IYF 2011: Reforestation of the Soche Mountain Forest Reserve in Malawi

June 29, 2011

Reforestation of the Soche Mountain Forest Reserve in Malawi

The Soche Mountain Forest Reserve in Malawi is located at the edge of the city of Blantyre in the south of the country. Due to the increasing demand from the city for forest products, the the mountain reserve has seen accelerated degradation over the last years. Trees have been cut down as unsustainable biomass based enterprises, such as fuel wood and timber extraction, beer brewing and brick firing, have proliferated in the area. Land clearing for agriculture on the slopes of the mountain was common, with the communities cultivating on the slopes lacking both technical and material support to integrate sound conservation and agronomic practices into their farming systems.

The GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP) in Malawi is supporting the Soche Mountain Land Care Extension Project, a multi-pronged community initiative aimed at restoring the ecosystem of the Soche Mountain Forest Reserve after years of destruction and neglect.

Areas still covered by vegetation that need protection (left) and areas that require rehabilitation (right).

The project is implemented by Sustainable Rural Growth and Development Initiative (SRGDI), a youth NGO. With a $41,321 grant from the SGP, the project is encouraging a participatory initiative to involve communities in the management of their natural resources. 

Area previously under cultivation on mountain slopes (left) will be left to naturally regenerate (right). And below, tree nursery activities which are run mainly by women have contributed to the bulk of restoration work on the mountain.

Through a participatory rural appraisal (PRA) facilitated by the NGO, the communities developed community-based action plans. These included re-establishing forest cover on Soche Mountain, and applying good agricultural practices on farmland just below the mountain, such as tree planting, promoting natural regeneration of endemic vegetation, soil and water conservation practices and capacity building.  

Communities (the “Friends of Soche Mountain”) from the four community conservation areas of Somba, Muleso, Misesa and Chilobwe planted a total of 46,000 trees in Soche Mountain, including species especially for agro-forestry. Agro-forestry species planted in farmers’ fields included Faidherbia albida, Senna siamea and Senna spectabilis in addition to the shrub Tephrosia vogelii. Currently, 18 hectares from the original 50 hectares without vegetation have been rehabilitated. Communities have established communal woodlots and now practice sustainable land management techniques in their own fields and homesteads. By working with community leaders the project convinced farmers to withdraw from cultivation of mountain’s slopes.

The project has also demonstrated that community conservation can bring additional benefits. This was the case for the Chilobwe Chapter of “Friends of Soche Mountain”. In this sub project the community was able to support an effort in properly harnessing potable water from a source on the mountain for use by communities. As a result, over 250 households now have access to safe drinking water, after basic treatment for sedimentation and chlorination. 

The community water kiosks are completely managed by the communities themselves using their own governance structures, and are providing additional sources of income. Part of the water supply income will be ploughed back into conservation by purchasing tree nursery inputs such as tree seeds and polythene bags.

As noted by SRGDI’s Director, Mr Maynard Nyirenda “We came to support community conservation efforts on Soche Mountain without plans to address the water problem. However, through a lengthy dialogue process, community leaders insisted that if we wanted to succeed we must provide a solution to the community’s greatest need – safe drinking water and that everything would then be under control – they were right!"
This innovative project is a positive example of how active community involvement and empowerment can lead to both conservation and livelihoods benefits. The project is benefiting the natural environment through rehabilitation of degraded lands, afforestation in community areas and mountain slopes, and enforcement of local by-laws to promote natural regeneration of vegetation cover and protect habitats of the few remaining wild animals, including hyenas and birds. The project is also benefiting communities adjacent to the mountain reserve through training on sound land management and generation of sustainable alternative livelihoods.

About the GEF Small Grants Programme

Launched in 1992, SGP supports activities of nongovernmental and community-based organizations in developing countries towards climate change abatement, conservation of biodiversity, protection of international waters, reduction of the impact of persistent organic pollutants and prevention of land degradation while generating sustainable livelihoods. Since its creation SGP has provided grants to 12,000 communities in 122 developing countries. Funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) as a corporate programme, SGP is implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on behalf of the GEF partnership, and is executed by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS).

For more info, please contact Ana Maria Currea, Knowledge Management Facilitator, GEF SGP,, 212-906-6028

As part of the GEF's support to the International Year of Forest, every month we are publishing a story about a successful GEF project that is promoting sustainable forest management, and having positive impacts on forests, climate, biodiversity and local livelihoods.