Eucalyptus and Pinus patula plantations for the production of timber, Zomba Mountain is one of the watersheds in Malawi remaining with few patches of native forest trees and grass.
Environmental experts say the global rarity of the indigenous plants available on the mountain are so unique and capable of attracting high level conservation concern from international conservation biologists.