LILONGWE-(MaraviPost)- The Malawi Government, through the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Natural Resources has set aside 4.5 million hectares to meet the Bonn Challenge and AFR100 targets in a bid to restore Malawi’s biodiversity.

The commitment comes amid the rude awakening of how vast deforestation has contributed to the country’s loss of biodiversity, soil fertility that has affected food production and security; theres also the increase in siltation resulting in low hydro power output, consequently affecting the energy industry.

Therefore, restoring degraded and deforested land in Malawi will help to achieve food security, improve quality water supply and addressing effects of climate change including floods, drought, hailstorms, among others.

The restoration process also means addressing the growing demand for charcoal and negative impacts of unsustainable charcoal production.

This is the reason Malawi this week hosted the first-ever Regional Southern Africa Bonn Challenge (SADC+), a high level ministerial conference in Lilongwe. The aim of the Conference, was to explore ways to step up efforts to restore depleted forests.

The conference was part of a global initiative agreed to recently in Bonn in German, and it seeks to restore 350 million hectares of forest cover worldwide by the year 2030.

The African region, which has been hard-hit by the effects of environmental plunder, is gunning to implement the initiative under the African Forest Landscape Restoration (AFR100).

The AFR 100 plan represents the continent’s pledge under the Bonn Challenge to plant 100 million hectares of forests cover in the next decade.

Setting the pace, Malawi took advantage of the meeting to launch two documents on National Forest Landscape Restoration Strategy (NFLRS), and the National Charcoal Strategy (NCS).

The forestry strategy outlines how recommendations from a Restoration Opportunity Assessment, can be applied taking into account the interdependency of various sectors, while the charcoal strategy seeks to address the country’s overdependence on charcoal as a source of domestic energy.

In an interview with The Maravi Post after closing of the two day-meeting on Friday, Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining Bright Msaka disclosed that 4.5 million hectares set aside are the Malawi Government’s total commitment towards the Bonn Challenge targets.

Msaka observed that the Bonn Challenge is a global call for action, after seeing the deterioration in water quantity and quality, high levels of soil erosion, decreased soil fertility, ecological imbalance, loss of biodiversity, reduced harvests, hunger, and worsening poverty.

“Malawi has suffered the brunt of forest degradation and deforestation over the years, due to charcoal production and unsustainable farming practices, is under the challenge, committed to restore 4.5 million hectares of forest cover, an ambitious but achievable feat,” Msaka said.

“Therefore, the launch of the two documents, the NFLRS, and the NCS, confirms the country’s total commitment towards restoring the degraded natural resources to its original status. It’s my appeal therefore, to the citizens of this country, to support the implementation of the policies to achieve the ambitious plan,” urges Msaka.

The charge d’affaires at the US Embassy in Malawi, Andrew Herrup, described the launch of the two strategies as ground breaking in restoring loss of biodiversity.

Herrup said the two policy documents will boost Malawi’s efforts towards achieving the targets of the Bonn Challenge.

“The 97 percent of the population relies on charcoal and wood as sources of energy. Malawi therefore needs to push harder to provide greater access to electricity, in order to pull itself out of the quagmire.

“Implementation of the US$351 million Millennium Challenge Compact, Malawi will have a strengthened and expanded power sector, which in turn will provide citizens with the much-needed electricity for domestic and industrial use,” said Herrup.

In his remarks, the African Union’s (AU’s) Coordinator of the Great Green Wall Initiative, Dr. Elvis Paul Tangem, said drought and hunger have pushed levels of acute malnutrition to 37 percent in Kenya, while lack of water and vegetation is putting the lives of both people and animals at risk in Zimbabwe.

Tangem added that countries should consider redirecting their funding for chemical fertilizers to initiatives that can help promote development of sustainable natural fertilizer trees and plants.

Countries that have committed to AFR100 initiative (the regional Bonn Challenge Platform in Africa) include: Burundi, Benin, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Guinea, Sudan, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Senegal, Togo, Tanzania and Uganda.

About 75.3 million hectares of land has been pledged in support of the AFR100 goal by 2020.