Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Malawi's Forests

A waterfall fills a small forest pool, deep in an ancient African hardwood forest.

I am sitting here, editing, with thousands of ideas and images and facts in my head. With my trip into Mozambique two days ago, I have cut my time for getting this edit done a bit short, but it was worth it.

On my way back I stopped off near Mount Mulanje, just over the Mozambican border. In amongst the tee plantations on the flanks of this massive mountain, a few rare stands of ancient hardwood forest still cast their shadows. In a hidden, secret place, is a crystal pool filled by a clear small waterfall. It reminded me again why I am doing this project. Forests are worth saving, they give us water, they give us fuel, they give us a peace of mind that simply defies description. In amongst the carbon trading lingo gobbledy-gook and the convoluted logic of the various agreements and amendments, it is vital not lose site of the facts. Forests are disappearing, we are cutting them down, and we need them.

William Kamkwamba has become somewhat famous. He is the boy who built a windmill in his rural Malawian village, one that generates electricity, out of old car parts. He has appeared in many newspapers, and has put out a very good book, called The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind.

Every time I drive the airport road in Blantyre I pass William's old windmill, or one just like it at least. It reminds me to always remember what is possible, and even if you are dirt poor, have little education, and fewer prospects, you too can come up with an idea to change the world.

William has this say about deforestation on Page 77 of his very good book:

"Few people realize this, but cutting down the trees is one of the things that keeps us Malawians poor. Without the trees, the rains turn to floods and wash away the soil and all its minerals. The soil - along with loads of garbage, - runs into the Shire River, clogging up the dams with silt and trash and shutting down the turbine. Then the power plant has to stop all operations and dredge the river, which in turn causes power cuts. And because this process is so expensive, the power company has to charge extra for electricity, making it even more difficult to afford. So with no crops to sell because of drought and floods, and with no electricity because of clogged rivers and high prices, many people feed their families by cutting down trees for firewood or selling it for charcoal. It's like that."

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