Tackle deforestation from the ground up

Australia Awards Alumnus Samson Ngutwa is a change agent. Although he holds a high-level position as Deputy Director of Cabinet Services at the Office of the President and Cabinet in Malawi, Samson understands the importance of driving change from the bottom up.

A recipient of a Scholarship funded by the Australian Government, through which he completed a Masters degree in Development Practice at the University of Queensland in 2007, Samson knew he would require buy-in at the community level in order to take on the critical issue of deforestation in Malawi.

“I wish to thank the Australian Government for the experience and opportunity that have allowed me to engage more meaningfully with the community. I am applying what I learned in my studies in Australia,” enthused Samson.

With funding from the Australia Awards Small Grants Scheme, Samson partnered with the local community, Likuni Girls Secondary School and the US-based University of California,  Davis, to tackle the rampant deforestation that is affecting villages near Lilongwe, Malawi.

Dzalanyama Forest Reserve, a source of major rivers in the area, is currently endangered and the Chinsapo Forest is slowly dying.

Through the Small Grants Scheme, a feasibility study was undertaken, which examined energy use and firewood business in the affected areas. The study sought to collect baseline data to inform the design of a future project on alternative sources of energy.

The study consulted with 270 community members through a survey, 22 traditional leaders through focus groups and several other stakeholders through a participatory process.

The study was completed in February 2013 and provided a detailed analysis on the various factors and actors involved in deforestation for energy use, and the reliance on wood for cooking and lighting.

The study also put forward recommendations for alternative efficient energy solutions that could be adopted by the community. Study findings were published in prominent national media outlets, further highlighting the need to find effective solutions to the issue.

Samson’s drive to effect positive change is evident on the ground. He is currently leading negotiations with the community and the University of California, Davis, on the implementation of the next phase of the project.

A firm believer in the adage “teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime,” Samson is committed to helping people find sustainable pathways to breaking the poverty cycle.

“During the study, we emphasised the concept of self-help, which is based on finding solutions that will be managed and implemented by the communities themselves,” says Samson.

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