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NATION on Sunday

JUNE 2 2013

NATION ON SUNDAY, 2 JUNE 2013

An examination of the conflict involving local people, miners and conservationists over Mulanje Mountain.

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special essay
Kondwani Kamiyala Sub Editor

NATION on Sunday

JUNE 2 2013

he Chambe Basin, perched at over 2 000 metres above the sea level on Mulanje mountain, typifies how forestry resources can benefit many. The extraction of the Mulanje cedar began in 1950, with locals and foreigners earning a living from the basin. History records that in that year, the Nyasaland Timber and Trading Company was given an exclusive licence to saw the cedar, with growing world demand for timber after World War Two. Within a year, Swiss engineers of the Wyssen Company installed a skyline timber extraction cableway which made it easier to transport wood from the basin to the foot of the mountain. A few years ago, even after so much depletion, the basin could give you over 800 hectares of breathtaking pine plantations. There were hundreds of sawyers and forestry workers making a living from the mountain. The number of tourists was ever increasing, with an array of plants and wildlife beckoning them up the mountain. In 2010, 5 242 tourists visited the mountain, a sharp rise from 1 457 in 2000. In 2012, the mountain recorded only 3 813 tourists. For one, the drop comes on account of vanishing vegetation. This comes at an inopportune time when the application to make the mountain a United Nations Education and Science Commission (Unesco) World Heritage Site is pending. Acquiring the status would not only lead to increased numbers of tourists, but would also source more funding for conservation. The drop in tourism figures comes because the Chambe Basin today is nothing but a stretch of bare ground. All the pine plantations are gone. Signs of uncontrollable bushfires are evident in burnt tree stumps and bushes. There is no sign of life in the deserted forestry houses.

The fall of Mulanje Mountain

Mulanje Mountain provides livelihoods to thousands of people


The hundreds of there before people who eked Nyasaland out a living at the Timber and basin trekked to Trading The drop in greener parts of Company tourism figures Malawi. went to other At the heart of comes because parts of the the depletion is mountain the Chambe a reforestation where cedar programme gone was still in Basin today is awry. In 2007, the abundance. nothing but a Mulanje Mountain MMCT and Conservation the Forestry stretch of bare Trust (MMCT) Department ground. All the indicated that and the Forestry Department pine plantations they had to entered into a eradicate the are gone. pact to clear the pine, saying it pine plantation on had invaded Chambe Basin and the cedar, replace it with the original Mulanje Exclusive cedar plantation, inquiry page 3 which previously grew

The conflict could affect the prospects of the mountain becoming a Unesco World Heritage Site

Photographs: james chimpweya

NATION on Sunday
JUNE 2 2013

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indigenous tree can grow. The effects of the eradication are clear. People who earned a living from the lumbering trekked to other parts where the forests are thicker: Chikangawa and Dedza, for instance. Since 2011, Spring Stone Limiteda joint venture company between Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation and Gold Canyon Resourceshas been exploring the basin for rare earth elements (REEs). Locals feel the exploration has hit them hard, citing an an ash contamination that polluted Mulanje Mountain water sources late last year. They also feel exploration works have left the basin even bare, with the fear of flush floods and landslides growing by the day. With a December 7 2012 High Court injunction stopping MMCT from working on the Chambe Basin and Spring Stone ceasing exploration works, the locals, coming together as Concerned Citizens, smiled. Not for long though, as on May 3 2013, the High Court vacated the injunction, but urged the environmentalists, miners and locals to agree on the way forward. Mulanje District Commissioner Jack Ngulube has since summoned the three parties. Will they find a solution that will save the Mulanje Mountain and bring back its glory? n

The genesis of the battle over Mulanje


Exclusive inquiry page 2 which is more precious. Mulanje cedar does not grow anywhere else in the world but on a few areas of Mulanje Mountain. Due to climate change, the Chambe Basin is not one of the areas on the mountain where the

Mulanje citizens cry for mountain


Kondwani Kamiyala Sub Editor
omedian Bon Kalindo, known as Winiko, grew up in Njeza Village not far from Mulanje Boma at the foot of the Mulanje Massif. He has fond memories of his trek years back to the Chambe Basin, a four-hour climb up Africas third largest mountain. It was idyllic. There were thick pine plantations you could barely see the sun. Butterflies and rare birds hovered around. Cool springs were everywhere. Even the weather down the mountain was as pleasant as up there, recalls the actor. Kalindo says many people in the district benefited from the mountain as sawyers, lumberjacks, forestry workers and farmers. All that, he says, ended when in 2007 the Malawi Government entered into an agreement with the Norwegian Government which funded the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT) to preserve the Mulanje Mountain ecosystem. That entailed eradication of over 800 hectares of pine plantations for the Mulanje cedar which refuses to grow at the basin, leaving the expanse bare to expose communities at the foot of the mountain to floods. The past two years have seen heavy floods. We have experienced ash contamination where bushfire ashes from the burning of pine plantations pollute river sources. Our fear is one day,

Fighting for Mulanje Mountain: Kalindo (R) and Nowa


we will have flush floods, said Kalindo, who is publicist for Concerned Citizens who last year obtained a High Court injunction restraining MMCT from operating on the mountain. The High Court, however, on May 3 lifted the injunction, which also barred miners Spring Stone from exploring for rare earths elements (REEs) on the mountain. Kalindo says they will continue fighting against the mining and MMCT works. Mulanje Pasani DPP parliamentarian Peter Nowa said the constituency is experiencing hard times. Nowa said the threat of heavy floods is great since the basin, which held most of the water up the mountain, lies bare. According to him, over 300 homes were swept in floods last year. We are questioning the miners since although their licence says they can only get 70 kilogrammes of earth from the mountain, yet, every Friday, they bring down hundreds of kilogrammes. That has led to heavy siltation of our main source of water: the Likhubula River, said Nowa. PP co-opted executive committee member Brown Mpinganjira has joined the fight, saying for the future of the people of the district, the environmental and mining

projects on the mountain must be changed. We cannot allow our children to drink contaminated ash water. We cannot allow hectares of forest cover to be repudiated and expose people to floods. Mulanje chiefs have sent us to say no to all this. We are not saying no to mining, which is a unique component of our economy, but it must be sustainable, said Mpinganjira. The strongest opposition to the mining and conservation appears to come from the local chiefs, including senior chiefs Mabuka and Mkanda, Traditional Authority Chikumbu and other local chiefs such as Village Headwoman Nankhonyo. There were many people earning a living as sawyers on the mountain. Many people in my village [at the foot of the mountain] are farmers and they used to go up the mountain to sell their produce. That is gone. Others who are tour guides are crying as the number of tourists hiking the mountain is dwindling since the beautiful scenes on the mountain have been depleted, she said. The chiefs, political leaders and their subjects vow to fight on. We will use whatever means to stop the mining and MMCT from operating on the mountain. Mulanje must reclaim its glory, said Kalindo. Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Mining Dr Leonard Kalindekafe could not respond to our qquestionnaire sent to him two weeks ago. His minister, John Bande, was unavailable for comment.n

Photograph: Andrew Mtupanyama

Dialogue is key, says DC


Kondwani Kamiyala Sub Editor

NATION on Sunday

JUNE 2 2013

ialogue, says Mulanje district commissioner Jack Ngulube, is the solution to the wrangle between locals on one hand and environmentalists Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT) as well as miners Spring Stone Limited on the other. This, however, is an uphill battle. That is if an abortive meeting on the way forward after the High Court lifted an injunction stopping MMCT and Spring Stone from operating on the Chambe Basin is anything to go by. Spring Stone shunned the May 15 2013 meeting, while MMCT executive director Carl Bruessow refused to talk, saying the court process was not over yet. We cant have two processes to find a solution to the same problem. We cannot hold talks while the case is still in court, said Bruessow, who later called the talks onesided. In a media statement on May 25 2013, MMCT said during the meeting, the Concerned Citizens made numerous threats to disregard the dissolution of the injunction. Ngulube said Spring Stone, a joint venture by Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (Jogmec) and Canada-based Gold Canyon Resources, stayed away because they were waiting for a nod from their international headquarters. Talks are still a priority. We will invite the MMCT board of trustees, the locals and Spring Stone for more talks. There is a lot at stake here, said Ngulube. A member of the Concerned Citizens, Brown Mpinganjira, said they were ready for talks. It is not true that the court processes are still on since we have not appealed. It is sad that Spring Stone shunned the meeting, which means they

Water pollution is one of the issues at the centre of the conflict


are not ready for the talks, said Mpinganjira. However, Gold Canyon Resources Malawi office general manager Ryoko Kojima said they are not ready for the DC mediation. While we appreciate the effort by the DC, we are not going to meet with Concerned Citizens alone because the case they brought before the court is still at law. However, we are planning to hold a stakeholders meeting, which will be organised by the Ministry of Mining where all important stakeholders in Mulanje will be invited. We recognise the importance of the consultations with local stakeholders, said Kojima. He said the meeting would take place in June where stakeholders would be updated on their activities. n

Ngulube: Talks a priority

Photographs: james chimpweya

NATION on Sunday
JUNE 2 2013

Declining tourism has affected curios sellers in the district Kondwani Kamiyala Sub Editor

ulanje Mountain is sold to the world as the Island in the Sky, but tourism figures are shrinking. The environmental degradation on the mountain is cited as one of the reasons for the downward trend. But Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT) director Carl Bruessow says that is not true, saying tourism figures are soaring. According to the Mulanje tourism office annual visitors report from 2000 to 2012, the number of tourists visiting the mountain dropped from 5 242 in 2010 to 4 273 in 2011 and 3 813 last year. Mulanje district tourism officer Richard Buya said although tourism figures went down during the period due to factors such as hard economic times, severing of diplomatic ties with some countries and lack of marketing, environmental degradation

played a big part in the drop. For people to visit the mountain, they must be assured that the natural resources are intact. Most visitors cite wanton cutting down of trees and the environmental degradation as some of the reasons the mountain can no longer attract tourists the way it used to, said Buya. He said the removal of pine plantations was done without consultations with some stakeholders, arguing that only the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT) and the Department of Forestry knew what was going on. There are so many players

Island in the Sky tourism shrinks


that were left out in making the decision to eradicate the pine plantations. Porters, tour guides as well as restaurant and lodge owners were not consulted. Everyone knows cedar is indigenous and to leave the land bare has eroded the once beautiful Chambe Basin, said Buya. According to Buya, in the past, the mountain was just a forest reserve, but it slowly gained tourist destination status, particularly for the serene forests. Albert Muroma, a tour guide based at Likhubula, said environmental degradation has kept tourists away from the mountain. Life is hard for us now. There are 84 registered tour guides at Likhubula, so when tourists come we take turns, which means when you go up the mountain, you have to wait for the 83 to guide tourists. In a month, I am going up the mountain twice unlike in the past when I would go up four or five times, said Muroma. He said his livelihood is at stake and has diversified away from solely depending on tour guide proceeds to small-scale businesses to match the high Exclusive inquiry page 6

Most visitors cite wanton cutting down of trees and the environmental degradation as some of the reasons the mountain can no longer attract tourists the way it used to.

Photograph: james chimpweya

NATION on Sunday

JUNE 2 2013

Tourism suffers on Mulanje Mountain


Exclusive Report page 3 cost of living. According to one of the Concerned Citizens fighting against conservation and mining works on Mulanje Mountain, Bon Kalindo, the downturn is coming at a time businesspeople in the district are investing in the tourism sector. Noting the tourism growth in the past few years, we have seen the coming of high class lodges such as Kara OMula and Hapuwani. These businesses will certainly suffer, said Kalindo. Bruessow, however, says the coming of more lodges and expansion of old ones is clear evidence that the mountain is attracting more tourists. The figures are going up, as you can see from the coming of more lodges. Why would one invest in a sector that is dwindling? wondered Bruessow. n

Kondwani Kamiyala Sub Editor

ormer Minister of Energy Grain Malunga says mining at the expense of the environment is worthless, arguing that the world market does not accept such minerals. Malunga said even in exploration works, miners must replant original species. He observed that exploration for rare earth elements (REEs) on Mulanje Mountain was a step forward in the Malawi mining industry, but protecting the environment should not be left out of the picture. Nobody buys minerals from areas that are unfriendly to the environment. Mining is not destructive, but it is how miners conduct themselves. Rehabilitation is most important in mining. Mining is supposed to be systematic, said Malunga, one of the founding members of the Geological Society of Malawi. According to Malunga, removal of trees on Mulanje Mountain could lead to more flooding as more water would run off into streams. There is a danger if you dont replace trees as you drill. Vegetation protects the soil. If the rains come, there is more runoff water where there is no cover and as a result there is no control, he said. Malunga said apart from some areas of the mountain, rare earths are also found in the Chilwa Basin, Songwe in Karonga, Kangankunde in Balaka, Chikhala Hills in Zomba and the Liwonde National Park. He said Malawi has deposits of rare earth elements cerium and tedium. According to the website of IamGold Corporation, cerium will contribute 40 percent of the estimated world supply of rare earth elements in 2015. It is used to polish glass, metal

Miners must care for the environmentFormer minister


Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation, submitted a project brief and an environmental management plan (EMP), which was approved by the Environmental Affairs Department. The EMP is a guiding tool on environment during exploration should a company go into mining. Then an environmental impact assessment (EIA) is required by law. An EIA is the prime requirement for an award of a mining license, said Kojima. However, he said when spring Stone began carrying out a baseline social environmental impact assessment study in 2012, it was suspended by a court injunction. He said currently, they are reviewing the programme. Addressing lawyers recently during the official takeover of the new Malawi Law Society (MLS) executive, head of judges at the Blantyre Registry of the High Court Dunstain Mwaungulu said mining has serious consequences on the environment. In an address titled The Role of Lawyers in the Extraction Industry, Mwaungulu noted that lawyers have a role to help in the balance of competing economic welfare and rights against the environment. Through its extraction, it [mining] can disturb the land; through its effuse, it can pollute the soil and affect the ecosystem in the earth and in the water; through its discharge in the atmosphere, it can cause pollution, house gas effects and affect the ozone layer, said. n

Malunga: Mining should be systematic


and gemstones, computer chips, transistors and other electronic components. Gold Canyon Resources general manager for Malawi office Ryoko Kojima said the company is reviewing its exploration and environmental plans. He added that Spring Stone Limited, a joint venture between Gold Canyon and

Photograph: Nation Library

NATION on Sunday
JUNE 2 2013

A party to the conflict: The Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust Kondwani Kamiyala Sub Editor
ulanje district forestry officer Duncan Masonje believes all is not lost as cooperation can help bring back the greens to the Chambe Basin. While admitting it was wrong to eradicate over 800 hectares of pine plantations, Masonje said the Mulanje Cedar that was replanted did not grow due to the effects of climate change. We removed pine and other plants from the basin to grow cedar but that has not worked out. Following the injunction the concerned citizens got last year, we have not been able to work on the mountain, as forestry officials have been beaten up by the locals, said Masonje. He said apart from bush fires, illegal harvests of the cedar renowned for its durability and sweet aromahas become more rampant.

Masonje: We have to bring back sanity

We will replant the basinForestry


We have to bring back sanity. Communities, Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT) and the forestry department should agree whether we should revert to the pine plantations or continue trying the cedar, he said. The forestry official said removal of pine plantations on the mountain started in 2007. In that year, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs provided a 25.5 million Norwegian kroner grant to the Malawi Government and the MMCT to, among other things, maintain the Mulanje Mountain ecosystem and increase awareness, understanding and appreciation of the ecosystem value to local communities. The project, referred to as the Mulanje Mountain Biodiversity Conservation Project (MMBCP), also sought to implement specific conservation actions, including firebreak maintenance and removal of invasive exotic vegetation. Masonje said pine is one of the invasive plants removed. According to the MMCT 2011-2012 annual report, 1 032 hectares have been cleared of invasive species since the projects inception. The report notes that replanting cedar has been unsuccessful due to the plants horticultural aspects which make survival difficult. MMCT director Carl Bruessow said removing the pine mess was necessary. Government started the eradication of pine in 1987. Originally, cedars were grown at the Chambe Basin alongside pines as cover. However, pines invaded the whole basin. The quality of the timber from the pines was low since it was not tendered, said Bruessow. n

We removed pine and other plants from the basin to grow cedar but that has not worked out.

Photographs: Kondwani Kamiyala

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iners Spring Stone Limited (SSL) say prospects for rare earth elements (REE) deposits at the Chambe Basin are difficult to determine until exploration works are over. But conservationists Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT) have vowed to legally fight against the mining. SSL is a joint venture between Canada-based Gold Canyon Resources Inc and Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation exploring a 400-square kilometre expansion on the Chambe Basin up the Mulanje Mountain. Gold Canyon Resources general manager in Malawi, Ryoco Kojima, said the value of the REE is difficult to determine. The analysis is still under way. We should also monitor the current market of REE to determine the economic feasibility, said Kojima. He dismissed allegations by the Concerned Citizens that SSL has already started mining works. According to one of the citizens, Brown Mpinganjira, for the past two years, SSL has been employing over 50 people who have been carrying 20kilogramme loads of earth each down the mountain every Friday for the past two years. But Kojima said this is not true. The High Court verified that by its ruling. What we sampled were soil samples identified by the terms and conditions of its EPL (Exclusive Prospective Licence) granted by the Malawi government. We have taken sample soils for laboratory analysis to determine the elements at Chambe. Those were strictly inspected by Geological Survey of Malawi for them to issue Inspection Certificate and thereafter the Mines Department issued Export Permits, said Kojima. Earlier, media reports indicated that the Chambe Basin hosts clay-type REE deposits and that phase one drilling started in 2011, costing the miners K305 million. Phase Two began in 2012. The second phase entails drilling of 167 shallow cores on a staggered 200-metre grid across the basin. The company states on its website that analysis of core from these wholes indicates the clay comparable levels of total REEs to its Chinese counterparts as well as similar heavy REE enrichment. Very low radiation is associated with clays at Chambe,

NATION on Sunday

JUNE 2 2013

Kondwani Kamiyala Sub Editor

Miners unsure of rare earths value


.... as conservationists fight the mining

Photograph: NATION LIBRARY

Mpinganjira: People have been carrying loads of earth


a potentially positive metallurgical attribute. However, MMCT director Carl Bruessow says they are against mining on the mountain, arguing that only a legal process can help stop mineral extraction. According to Bruessow, the Concerned Citizens theory that MMCT came on the mountain to pave way for Spring Stone Limited mining is wrong. We oppose the mining. It is an unexpected challenge which has required our significant attention and will continue to do so for the next couple of years, he said. Bruessow said the venture is complex as it involves national strategic priorities. Mining is one of the key sectors in the Economic Recovery Plan (ERP) propelled by the Joyce Banda administration. Mining is an unfortunate complication to our on-going work in many respects. We have to engage with due process as a mature stakeholder. We cant use illegal means to stop the mining and we cant be threatening them, he said. In her State of the Nation Address when she opened the

Bruessow: We are against mining


current sitting of Parliament, President Banda said the mining sector continued to grow steadily and its contribution to GDP grew from three percent in 2009 to 10 percent in 2012. On the other hand, presenting the 2013/14 national budget Finance Minister Ken Lipenga said government has reintroduced a provision under the Customs and Excise Tariffs Order to allow for exemption of taxes on importation of specialised mining Exclusive inquiry page 9

We oppose the mining. It is an unexpected challenge which has required our significant attention and will continue to do so for the next couple of years.

Photograph: Kondwani Kamiyala

NATION on Sunday
JUNE 2 2013

Miners say too early for mineral forecast


Exclusive inquiry page 8 and exploration machinery and equipment to encourage exploration and mining activities in the country. According to information from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) website, REEs are a group of 17 chemically similar elements crucial to the manufacture of many hi-tech products. Despite their name, most are abundant in nature but are hazardous to extract. Most rare earth elements have uses in several different fields. The website says one of the elements, ceriumwhich according to former Energy Minister and geologist Grain Malunga can be found on the mountainis used in catalytic converters in cars, enabling them to run at high temperatures and play a crucial role in the chemical reactions in the converter. It is also used in refining crude oil. Other REEs are used in the manufacture of lenses for microscopes and cameras. The metals have become some of the worlds most valued resources. After the USA stopped their excavation, China has the monopoly of its production, but has stopped their crude export, leading miners to explore elsewhere. n

Nogwe: We fear for the future Kondwani Kamiyala Sub Editor

ast year, communities at the foot of the Mulanje Massif experienced floods, which they attributed to increased run-off from the bare Chambe Basin. Group Village Head Nogwe in T/A Mkanda said wanton cutting down of trees at the basin resulted into floods. The deforestation led to so much run-off that maize fields and homes were swept away. Right now, where there were no waterways in my village now are ravines. We fear for the future, said Nogwe. With 231 families affected in the village, Nogwe observed that hunger is looming: Those who usually harvest 10 [50kg] bags, this season only managed to get three. Government has promised us free fertiliser and seed for winter cropping to save us from hunger. Mulanje Passani MP Peter Nowa said 300 families

Photograph: james chimpweya

Floods: The new MJ phenomenon

For many people in the district, their lives revolve around Mulanje Mountain
were affected by floods in the constituency. On a field where I normally get 62 bags of maize, this season I only got 10. This is because the fertiliser I applied was washed away, said Nowa. But MMCT director Carl Bruessow said it was wrong to attribute the Mulanje floods to the pine eradication, as there have always been floods in Mulanje. Water from the Chambe Basin goes down the Likhubula River and there were no floods recorded from that river. Other rivers swelled but not Likhubula, said Bruessow. n

Photograph: james chimpweya

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NATION on Sunday

JUNE 2 2013

Degredation of the mountain has affected many lives

Nankhonyo: The taps were running water and ash

Who struck the match?


Kondwani Kamiyala Sub Editor
ommunities around Mulanje district last December experienced ash contamination, as water from the mountain was polluted for weeks on end. Village Headwoman Nankhonyo said soon after the first rains, water from the mountain was contaminated with ash. The taps were running with ash contaminated water. It was like some form of porridge. The ash was coming from the remains of a great forestry fire which was set by the miners to make way for

as ash contamination leads to blame game


their rare earths exploration works, said Nankhonyo. On the other hand, former MP for Mulanje Central Brown Mpinganjira pointed the finger at the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT). Our children were drinking unhealthy contaminated water, while the ones responsible for the cutting down and burning of trees on Mulanje Mountain are drinking safe water. Why should we and our children suffer like this? wondered Mpinganjira. But a report on the ash contamination sourced from Spring Stone Limiteds website indicated that between September and November 2012 heavy fires were experienced in the mountain, leading to contamination of the Likhubula River. When heavy rains began during the December 2012 rainy season, the accumulated ash was washed into the rivers. Apart from the associated remnants of fires, such as ash, charcoal and burned soil, no other pollution source has been identified in the Chambe Basin as a potential source of the contamination, reads the report. Spring Stone maintains in the report that it prohibits fire usage, except at the camp sites for cooking. It attributed the fires to illegal hunters and loggers who are targeting the Mulanje Cedar with dwindling forestry resources on the mountain. n

The taps were running with ash contaminated water. It was like some form of porridge. The ash was coming from the remains of a great forestry fire which was set by the miners to make way for their rare earths exploration.

Photographs: james chimpweya

NATION on Sunday
JUNE 2 2013

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Precious trees such as Mulanje cedar are critical for the curio industry in Malawi

Mulanje Cedar vanishing


Kondwani Kamiyala Sub Editor

alawis national tree, the Mulanje cedar, faces extinction as illegal logging and wanton bushfires threaten the tree highly valued for its fine timber, fragrance and pesticide-resistant sap. Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT) director Carl Bruessow said only six square kilometres of cedar remain on the mountain. We only have 600 hectares left. In the past few years, there were 900 hectares. The cedar is much sought after due to its high market value. One plank (17 feet by 2) can fetch up to K50 000, said Bruessow. The tree, which is endemic to Mulanje Mountain, takes between 100 and 150 years to mature and it is difficult to grow. It can easily be grown in the nursery, but to have it out there is no mean feat, said Bruessow. According to the 2007

Cambridge Journal, the first assessment of the Mulanje cedar since 1994 was commissioned by MMCT, identifying an area of 845.3 hectares of Mulanje cedar, which represents a loss of 616.7 hectares in 15 years. Of the recorded trees, 32.27 percent [37 242 cubic metres] were dead cedars. Mulanje Cedar was declared Malawis national tree in 1984. Unauthorised harvest of the tree is barred by law. According to J D Chapmans 1995 book, The Mulanje Cedar: Malawis National Tree, the scientist says the cedar is one of the finest yellow pine. It was extensively used for the roof timbers for colonial residences in Zomba and was in demand in Blantyre and the coffee estates. Mulanje cedar is an excellent construction timber, light to moderately heavy, impervious to termites and woodborers, and strongly resistant to fungal attack, says Chapman. n

Without trees, life for people such as these Mulanje curio makers would be difficult

Photograph: james chimpweya

Photograph: james chimpweya

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NATION on Sunday

JUNE 2 2013

The steep journey to Chambe


Kondwani Kamiyala Sub Editor
n May 2 2013, I joined a group of Blantyrebased journalists on a MultiChoice retreat to Mulanje to celebrate Africa. It was a timely visit in celebration of the Africa Day, which falls on May 25, since the establishment of the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU) on that day in 1963. We lodged for the night at the Hapuwani Lodge, one of the newly built landmarks in Mulanje. What struck me most was the journalists debate at the Kara OMula on why Africa is poor. One of the things that came out is that Africa may be poor because those in high places exploit the natural resources. Extraction of minerals and other resources has left the poor poorer although they live next to these vast natural resources. Such extraction has left the environment degraded. Throughout the debate, my heart was aching. As the plan was that the following morning I would go up to the Chambe Basin, where wrangles between communities and miners exploring the mountain for rare earths were raging. This would be my second climb to the spot, over 2 000 metres above sea level. When I first went there in 2001, the basin was a hive of activity, and I suggested to my editors a visit to see how the peoples lives had changed up the mountain with the exploration works. I met Albert Marumo, who would be my guide up the mountain at the rate of K3 500, at the Likhubula pools, which we visited on the journalists excursion. The plan was to start the climb at 6 oclock the following morning, when the sun was not yet up. The MultiChoice retreat

Kamiyala on his sojourn during the assignment


ended at around 10am, but I had to stay behind as my colleagues returned to Blantyre. I had to spend Saturday night in Mulanje for a rescheduled hike on Sunday morning. This time, I lodged at the Likhubula Forestry Lodge and by 6am my guide was at the door. The climb is hard and invigorating, especially towards the top. On the way, Marumo told me the people I was looking for were no longer on the mountain. They had gone elsewhere to get their bread and butter from forestry resources. It was during the hike that Marumo explained that life was becoming harder for him as a tour guide. The number of tourists was dropping. The environment was degraded and some of the people who earned a living from the mountains forestry resources were now cramming the number of guides and porters, meaning the number of times he goes up escorting visitors has gone down. The jovial Muroma told me stories of Sapitwa; of the magical food that appeared there, food which you ate without inviting friends and not to be taken home. I just heard about these stories. They have been passed on from generation to generation. Although I have been to Sapitwa for 10 times, I have not experienced any of it, he told me. Up the climb, we met some three barefoot people seated on one rock. Muroma told me they were illegal loggers. He also told me of a landslide up the mountain during the previous rainy season. We fear flush floods and landslides since the Chambe Basin now lies bare, he said. After a three-hour walk, with painful limbs, a heart beating faster and a throbbing head, we arrived at Chambe Basin. It was a bare expanse on top of the world. All the pine trees that once beautified the basin were gone. The houses that once accommodated forestry officials and sawyers were deserted. I felt sad as a group of Dutch tourists I met there agreed to a photo against the background of a charred pine forest. What went wrong? I asked myself, and the tears stung my eyes. My tears were shared by actorcum film maker Taonga Nkhonjera, who had spent the night at the hut on his way up to Lichenya, another three-hour hike. This looks like a ghost town. It was once beautiful here, he said. He was filming episodes of his upcoming film. We brought our lunch, which we ate heartily at the hut. If the climb was hard, the trek back to the foot of the mountain was harder, as the effort of applying brakes was too much. At some points, I had to literally crawl as the dizzying effort of looking at the world thousands of metres below was too demanding. It was, therefore, some relief when I finally arrived at our starting point and a visit to the Likhubula Forestry Office was necessary. The only injury I sustained, luckily, was a sprained wrist after a minor fall. The rest, as they used to say, is history. n

Photograph: kondwani kamiyala