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Malawi - Country Profile

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Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

The major ecosystems in Malawi are terrestrial and aquatic (the latter comprising around 20% of the total surface area). The greatest diversity of plants and animals exists in the country’s 97 protected areas (90% of which are forest reserves). Malawi has a total of over 6,000 flowering plant species, of which 122 are endemic, and 248 species are threatened with extinction. Animal species in Malawi comprise both vertebrates and invertebrates. Vertebrates include amphibians, mammals, reptiles, birds and fish. There are about 192 mammal species in Malawi, of which 8 are listed as threatened under IUCN (2013). About 83 species of amphibians have been recorded in Malawi, of which 6 species are endemic and 12 threatened. The country has 145 species of reptiles, of which 12 are endemic and six rare. There are 630 known bird species, of which 4 are endemic and 7 threatened. The total number of fish species found in Malawi is estimated to be in excess of 1000 species. Over 800 fish species have been described in Lake Malawi, 95% being haplochromine cichlids, and 99% of which are endemic to the Lake.

Terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems are being modified, degraded and species composition altered due to the unsustainable utilisation and management of natural resources. Tree cover in most forest reserves has been markedly reduced due to continuous degradation in surrounding areas. For example, the Liwonde Forest Reserve covers a designated area of 284 hectares however forest cover had been reduced to 70 hectares of the reserve in 2013. As for aquatic ecosystems, the periodic drying up of Lake Chilwa due to the degradation of catchment areas and climate change threatens the survival of both bird and fish species.

Agro-biodiversity was estimated to contribute about 40% to the GDP and more than 90% of employment and merchandise export earnings in 2010. The fisheries, forestry and wildlife sectors contributed 12.8% towards the GDP in the same year. Biodiversity satisfies a number of socio-cultural functions in Malawi as well. Most Malawian ethnic groups believe in the existence of a supernatural being or ancestral spirits associated with graveyards or mountain areas covered by forest biodiversity. Major tourist attractions in the country include water bodies, national parks, wildlife reserves, mountains and cultural heritage sites that provide site-seeing, photographic safaris and mountain hiking opportunities. Lake Malawi National Park is of global importance for biodiversity conservation due to its fish diversity in particular. It is estimated that more than 250,000 people along the major fishing areas depend on fish as a source of food (the fisheries sector provides 60-70% of total animal protein in Malawi) and livelihood. In addition, Malawi has over 131 plant species which are used as medicinal plants (e.g. Kombe (Strophathus kombe) used locally for healing stomach ulcers and sexually transmitted infections).

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

The main pressures on biodiversity consist of habitat loss and fragmentation, overexploitation of biodiversity, invasive alien species, pollution and climate change.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

Malawi adopted its first NBSAP in 2006. Its implementation has been slow, uncoordinated and poorly monitored however certain successes have been achieved. Examples include the promotion of species and habitat restoration programs; increase in the population and distribution ranges of rare and threatened species; design and implementation of in situ and ex situ agricultural diversity conservation programmes with full participation of the local communities; strengthening of policies and legislation to enhance biodiversity conservation, sustainable use and benefit-sharing; development of cost-effective invasive species management programmes; strengthening of the participation of communities and the private sector as equal partners in biodiversity conservation and sustainable use and equitable benefit-sharing; capacity-building of institutions to collect, interpret, manage and disseminate quality and relevant biodiversity information and biological collections effectively and efficiently; and the strengthening of institutional capacity to manage biodiversity information.

Malawi is finalizing its revised NBSAP for the 2015-2025 period. Sixteen national biodiversity targets aligned with the Aichi Biodiversity Targets have already been developed (see: http://www.cbd.int/countries/targets/?country=mw).

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

Genetic resources of different plant species are conserved at the National Plant Genetic Resource Centre, Agricultural Research Stations, Botanical Gardens, academic institutions and the Forestry Research Institute of Malawi. As of 2012, the gene banks of the Plant Genetic Resource Centre had over 4,613 accessions from 32 species and, of these, 4,097 are seed samples and 516 are vegetative materials collected from all districts in Malawi.

An inventory of invasive alien species is currently being developed. Malawi is observing and appropriately monitoring incidences of new IAS and informing the public. For example, Blacken Fern and its pathways have been identified in Nyika Plateau and programmes are being developed to control and eradicate it. Similar effort has been implemented in Mulanje where management plans to eradicate Pinus patula, which competes with Mulanje Cedar, have been developed and implemented.

The Lake Chilwa Basin Climate Change Adaptation Programme is promoting solar drying of fish, as well as energy-saving fish-smoking kilns that reduce the use of firewood by 60%.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

Malawi has developed a Resource Mobilization Strategy for promoting investment opportunities and public-private partnerships related to biodiversity management, as well as for mainstreaming biodiversity management in the national development agenda. For example, African Parks Limited has a concession with the Government to manage Majete Wildlife Reserve. This arrangement has improved the management of biodiversity resources in the reserve and has also increased revenue collection.

Considerations for biodiversity have been integrated in most of the Government’s sectoral policies, especially those that trigger land use changes such as agricultural, land, irrigation and mining policies. These sectors are required by law to conduct Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) prior to implementing projects that have potential impacts on biodiversity.

Since the formulation of the NBSAP in 2006, biodiversity issues have been mainstreamed into Malawi’s policies, strategies and plans. At the national level, biodiversity has been integrated in the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy II while, at the local level, biodiversity has been integrated into District Development Plans. Notably, Lilongwe City Council is in the process of developing a Local Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (LBSAP).

The Forestry Policy has been reviewed and now integrates issues of biodiversity management, such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) and Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES). Also, the Climate Change Policy has been developed, promoting activities on REDD+, PES, Biodiversity offset and Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM).

Human and institutional capacity has been improved through institutions of higher learning, with Mzuzu University, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the University of Malawi having introduced courses and programs on biodiversity.

The Government has approved protocols to implement the “Polluter Pays Principle”.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

Malawi’s revised NBSAP (2015-2025) which is currently being finalized has an associated monitoring and evaluation framework to ensure its effective implementation.

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  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme