11/05/2015: STATEMENT BY HIS EXCELLENCY, PROF. ARTHUR PETER MUTHARIKA, PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF MALAWI AT THE 2015 CONGRESSIONAL INTERNATIONAL CONSERVATION GALA (ICCF) ON WEDNESDAY 22ND APRIL 2015, WASHINGTON D.C
- Your Excellency the First Lady of the Republic of Malawi,Madame Gertrude Mutharika,
- Mr. Chairman,
- Ladies and Gentlemen,
I feel greatly honoured to deliver a keynote address on this auspicious occasion of the 2015 Congressional International Conservation Gala (ICCG).
First of all, allow me to thank the organizers of this event for identifying as a theme international conservation. It is a known fact, that some parts of the world, are on the verge of losing most of the natural resources that sustain us, and hence the need for all of us, to work together, in ensuring that this state of affairs is reversed. It is in this context that, I agree with what former US President Theodore Roosevelt once said, that “the conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem, unless we solve that problem, it will avail us little to solve all other.”
Secondly, I am grateful that I have been accorded this opportunity, to share my thoughts on this important topic of conservation. As I do so, I will focus by way of example, on our experiences in Malawi.
Before I do so, please allow me to make a brief personal statement. This is the first time I am addressing a predominantly American audience since I assumed the Malawi Presidency in June 2014. I first arrived in this country some fifty years ago as an exile fleeing from political oppression in my native country. This country embraced me. I received my graduate education in this country and for the next forty years rose to the position of chaired professor of law at one of your local leading universities. I want to thank this country for embracing me at a very difficult time in my life. After I retired in 2009, I returned to Malawi where for the next five years I served in our national Parliament, held three cabinet portfolios and in 2014 successfully run for the presidency of Malawi.
Malawi has a population of about 17 million, and our economy is agro-based. We have a diverse natural resource base, and if properly managed, these resources will provide a sustainable socio-economic contribution to the development of the country. However, the competing needs for a growing population, industrial development, physical infrastructure and wildlife, are putting extreme pressure on the protection of the environment and the ecology. There is alarming degradation of the environment, causing significant loss of soil fertility, soil erosion, serious deforestation, water depletion, pollution and loss of biodiversity.
This is one of the contributing factors, to the worst flood in history that hit the country, in January 2015, which led to the death of 200 people, and displacement of 230,000 people, as well as destruction of infrastructure, such as bridges. It also affected our crop production. I had to declare 15 of the country’s 28 districts as disaster areas. Let me take this opportunity, to thank Governments, and other good Samaritans, both local and foreign, who assisted us.
This is why, my government, has put the conservation of natural resources, as one of its priority areas. We are aware that our life and economy, depend on these resources. And if we do not take good care of these resources, generations to come, will suffer the consequences such as the flood we experienced.
The depletion of natural resources, is a concern for sustainable development, as it has the ability to degrade current environments, but also the potential to impact the needs of future generations. As I indicated earlier, Malawi’s high population density is a crucial factor in the significant human pressure on biological resources and protected areas. And as the human population increases, the pressure to over-harvest forest and biodiversity resources, and to convert land for cultivation, will increase. This is why addressing conservation issues, and sustainable use of natural resources, in the face of rapid population growth, is one of Malawi’s greatest challenges. This is particularly relevant to Malawi’s forest reserves, and the intense pressure for the production of charcoal from these reserves, to fuel the urban communities. Fuel efficient measures to address these unsustainable resource uses are urgently required.
To address this problem, my government, embarked on a community based conservation drive. We believe that a successful management of natural resources should engage the people who are affected, and in so doing they can participate in setting or changing rules, that can protect the environment. These efforts seek to find ways of strengthening community engagement and benefit sharing from the management of national parks and forest reserves. Progress in recent years has been impressive - for example, the Department of Forestry, is expanding the use of Participatory Forest Management, as an approach, for engaging local communities in the management of forest reserves, and importantly, in sharing the benefits from such management. This approach has been supported by the World Bank in the Shire River Basin Management Program. The Department of National Parks and Wildlife has introduced a financial mechanism that enables benefit sharing of revenues, from the parks (for example from concession and gate fees) with local communities, and this mechanism is now under operation at some conservation areas. The Department is also working with communities to reduce human wildlife conflicts, and support development initiatives, around a number of protected areas. The development of nature-based tourism – which accounts for a substantial share of Malawi’s tourism sector, offers real opportunities of bringing benefits for local communities, living in and around key biodiversity-rich landscapes.
Another problem which will require concerted effort within our region, and the world over, is that of endangered species. Malawi has not been spared from crime against wildlife and we are losing a lot of wildlife due to poaching and illegal wildlife trade. For instance, Malawi’s elephant population has declined from 4,000 to 2,000 in the past fifteen (15) years due to poaching and illegal ivory trade.
Let me take this opportunity, to applaud the international community, for intensifying the ban on the ivory trade. As a signatory to the Arusha Declaration on Wildlife crime, we will continue to work with our neighbors through the existing mechanisms to ensure that fauna and flora are protected and conserved for sustainable development.
I would like to assure this gathering that in Malawi, we will carefully preserve our natural resources consisting of the land itself, lakes, rivers, forestry, wildlife, fish and minerals. It is my Government’s priority that, the effective exploitation of these resources should provide a boost to our development efforts. We look forward to the partnership between ICCF and Malawi Parliament as it will assist in educating the nation on the value of conservation and natural resources for achieving our national development goals.
I thank you all for your attention.