These are thousands of people living in areas around the protected Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, Vwaza Wildlife Reserve and Nyika National Park.
Operating under two umbrella organizations, Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve Association (NAWIRA) and Nyika-Vwaza Association (NVA), the communities ‘sell’ carbon gas to Microsoft through a firm called Terra Global Capital of the United States of America.
“In 2015, we started selling carbon. Proceeds from this initiative have assisted us to construct an office, buy a vehicle, motorcycles, computers as well as other office materials. We have managed to recruit a total of twelve employees,” said NAWIRA Board Chairperson, Senior Chief Nthondo of Ntchisi district.
Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve Park Manager David Nangoma is impressed that under NAWIRA, communities who are working with the Department of Parks and Wildlife, as well as African Parks in Nkhotakota, Ntchisi, Kasungu and Mzimba districts, now have technical expertise to continue accessing global funding in carbon trading while they protect forests.
Carbon trade is defined as the buying and selling of credits that permit a company (especially global multinationals) or other entity to emit a certain amount of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases. The carbon credits and the carbon trade are authorized by governments with the goal of gradually reducing overall carbon emissions and mitigating their contribution to climate change. This trade is mainly occurring between companies in developed countries and those in developing states.
According to Nangoma, Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve is one of the globally recognized carbon sinks where tons of the gas are from time to time identified during quantification.
The community members are rewarded for their significant role in planting and protecting millions of trees in the wildlife reserve that in turn absorb carbon in the atmosphere.
Nangoma disclosed that NAWIRA recently received about MK60 million (U$60, 000) and a landmark package of about MK700 million (U$ 688, 000) has just been approved, all through Kulera Project.
“They would get that money to support communities implement projects that are to do with the economic livelihood, including environmental activities like planting trees around the protected areas. NAWIRA at the moment is sitting on a fund that is coming of about $680, 000, which is going to assist them to build an eco-lodge. The lodge will be making money which will be going back to the communities,” said Nangoma.
He hailed NAWIRA, saying it has proven to be well organized for the global carbon market over the years.
Using their share from the proceeds, people in Mwalawatongole area, situated at a distance of five kilometers from the wire fence of Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, established a village forest which now assists them in beekeeping, among other environmental activities.
They have also ventured in legume cultivation and livestock production, according to 43-year-old Alepha Njawo of Tongole village which is under the area of Traditional Authority Mphonde in Nkhotakota district.
“NAWIRA sells carbon. Proceeds are used to support our economic livelihood. For instance, this farming season, the organization has given me 20 kilograms of groundnut seed and ten chickens. I expect to harvest over 15 bags of groundnuts,” she said in an interview.
In the area of Senior Chief Nthondo in Ntchisi district, 40-year-old Constance Chivuta of Ngopi Village, is one of the community members benefiting from the initiative. She received 20 kilograms seed of soybean and she harvested 10 bags of 50kgs each last growing season.
“We plant trees in our village to stop depending on the forest reserve for fuelwood. With support from NAWIRA, I am now able to pay school fees for my child; I have constructed a better house, and I have ventured into livestock production,” she said.
Director of the Department of Parks and Wildlife Brighton Kumchedwa says his office has adopted a new policy which encourages community participation in wildlife protection while enabling the targeted people to benefit from economic livelihood enhancement programs.
For this reason, he said, environmental conservation activities such as those being done under Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve Association are vital.
“What we want is communities to feel that being close to a protected area is not a burden but rather something that can benefit them,” explained Kumchedwa.
Environmental conservation activities under Kulera Project started in the country in 2009, with the initial five years being supported by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through Total Land Care, according to Local Coordinator for the project Alphius Lipiya.
Kulera targets 65,000 households (about 500,000 people) in rural communities within a border zone of 5 kilometers from the boundaries of Nyika National Park, Vwaza Wildlife Reserve and Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve.
“It was in 2015 that the program started generating funding through climate finance to support its on-going implementation. The Department of National Parks and Wildlife partnered with two community associations [NAWIRA and NVA] as well as Terra Global and later African Parks to successfully implement the country’s first REDD+ Program,” recalled Lipiya.
He said through the joint implementation of the program, parties have gained knowledge and capacity to deliver on the verification of emission reductions for generation of the required financing.
The Kulera Local Project Coordinator added that Terra Global Capital assisted them to find a buyer – Microsoft – after conducting forest inventories, validation and verification.
A report by Terra Global on its 2021 assessment recommends that these initiatives be expanded in the country. It was provided to government through the departments of Forestry and National Parks and Wildlife, and now awaits approval according to Lipiya.
During the 2023/2024 national budget presentation in the Malawi Parliament on Thursday, Minister of Finance Sosten Gwengwe said government will operationalize the Carbon Credit Trading Market under the Malawi Carbon Markets Initiative - MCMI.
He said President Lazarus Chakwera has appointed an inter-ministerial panel to aid the Cabinet with supervision on carbon markets.
Gwengwe further said as minister of finance he is an appointed champion for this initiative and has authorized an exercise to engage prospective investors and development partners to raise resources for smooth operations of the MCMI.
“Malawi has vast land resources, including mountains covered by forests occupying about 35 percent of land area. With this, Malawi has a lot of potential for carbon sequestration,” observed Gwengwe.
While there seems to be strong political will for the nation to benefit from carbon trade, environmentalist Mathews Malata is concerned that issues of carbon marketing are handled with secrecy in the country.
“The government should be seen to be more transparent in the way it wants to establish this carbon scheme in Malawi. The other thing is that we are losing our forests at very alarming rates. These people that want to trade in carbon want us to present healthy forests; that is how we can generate revenue,” he said in his reaction to the budget statement.
Malata was also puzzled that government seems to be more focused on business than environmental conservation in its carbon marketing approach.
“It happened with carbon tax; they introduced carbon levies but the money is not being taken back into the environment. If you look at the tone that is coming on this carbon trading initiative, I don’t think the intention is to invest back into the environment,” claimed Malata.