Course:FRST370/Projects/Judging the success of co-management in the Zomba-Malosa forest reserve, Malawi

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This case study discusses the Zomba-Malosa forest reserve located in southern Malawi. In 2006, the Improved Forest Management for Sustainable Livelihoods Programme (IFMSLP) was introduced, which was meant to facilitate the devolution of forest management to the community by promoting forest co-management projects in Malawi. This program was a result of the National Forest Policy (1996) and The Forestry Act (1997), created by the Malawi government to provide a framework for improving forest management, as well as contributing to decreasing the poverty rate in the country. The success of this program is determined by how well the IFMSLP achieves its goals/objectives as well as how the participating community members feel their forest values have enhanced because of the implementation of the program. Local communities are viewed as forest management partners and the government aims to provide guidance and training to local management committees. Although the IFMSLP has good intentions, some issues have occurred which lead to mismanagement of forest blocks in some communities.


The Zomba Plateau


  • Malawi is located in a landlocked portion of southern Africa, and is bordered by Zambia, Mozambique, and Tanzania. It is one of the least developed countries in the world, with about 40% of citizens living below the poverty line. 85% of the population lives in rural areas in Malawi, and the basis of their economy comes from agriculture and industrial activities.

Zomba-Malosa Forest Reserve

  • The Zomba region of Malawi is located in the southern part of the country. It covers around 2580 square kilometers of land, with 14.7% of that land being categorized as forest and woodlands (Chinangwa, 2014). Most members of this district only attended primary school, and only 11% have regular monetary income (Chinangwa, 2014). The Zomba-Malosa forest reserve was officially gazetted in 1924 for conservation purposes. It covers 15,756 hectares of forest and is demarcated into 12 different sized blocks. Zomba-malosa is classified as state land and therefore falls under regulatory control of the central government and the authority of the Department of Forestry (EuropeAid, n.d.). The reserve is a major source of wood energy for households, mostly in the forms of charcoal and firewood (Chinangwa, 2014). Many of the communities sell firewood as a source of income, and 90% of the districts population relies on the reserve for their livelihood. It has been difficult to find specific co-management examples in the Zomba district, other than the Mtulumu community. The district recognizes customary, private, and public land tenure systems (Chinangwa, 2014).

Previous Forest Management:

A Zomba village

History of forest management in Malawi

  • Malawi has gone through many mechanisms of forest management in the past…
    • Traditional Management: abolished in 1891
      • Local leaders have overall control over management/utilization of local forests
    • Centralized colonial management: (1891-1964)
      • Limited access and use to local communities
      • Threatened community members livelihoods
    • Decentralized postcolonial management: (1964-1985)
    • Centralized postcolonial management: (1986-1996)
    • Private ownership and management: (1965 on)
    • State and community management (since 1996)
    • Community forest management for customary forest (since 1996)
  • The creation of the National Forest Policy and The Forestry Act (1996 & 1997, respectively) recognised local communities as management partners and aims to promote community management as a means of sustainable utilization, as well as help decrease the rate of poverty through income-generating activities. This sees the communities share both the costs and benefits of forest management with the government (Malawi News Agency, 2014).

Improved Forest Management for Sustainable Livelihoods Programme (IFMSLP)

  • The IFMSLP is funded by the European Commission and is being implemented to facilitate the devolution of forest management to the community over time (Chinangwa, 2014). There are four primary objectives of the IFMSLP, which are:
    • Promotion of sustainable livelihood strategies within impact areas
    • Enhancing equitable access to forest resources by increasing the area under sustainable management arrangements
    • Strengthening governance of key forest resources
    • Enhancing communication and advocacy among stakeholder groups within the forest sector (Chinangwa, 2017).
  • These objectives will be further examined in terms of their success in the discussion section. How well the program achieves these objectives depends a lot on who you ask and what their personal values/needs are. The implementation of this program takes place at all three levels of government; national, regional, and district levels all have designated committees and officers in place which oversee the co-management progress in different forests (Chinangwa, 2014). Multiple local communities are involved, all signing management agreements with the government (Chinangwa, 2017). The activities are managed by a coordinating structure within the Department of Forestry.

Administrative arrangements

National Level

  • The Department of Forestry, which is located within the Ministry of Natural Resources Energy and Environmental Affairs (Chinangwa, 2014). Three regional forestry offices for each of the country’s regions (North, South, Central).

District Level

  • The local government and traditional community leadership (Chinangwa, 2014).
  • 26 District Forest Offices and other district forest officers.
  • Local Forest Management Board, which compiles traditional leaders, department representatives, and representatives from all block committees.

Affected Stakeholders

  • Local communities and their members are the affected stakeholders in this case study, as their livelihoods are dependent on the Zomba forest reserve. Community members in Zomba identified five criteria which they say signifies successful co-management of their forests. These five criteria are conserved forest, access to forest resources, community participation in decision making and management, establishment of community development infrastructure, and improved livelihoods (Chinangwa, 2017).

Interested Stakeholders

  • The Department of Forestry would be an interested stakeholder in this case study. Even though it is apparent they want to see co-management succeed in Zomba-malosa, at the end of the day, the forest officials and members working for the department will not have their livelihoods put in jeopardy if things were to go sideways in the forest reserve.
  • The European Commission, who funds the IFMSLP, is also an interested stakeholder. They have funded 100 percent of the project (EuropeAid, n.d.), investing around 9 million pounds into co-management in Malawi. Although that is a large investment by the EC, they seem to be more of a 'high investment, low interest' stakeholder in this case-study.
  • Some outside producers of charcoal have contributed to depletion of the reserve by allegedly conniving with Forest officials under the radar (Malawi News Agency, 2014). This makes both the charcoal producers, as well as the local forest officials interested stakeholders, because they are undermining the co-management agreement in the forest and contributing to deforestation.
  • Many farmers have begun to encroach up the Zomba reserve due to land shortages as well as its high soil fertility (Moyo, 2016). I view these farmers as interested stakeholders. Although their livelihoods are somewhat being put at risk due to land shortages, the Zomba reserve is not their original farming land, and therefore their encroachment on the reserve deems them as an interested outside stakeholder. This squatting near gazetted forests is a general problem in Malawi, since the creation of these lands has displaced many peoples, forcing them to relocate their livelihood (Moyo, 2016).


The effectiveness of co-management can vary depending on who is involved (Chinangwa, 2014). The outcomes will also depend on the pre-existing conditions of the community (Chinangwa, 2017), and the local communities must understand and interpret the program well enough to have a positive outcome. When judging the success of co-management, community members lean towards forest resource access, conservation, improved livelihoods, and to be involved in decision-making of the reserve (Chinangwa, 2017).

The Issues

  • In some cases, the committee based co-management model did not improve forest management, and in fact exasperated it (Zulu, 2008). Wide spread conservation and institutional failure was made possible by overharvesting of wood, and the weakening or collapse of local committees. (Zulu, 2008). Relationships between some committee leaders and community members had been altered due to selfish or corrupt actions taken by committee members (Zulu, 2008), and this has led to blocks going from tight, government controlled lands, to being virtually open-access after the committee had completely collapsed (Zulu, 2008). This shows the need to enhance the role and skills of traditional leaders in the community, as well as empowering the communities more so that they can hold committee members more accountable (Zulu, 2008).
  • Some community members believe that controlled access to protected areas has actually escalated conflict between local communities and management authorities, especially in areas where the local communities relies heavily upon the reserve for their livelihoods (Chinangwa, 2017). This conflict affects welfare and livelihoods and can result in overexploitation of forest resources (Chinangwa, 2017).
  • Some studies have revealed that, under co-management, the economic contribution to rural livelihoods from forest resources is very small, around only 6% (Meke, 2014). And also over half the population in Malawi believes the reforestation efforts made in co-management have been unsuccessful (Moyo, 2016).


  • In Zomba-malosa, the tree species richness in co-managed blocks is very high, while state-managed blocks have quite a low tree species richness (Chinangwa, 2017). Co-managed blocks in Zomba-malosa are under more monitoring and enforcement by the committees in charge, so there is a lower rate of human disturbance in co-managed blocks compared to state-managed blocks (Chinangwa, 2017). Community members believe that co-management has positively impacted some forest conditions such as increasing seedlings, a decline in illegal harvesting, and improved river flow and water availability (Chinangwa, 2017). The presence of fire was also 10% higher in state-managed blocks, due to more effective fire monitoring by co-management committees (Chinangwa, 2017).
  • One of the more successful stories of co-management in Zomba-malosa comes from the Mtulumu community, located in the Zomba district. Mtulumu was one of the first communities to sign a co-management agreement in 2006, with support of the IFMSLP (EuropeAid, n.d.). Since the implementation of co-management in Mtulumu, the committee and community has shown responsible management of their land, creating ten harvest coups, which are harvested according to an annual system (EuropeAid, n.d.). Once harvesting is complete, the wood is sold as firewood, construction poles, and timber. The benefits go right back to the village and are invested in development projects (EuropeAid, n.d.).


In my opinion, forest co-management in the Zomba-malosa forest reserve has shown that it can be a successful endeavour when everyone in the community is accountable and involved. I believe that more efforts need to be put into ensuring that block committees are functioning efficiently, and that the people making forest management decisions are well supported by the community members, and that they are free of corruption. This can be achieved by involving the traditional leaders of communities more, so that they can bridge the gap between 'community management' and 'committee management'. As the program currently stands though I would have to say it has been collectively unsuccessful, but a few minor adjustments made in relation to staff reliance and the management decisions being made would push the program in a very positive direction.

The main difficulty I found in this topic was the lack of information on specific communities that are involved in the co-management program in Malawi. Although many studies were done involving Zomba community members who are affected by the management strategies in the Zomba-malosa reserve, they do not make it clear which of the specific communities they are getting the responses from.


Chinangwa, L. L. R. (2014). Does co-management programme reconcile community interests and forest conservation: A case study of malawi (Order No. 10090047). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1785480562). Retrieved from

EuropeAid. (n.d.). Improving forest management to sustain livelihoods in Malawi [Brochure]. Author. Retrieved November 16, 2018, from

Government call for Forest Co-management (2014, October). Malawi News Agency. Retrieved from:

L. Chinangwa, A.S. Pullin, and N. Hockley (2017). Understanding community criteria for assessing forest co-management programmes: Evidence from Malawi. International Forestry Review 19 (1), 17-28.

Leo Charles Zulu (2008) Community Forest Management in Southern Malawi: Solution or Part of the Problem?,Society & Natural Resources, 21:8, 687-703, DOI: 10.1080/08941920802039242

Linda L. Chinangwa, Andrew S. Pullin & Neal Hockley (2017) impact of forest co-management programs on forest conditions in Malawi, Journal of Sustainable Forestry, 36:4, 338-357, DOI: 10.1080/10549811.2017.1307764

Meke, G. (2014). The contribution of forest co-management to rural livelihoods in the Zomb-Malosa reserve, Malawi. International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. Retrieved October 11, 2018, from

Moyo, G. G., Chikuni, M., & Chiotha, S. (2016). Community Knowledge in Restoring Trees in Controversial Forest Hot Spots: Case of Nkanya-Lusewa rivers catchment area in Zomba-Malosa Forest Reserve, Malawi. Open Science Journal,1(3). doi:10.23954/osj.v1i3.396

Zulu, L. (2013). Bringing people back into protected forests in developing countries: Insights from co-management in malawi. Sustainability, 5(5), 1917-1943. doi:

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