· 28% of Malawi is under forest cover.
· Forest resources are under threat due to the following:
o Poor ecosystem governance
o Unsustainable resource use
o Global warming and climate change
o Demographic pressure
o Agricultural expansion
o Uncontrolled fires
o Inadequate awareness on the values of forest biodiversity
o Invasion of alien species and many more
· Malawi offers enabling policies and legislation and has institutional structures that allow NGO and private sector involvement in natural resources management.
· There are few forests that still remain in Malawi, these are fast being resized or going extinct and yet conservation of these few forests become increasingly important to maintain the ecosystem functions and save the few trees and other life forms that exist therein.
· One key conservation effort in place is educating the rural communities that surround the forest reserve as well as communicating educating and raising awareness to the nation as a whole.
David Nangoma, Programme Officer, Malawi.
Reconstructing the picture of Malawi’s landscape ten or twenty years back, compare that with one of today, one wonders where the missing link is. The countryside is laid bare in many cases and in some parts the land does not even attract the interest of the commonest bird or insect. Wastelands are commonplace.
The few forests that still remain are fast being resized or going extinct and yet conservation of these few forests become increasingly important to maintain the ecosystem functions and save the few trees and other life forms that exist therein. Many efforts are in place to mitigate these losses, amongst which are the efforts by the Mulanje Mountain Biodiversity Conservation Project funded through the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust in Malawi.
One key conservation effort in place is educating the rural communities that surround the forest reserve as well as communicating, educating and raising awareness to the nation as a whole. Within this context, MMCT employs several communication channels in order to educate, raise awareness and understanding amongst communities about the value and importance of Mulanje Mountain Forest Reserve (MMFR).
A survey was carried out to assess the efficacy of our education and communications strategies which to some degree were meant to identify appropriate communications channels and measure impact of those already tested. Five categories of communication which are prominent within the operations of MMCT are highlighted and their impact(s) outlined. These are Print Media, Electronic Media, Shirt Messaging; Sports infotainment and Social infotainment.
With posters, newsletters and calendars it has been indicated that people have been able to read and understand what the MMCT is doing and the roles that communities should take. However, the impact or effectiveness of this channel cannot be effectively quantified since it is only people who are literate who can read the messages.
Between reading and changing how they do things to assist with conservation was difficult to measure. The questions one would need to address are: have these channels affected or effected people’s knowledge, attitude and practice in respect of the MMFR or any forest reserve; or what impact have these channels had to the communities in the way they view the reserve?
Nonetheless, two communication tools, namely leaflets and fliers, seem to have been known by few individuals and therefore can as well be considered ineffective; in some cases, these were reportedly being used for packaging some fish at market places. One parent from Phalombe area said: “Fliers and leaflets are meant for school boys and girls and not elders.” This understanding proposes that MMCT has to segment communication channels with reference to specific stakeholders and rural community participation groups.
The electronic media, principally radio and TV, has played a significant role in educating the masses. This is so because people have now been excited with the introduction of many radio stations and television. However, between TV and radio, most communication was received through radio.
It was noted that not many people access communication and educational messages through TV because it can only be afforded by those connected to the national power grid. In addition, it was contended that it is easy to listen to radio because it does not require physical sitting as is the case with TV.
The electronic media is a powerful channel, except it requires that sustainable and cheap modes of power are made available to the local communities. MMCT is in the process of installing sustainable sources of energy – renewable energy to address this shortfall.
Observations indicate that radio broadcasts, for example, have much more impact if they are backstopped with authoritative, village based interpersonal sources, and group media can benefit from both radio and interpersonal communication support. It is evident from other scholars that well-designed communication campaigns usually involve broadcasting; village based group media, and intensively trained field workers.
The general rule of thumb emerging from two decades of field experience is to use multiple channels, wherever possible, so that each medium reinforces and multiplies the importance of the others in an integrated network.
Jingles on the radios have not been successful in conveying the MMFR conservation messages however. With simple messages, print media like posters and pamphlets have been regarded as good reminders or reinforcers of broadcasts, and interpersonal sources. It is also apparent that group media combinations have proven strikingly productive at the grassroots level implying that its adoption is worthwhile.
The advantage of this strategy is that it establishes a two-way flow of information with an audience and the possibility for immediate feedback as the presentation unfolds. Central points are immediately reemphasized, remedial information provided where needed, and discussions started with a view toward putting the recommended changes into practice.
Shirt Messaging etc
On the category of shirt-messaging, the findings showed that the use of T-Shirts as a communication tool with regard to conservation issues was somewhat debatable, at best not effective and expensive. Contrary to the philosophy of involving much of school boys and girls in the MMCT programmes, it was clear that the use of branded ball pens has low influence on the raising of the awareness about the MMFR.
MMCT tried infotainment through sponsorship of sports tournaments as one of the communication channels which MMCT has used in the past 10 years. This channel proved that football for males had the greatest influence on attracting the local communities to a one common place where environmental messages could be shared and discussed.
However, its impact could only be measured by the change in people’s attitude towards addressing forest conservation issues. It was difficult to measure this indicator. Netball as sport was also a crowd puller but not so much as football. However, owing to the difficulty to measure impact, this communication channel is being challenged by some stakeholders.
Through hosting of important national and global events such as the World Environment Day, World Biodiversity Day and many others, MMCT has also taken the opportunity to educate and raise people’s awareness on issues of protecting the MMFR. The findings indicate that commemorations and special events have a remarkable impact on the dissemination of MMCT conservation messages across the local communities.
The primary purpose of most commemorations events is to stimulate action on problems requiring short-term or simple solutions which in turn often serve as the thin-end of the wedge toward embarking on broader, long term development goals. As such, commemorations are normally information-intense with messages being repeated over and over in “high frequency" advertising fashion, using a diversity of channel formats from radio spots and jingles to field worker demonstrations.
In a drive to attain a long-term sustainable economic and social development of the boundary communities of MMFR, MMCT incorporate all people involved from different age-groups. Young school-going kids have been targeted through school-based environmental clubs. This intervention has proven most successful with action on the ground.
Background Information on Malawi and the forestry sector
Malawi is situated in Central Africa, south of the Equator, with a land area of 118,000Km2 that includes part of Lake Malawi. It has an estimated population of 13 million people. The vegetation is predominantly miombo (Brachystegia) woodland, with drier woodlands in the south, montane forest and grassland at higher elevations, and patches of lowland forests on the shores of the northern part of Lake Malawi and on the lower slopes of Mount Mulanje. The natural vegetation of Malawi is dominated by deciduous miombo woodlands and some important sites are protected areas as either forest reserves or national parks.
About 28% of the country is under forest cover. These forests exist in public, customary and private land. The forest resources are spread unevenly. The Northern Region contains 40 percent of the nation’s forest area with 12 percent of the population living in the region. On the other hand, the Southern Region where 50 percent of the population lives, contains only 30 percent of the forest area. The Central Region accounts for another 30 percent of the forest area.
· Forest resources are under threat due to the following
· Poor ecosystem governance
· Unsustainable resource use
· Global warming and climate change
· Demographic pressure
· Agricultural expansion
· Uncontrolled fires
· Inadequate awareness on the values of forest biodiversity
· Invasion of alien species and many more
Malawi offers enabling policies and legislation and has institutional structures that allow NGO and private sector involved in natural resources management. There are also several international institutions working in the country supporting the natural resources sector. Some of them are: ICRAF, DFID, GTZ, JICA, EU, USAID, World Bank, FAO and UNDP just to name a few. These institutions provide technical and financial backstopping to the natural resources sector through Government Departments and Non Governmental Organizations.
· Increase target audience’s awareness and knowledge of the environment, their ecosystem and related issues through mass media.
· Frontline staff to demonstrate or illustrate environmental and natural resources management skills.
Reinforce knowledge, attitudes, and positive behavior related to enhancing appropriate management of natural resources using indigenous knowledge.