Developing sustainable long-term management of Malawi’s natural resources

Kirsty Scott

6 July 2023

This is an article from the CSC Development Theme: Strengthening resilience and response to crises

After getting the skills and knowledge from my scholarship, I’m now able to provide direction and guidance in terms of how we manage natural resources in Malawi and how to come up with enabling policies that will give us direction in terms of the sustainable management of Malawi.

Peter Mmora

The Malawi 2063 (MW2063) outlines the vision and aspirations the country hopes to achieve by 2063. The strategy is anchored on three key pillars: agriculture productivity and commercialisation; industrialisation; and urbanisation, with an overarching aim to become a youth-centric, inclusive wealth creating, and self-reliant nation by 2063.

Malawi has rich natural resources which play a crucial role in the country’s economy and MW2063 goals. Core to achieving the vision of this strategy is ensuring sustainable environmental management to support the long-term success of agricultural activities and industrialisation. The Environmental Management Act 2017 outlines the importance of environmental management within the context of conservation and sustainable utilisation of natural resources.

Commonwealth Alumnus Peter Mmora is the Principal Environmental Officer in the Department of Environment in the Government of Malawi. He is responsible for developing strategic frameworks and projects to improve natural resource management in Malawi, whilst ensuring sustainable environmental management and mitigating the impact of climate change, as outlined in the Act. Alongside this, he is also a national coordinator on the phase out of ozone-depleting substances in Malawi under the Montreal Protocol.

Creating sustainable energy in Malawi

Malawi has rich natural resources that play an important role in supporting and developing the national economy. Historically poor natural resource management has meant that exploitation of these resources has not been conducted in a sustainable way and environmental degradation and climate change pose serious risks to the economy.

“Environmental sustainability is taken as an enabler. For us to achieve economic development, we must make sure that our environment is managed properly. If we don’t manage our resources sustainably, then we have challenges in terms of development.”

In his current role, Peter oversees general environmental management in Malawi, encompassing water and land resources, biodiversity, and waste management to name a few. Under the umbrella of the Environmental Management Act 2017, each department and sector are responsible for ensuring their activities are compliant with the environmental standards outlined.

Peter describes his role as a planner, providing policy direction to each department and sector to ensure their activities and programmes are implemented in an environmentally sustainable way. Working across different departments, Peter can identify where actions taken by teams may conflict with or undermine the environmental planning implemented by others and advise on alternative approaches to safeguard against environmental degradation.

Part of this work includes monitoring and evaluating the programmes implemented and following up on risks identified. For example, Peter monitors the impact of programmes in the fishery sector, analysing the size of catches and if numbers are increasing and decreasing, the causes of this, and whether additional measures need to be implemented to manage environmental and sustainability risks.

How the Commonwealth Scholarship has aided new approaches

Peter chose to pursue his Master’s in Environment and Development at the University of Leeds to better understand the link between environmental management and development and ways in which new approaches and policies could be developed for Malawi.

“The scholarship assisted me a lot in terms of acquiring skills and knowledge on how to plan in terms of environmental management and the inter-linkages between environment and development.”

This knowledge is crucial in his role developing policies and frameworks for projects which will promote the integration of environmental issues. His Master’s exposed him to new ways of thinking about the planning process and how to embed development and environmental policy and governance into interventions.

As part of his course, Peter also looked at the international debates and perspectives on the intersections between development and environment. This involved understanding the various multilateral environmental agreements Malawi is involved in how national policies support these.

Due to his experience, Peter has been involved in the development and revision of key environmental policies. He is currently in the process of revising the 2004 environmental policy to bring it inline with current and emerging environmental challenges, in particular those related to climate change, and the overarching Environmental Management Act 2017.

Peter notes that the population growth between 2004-2023 and the increase in climate shocks experienced in Malawi have exposed gaps in the existing environmental policy which must be addressed. These include climate change adaptation and mitigation, deforestation, depletion of fish resources, and biodiversity erosion. Peter has provided guidance on how to incorporate climate change and environmental issues in the policy, and ensuring it complements the Act.

Creating change

Earth atmosphere with ozone layerAs the national coordinator on the phase out of ozone-depleting substances, Peter is the national focal point for matters related to Malawi’s commitment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. The protocol is a landmark multilateral environmental agreement that regulates the production and consumption of nearly 100 man-made chemicals referred to as ozone depleting substances (ODS). Under this treaty, all parties have specific responsibilities related to the phase out of ODS, including controlling ODS trade and annual data reporting. To date, the Parties to the Protocol have phased out 98% of ODS globally compared to 1990 levels.

Peter has spearheaded the delivery of capacity strengthening programmes to ensure the enforcement of trade laws and restrictions, and a ban on using and producing ODS. In his dual roles, he has contributed to the phasing out of methyl bromide, a highly toxic fumigant used in the tobacco industry to control the cigarette beetle which damage tobacco crops.

With a largely agriculture-based economy, controlling this pest is important for farmer livelihoods and economic stability, however as ODS it is in contravention of Malawi’s commitment to the Protocol. It was therefore important that this phase out was handled sensitively and change was developed, agreed and implemented with key stakeholders.

“We had to do stakeholder mapping to see which stakeholders are involved  to successfully phase out these ozone-depleting chemicals in the tobacco sector. So, we had to bring them together, work with them, and each and every key stakeholder was given a responsibility to undertake. While we’re taking a leading role, these various stakeholders had their own roles to play.”

As well as representatives from the tobacco industry, Peter worked with research institutions to identify effective and accredited pest control alternatives to introduce to farmers and liaised with buyers to ensure the tobacco produced is sustainable and meets their standards.

“Through this work, we are building their capacity, but at the same time, we are also playing a greater role to make sure that the sector are complying to the restrictions that we have put in place in terms of management of ozone-depleting substances.”

Looking forward

Following his Commonwealth Scholarship, Peter has become a strong advocate for environmental issues and the importance of sustainability. In the next five years, through his work he hopes to see positive improvement in environmental management at the government and local community level and for sustainability to be considered in achieving the goals of MW2063.

“The scholarship really provided me an opportunity to enhance my knowledge and understanding of environmental issues and how the environmental issues are being debated at the international level. It also enlightened me on issues of sustainability. From the time at Leeds and the time up to today, my core responsibility is to promote sustainability.”

Peter Mmora is a 2015 Commonwealth Scholar from Malawi. He completed an MSc Environment and Development at the University of Leeds.