U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Remarks at Bonn Challenge Ministerial

U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Andrew Herrup

Opening Remarks – Bonn Challenge Ministerial

July 12, 2017

Lilongwe, Malawi


  • All Honorable Ministers here present,
  • Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining of the Republic of Malawi Honorable Bright Msaka,
  • The Head of Division for Forest Conservation and Climate in the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Dr. Horst Freiberg,
  • International Union for Conservation of Nature Regional Director, Mr Luther Bois Anukur,
  • The Global Director, Nature Based Solutions, International Union for Conservation of Nature, Mr. Stewart Maggins,
  • The Chief Director, Environment and Climate Change, Dr. Yanira Ntupanyama,
  • The Chairman, Parliamentary Committee On Natural Resources, Environment And Climate Change, Honorable Welani Chilenga
  • Members of the Press
  • Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

 I am very pleased to join you this morning for the launch of two very important and inter-related Malawian strategies: the National Forest Landscape Restoration Strategy and the National Charcoal Strategy.

The United States Government is proud of its role in providing technical assistance to the Government of Malawi to develop these two groundbreaking plans.

Together these two strategies, once implemented and enforced, will enable Malawi to meet its commitments to the Bonn Challenge to restore 4.5 million hectares of degraded lands before 2030.

In meeting this challenge, Malawi will also help the region meet its commitments to the African Forest Restoration Initiative.

But today’s event is not only about Malawi. The work we do in Malawi will influence the entire eco-system of southern Africa. Your commitments to improve land management will improve food security, increase electricity production, and enhance the economic security of millions of Africans across the region.

Today I will share three brief points.

 My first point: You are addressing a serious problem.  Using wood and charcoal as a primary fuel source tangibly degrades the environment and undercuts economic growth. 

  • More than 97% of Malawian households rely on charcoal and fuelwood as their primary cooking fuel.
  • Malawi has lost more than fifty percent of its forest cover since 1970 because of rapid population growth and an over-reliance on wood for energy.
  • An over-reliance on wood for energy means fewer trees to keep top soil in place. In Malawi, an estimated 29 metric tons of soil per hectare are lost each year, substantially reducing the productivity of croplands.  Deforestation exacerbates food insecurity.

This also costs Malawians money.  When people over rely on wood for fuel, they spend more time searching for wood and less time on economically productive activities.  According to a recent study, between 2001 and 2009, Malawi’s overreliance on fuelwood and other sources of land degradation cost Malawi an estimated $244 million U.S. dollars, or more than 170 billion Malawian Kwacha.

My second point:  as you implement the strategies to meet your commitments to the Bonn Challenge, remember that your hard work directly benefits your fellow citizens.

 To illustrate this point, let me share a story about Merifa Muvwera, a 25 year old mother of nine children, who lives in Mzimba District of Malawi. Every morning the smell of smoke fills Merifa’s home as she prepares nsima to feed her nine children.  Because of the smoke from the wood fire, three of Merifa’s children have chronic coughs.  Sometimes the coughs go away – sometimes they get worse.

After breakfast, Merifa sets out to find firewood. Merifa remembers a time when firewood was readily available.  Her mother would spend perhaps an hour gathering firewood each day.  Now the trees are almost gone.  Three hours later, Merifa emerges from a dusty footpath with a load of firewood perfectly balanced on her head.

Imagine for a moment the agonizing trade-offs Merifa contends with every day.  The three hours she spends gathering fuelwood on many mornings represents three hours that she doesn’t have available to care for her children, to tend to her crops or to learn to read.

Unfortunately, stories like Merifa’s play out hundreds of thousands of times on a daily basis all across Africa and the world.  If you are successful in implementing your strategies, Merifa will one day have more options.  Perhaps that means she will have access to reliable electricity to power a stove or a nearer and more sustainable source of fuelwood.

My last point:  the successful implementation of initiatives such as the National Charcoal and Landscape Restoration strategies requires bold action – now.

  • Enforcement of existing laws and regulations, particularly those that concern state forest reserves and plantations, creates the incentives needed to promote sustainable energy production and land management. Enhanced enforcement will require strong cooperation across many arms of your governments including the judiciary, the police, and key line ministries.  This effort includes acknowledging and addressing issues of malfeasance and corruption.
  • Act now to expand energy alternatives for Africans – move away from using wood as a primary source of energy. Here in Malawi, the U.S. Government Millennium Challenge Corporation’s $350 million investment in electricity infrastructure will go a long way to help Malawians replace wood as their primary fuel source.  This approach can serve as a model for others in southern Africa.  Continue your work to expand and improve access to energy – particularly renewables such as solar and hydropower – across Africa, establish electricity interconnections with your neighbors, and continue to explore off-grid options for expanding electricity access to rural areas.
  • Act now to address issues contributing to Africa’s unsustainable population growth. As population has grown so has deforestation.  Continue your work to educate girls and young women so they can stay in school longer; keep educating girls about sexual and reproductive health options; and continue to help keep mother and children healthy. Without these interventions, there will never be enough wood or other natural resources in Malawi and elsewhere to meet the needs of an ever-growing population.
  • Work with the private sector to maximize your efforts. In Malawi, successful public-private partnership concessions in the Viphya Forest and elsewhere demonstrate the win-win economic potential of sustainable wood production systems. These partnerships are producing significant volumes of sustainably harvested biomass while creating employment and new revenue for Government.

 In closing – I want to leave you with these thoughts:

As you know, current global practices are not sustainable.

Remember people like Merifa who ultimately have the most to gain from your actions to meet your commitments.

The time to act boldly is now:  enforce current laws and regulations to protect Africa’s forests, provide greater access to electricity to reduce dependence on fuelwood, expand private sector partnerships to help protect your forest reserves, and continue to address unsustainable population growth to lessen the strain on Africa’s fragile environment.

To the Government of Malawi, I want to repeat the U.S. government commitment to you.  The United States stands ready to assist you to help meet your commitments to the Bonn Challenge.  Your efforts will benefit Malawi, benefit the region, and benefit Africa.  I wish you good luck.

Zikomo Kwambiri