LILONGWE-(MaraviPost)- The Malawi Government, through the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Natural Resources is set to appeal for stiffer sentenced for the 35 convicted foreigners in the illegal logging in Lengwe National Park, in the Lower Shire district of Chikwawa.

The Energy Minister Bright Msaka told The Maravi Post this week, that the eighteen months custodial sentence Blantyre Magistrate court gave to the 35 foreigner and Malawians, were not enough.

Msaka observed that although the ministry was satisfied with the whole trial, whereby the convicts were not granted bail, the sentences were not enough, considering the damage caused at the National Park.

The minister said such lenient sentences will not restore the lost trees and that with stiffer punishment it would send a strong warning those who might wish commit the same offence.

He was speaking after presiding over this year’s joint commemoration of World Biodiversity and Environmental Days, which falls on May 22 and ‪June 5‬ respectively.

The event attracted several environmental organizations, both from government and private sector; and primary school children who showcased natural resources conservation strategies.

“The custodial sentence of 18 and 12 months with hard labor for foreigners and Malawians respectively, were a starting point. But we need stiffer sentences for these convicts. This is the reason we are planning to appeal for more years in jail.

“Restoring the lost Mopane trees in that park will take almost 40 years. So, with such sentences will not mean anything to our forest recovery. Currently, we are working on prevention, than control measures. This is the reason government has recently recruited armed rangers in our protected reserves,” said Msaka.

Early this month, Chief Resident Magistrate Thom Longwe, convicted two Chinese, 23 Mozambicans and ten Malawians, for being 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.

The court records showed that the convicts were extracting Mopane trees from the National Park and exporting them to Mozambique for sale.

The confiscated equipments valued at approximately U$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.

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 arrest preceded the amendment, which was passed by Parliament in January 2017.