Landlocked between Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique, Malawi runs north-south along the Great Rift Valley, stretching parallel to the eponymous lake that accounts for much of its total area and about three-fourths of its eastern boundary. Miombo woodlands and forest-grassland mosaics are the dominant ecosystems with montane grasslands characterizing a sizable portion of the northern highlands. Much of Malawi’s land is heavily degraded, despite nearly a quarter of it falling under protected area status (e.g., forest reserve, game reserve, or national park). Agricultural expansion (both subsistence and commercial, with tobacco the primary crop), production of fuelwood and charcoal, uncontrolled fire, and weak governance comprise the primary drivers of land use change. Malawi’s population, growing at one of the highest rates in the world, is almost entirely dependent on woody biomass for energy. Given its reliance on rain-fed agriculture, Malawi is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, the impacts of which are exacerbated by Malawi’s sustained high rate of deforestation.
With support from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Forest Service has worked on a variety of natural resource management issues in the country for close to a decade, collaborating with partners from the Government of Malawi, civil society, and academia. Much of this technical cooperation has centered on fire prevention and suppression, institutional strengthening, and, more recently, climate change adaptation and mitigation. The latter theme has provided a broader means of engagement for the U.S. Forest Service than other focal areas, allowing the agency to not only leverage a more diverse in-house skill set, but to also partner with a wider range of parties in Malawi. For example, recent work has included technical cooperation and capacity building in geographic information systems (GIS), land use/land cover mapping, national forest inventory, and carbon assessment.
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