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BGCI launches new project to save Malawi's national tree

27 June 2016

Malawi’s national tree, the Mulanje Cedar, occurs naturally only on Mulanje Mountain. This valuable timber tree is now Critically Endangered as a result of over-exploitation and fire. A new project led by BGCI, the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust and the Forestry Research Institute of Malawi, will restore populations of Mulanje Cedar on the mountain and generate alternative sustainable income sources for communities relying on the timber.

Mulanje Mountain

The Mulanje Cedar (Widdringtonia whytei) is endemic to Mulanje Mountain in Malawi. This unique tree produces valuable timber that is durable, termite-proof and used for construction and wood-carving. Its value has led to overexploitation and very few Mulanje Cedar trees remain standing on the mountain. This has resulted in a loss of income for communities living around the mountain, increased soil erosion and floods due to rapid water run-off from the mountain during rainy seasons.

The tree is now Critically Endangered and at risk of extinction in its natural environment if action is not taken soon.

BGCI and lead partners the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT) and the Forestry Research Institute of Malawi (FRIM) have secured funding from the UK government’s Darwin Initiative for a three year project that will work with foresters, botanists, NGOs, governments, academics and local communities to replant and restore cedar populations on Mulanje Mountain. Experts from the BGCI and Global Trees Campaign networks the Ecological Restoration Alliance of Botanic Gardens will provide technical support to the project.

The project will set up community nurseries around the mountain, generating a supply of seedlings for restoration on Mulanje Mountain. Trial plots will be set up across Malawi to determine optimal climatic and edaphic conditions for growing Mulanje Cedar.

A publicity campaign will highlight the value of Mulanje Cedar conservation to local people, with the aim to increase protection, reduce illegal harvesting of remaining and replanted populations, and reduce the number of intentionally started fires on the mountain. The campaign will also promote Mulanje Cedar as a timber resource that can be grown at household to plantations scales across Malawi, developing a new market for Mulanje Cedar seedlings.

By increasing demand for seedlings, the nurseries set up in this project will become self-sustaining with communities around the mountain generating an income from alternative sources to timber harvesting. 

A meeting was held in Mulanje on 6th June 2016, to share the project objectives with all participating stakeholders, including the Forestry Department, the District Commissioner, traditional leaders and the media.

The project was officially opened by Ceclia Chauluka, the Zone Manager (South) for Malawi's Department of Forestry, who welcomed the project:

"We give thanks to the funders of the project and all implementing partners, and most of all to the traditional leaders present today who's collaboration will help make this project a success."

Traditional leaders planting a Mulanje Cedar seedling at the project launch

Women from communities living around Mulanje Mountain celebrating the launch of the new project

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