Saturday, June 26, 2010

African Odyssee: Zomba Plateau Malawi

The first stop on our trip is Zomba Plateau. The Hogs is running well so far (only a few hours out of Blantyre) and the views from the mountain are nothing short of astounding. Today we drive to Zambia, but this special place where I spent a few Christmas Holidays with my family when I was younger and we lived in Malawi requires mentioning. It is places like Zomba where a new environmental ethos is evolving in Africa, as governments realise that forest cover is vital to retaining scarce water resources.

An indigenous tree stands at sunset on the top of Zomba Plateau, the whole mountain used to be covered in forests, but now only about 8% is left.

The view from Zomba Plateau over the southern Rift, towards gleaming Lake Chilwa and the Mulanje Massif in background under moonlight.

My travelling companion, raconteur, and environmentalist Pierre Pretorius putting out a running grass fire on Zomba Plateau. The fires ravaged the newly planted forests in the dry season, preventing new growth and hampering attempts at regeneration.

In 1958, Emperor Haile Selasie visited Malawi and stood on the top of Zomba Plateau and clearly stated the importance of forests.

"When our forests are properly conserved, they protect the fertile soil of the nation from erosion, they render the landscape green and beautiful. But when forests are neglected and gradually destroyed, the wealth of our land is progressively reduced and the country slowly becomes bare and barren"

Fires sweep the former forest lands of Zomba

What is at stake? The woodland of Zomba Plateau.

Despite this, much of Africa has become barren and bare. On Zomba Plateau itself, the forest was chopped down, and this massif, rising more than six thousand feet from the base of the southern Rift valley was ravaged by erosion and then replanted with foreign pine and other alien vegatation. Today the Malawian forestry department is busy removing the pine, and hoping that they can restore some of the indigenous forests that have been lost, securing the abundant rainfall so that the rivers once again run clean, and the waters flow all year around. The following images clearly show some of the original forest that is still left, and running grass fires that are inhibiting the restoration project.

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