BLANTYRE-(MaraviPost) – The Blantyre Magistrate Court this week, sentenced 35 foreigners and Malawians to 18 and 12 months with hard labor, respectively for illegal logging in Lengwe National Park, in the Lower Shire district of Chikhwawa.
The convicts are two Chinese, 23 Mozambicans, and ten Malawians who were found guilty on three counts of entering into a protected area; conveying, possessing, and using prohibited weapons; and disturbing indigenous species in a protected area.
According to the Court records, the convicts were caught extracting Mopani trees from the National Park and exporting them to Mozambique for sale.
In his ruling, Chief Resident Magistrate Thom Longwe, gave the first offence to the 35, a 12-month custodial sentence, and ordered to confiscate the equipment to be given to Directorate of Parks and Wildlife and the Judiciary.
The confiscated equipment, valued at approximately US$500,000, included six tractors, a fork lift truck, a bulldozer, and a 30-tonne truck, a Land Cruiser, a Toyota Hilux, four motor bikes and a chain saw.
“The rest of the equipment should be sold by the sheriffs, and the money realized deposited into the National Wildlife Fund,” Judge Longwe ordered.
The 27 foreigners got 18-months sentences included – Xing Li, Shupei Zheng, Jose Manuel, Simao Fortunato, Hermenigildo Samuel, Harry Lucio, Haston Laiva, Jose Samuel, Danisen Gasani, Jonasi Chikalusa, Zakeyo Alnanza, Moneza Almalda, Stephano Kadendele, Jeremia Almando, Orasi Domingo, MacNiward Steve, Mateyo Simeone, James Timote, James Gerald, Bernado Lucas, Loti Fulaitoni, Tomas Agostihno, Juliao Mangira, Mfumu Kidi, Akimu Stephano, Kingsley Banda, Justine Lauli and Julio Fwambauone. The 18-month sentences are imprisonment with hard labour (IHL).
While those that received the lower sentence of 12 months are, Davite Epulani, Love Maiteni, Tenesi Isaac, Layo Kado Joao Abel, Augustine Philip, Tomasi Agostihno and Mikeyasi James.
Kate Moore of Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, observed that the equipment used in the criminal activities, reflected the scale of the operation in which roads, and paths, were cleared up to 5km from the Mozambican border, to extract the wood from deep inside Lengwe National Park. These activities, he cited, are causing substantial ecological damage.
Moore said an estimated 2000 hectares of woodland, equivalent to 2,440 football fields, had been deforested in 2016 alone, according to satellite imagery analysis of the immediate area around the arrest site in Lengwe National Park.
“Whilst the syndicate focused on large, high value Mopani trees, the associated disturbance, also destroyed the surrounding habitat of an important catchment area of the Shire River, including the loss of up to one million trees.
The roads had subsequently opened up the protected area to further degradation, and extraction from illegal charcoal burners and poachers,” Moore said.
Malawi has the highest rate of deforestation in the SADC region and one of the highest in the world.
Deforestation is a major contributor to soil erosion, river siltation, droughts, flash floods, and loss of biodiversity, which in turn, can lead to crop failure and poor human health.
Besides local demand for firewood, forests are being severely depleted by commercial logging syndicates operating illegally across Malawi in areas such as Chikangawa, Zomba and Dzalanyama.
The syndicate in question, was discovered in November 2016 by a group of seven scouts on foot patrol in the 88,000 hectare Lengwe National Park.
The new National Parks and Wildlife Act, critically amended with penalties of up to 30 years in prison, was not applied by the Courts in this case, since the date of the arrest preceded the amendment, which was passed by Parliament in January 2017.