More than 2000 trees have been felled since 2019 at Universal industries forest in Njuli.
According to James Ng’oma, the farm manager of the company, after the closure of a branch of the company in the area in 2018, close to 700 people from the surrounding areas became unemployed and wanton cutting down of trees increased.
“Most people from the surrounding areas were employed at the company, they were able to take care of their families. But now the industry is closed, many families are lacking basic needs to take care of their families. So they started taking down the trees in the forest to sell so that they can get their basic needs,” he said.
Ng’oma added that after he discovered that people were cutting, he engaged youth to help the company in securing the forest but things didn’t go as expected because some youth became corrupt and started selling the trees to their relatives and friends.
Later, Universal Industries employed about 30 guards to secure the forest but the situation did not change as the villagers continued taking down the trees in the forest.
Ng’oma said they have since engaged the police and chiefs to help them to secure the forest.
However, one of the guards working at the company claimed that the farm manager is the one who started felling and selling trees to some people in surrounding areas.
He said: “As a result, my fellow guards join him in selling the trees and then, the villagers also started cutting down the trees.”
One of the villager whom Malawi24 found cutting down a tree said that he had been respecting the forest but decided to start felling trees after noticing that Universal Industry employees were doing the same.
He said people from different areas flock to the forest to buy trees at the company.
On the day Malawi24 visited the forest, police officers were also spotted moving around in the forest inspecting trees.
The forest is surrounded by villages from Tradition Authority Mpama in Chiradzulu and Traditional Authority Machinjiri in Blantyre.
Group village head Dokotala, from TA Mpama said that all the people who are taking down the trees in the forest are doing that because of ignorance.
“All those who are cutting down trees from that forest carelessly, without replacing them, they do not know the importance of trees to our lives.
“Here at Njuli we have our own weather. The trees they are cutting down from the forest were providing us with good air as well as favorable weather conditions to our crops. But now all those trees are gone, the villagers should expect bad weather to both their lives as well as crops.
“There are many rivers in the forest that were there by the support of the forest, and now the forest is gone, so soon the rivers will disappear,” he said.
Dokotala further said that in his village he advised people not to take part in taking down the trees in the forest but they should be helping in securing trees from the forest.
Village headman, Kasema from TA Machinjiri in Blantyre added that it is sad to see how the villagers from his village and other villages are taking down the trees.
He said: “The villagers forget that it is the same forest where they get local medicine when they are sick, it is the same forest where they get food for their animals and it is the same forest where they get wood.”