Photo from Flickr user King Coyote. Creative Commons licence.
Once Malawi was covered in forest. Various pressures have cut back the forest area further and further.
- Tea plantations
- Tobacco plantations
- Maize fields
- Timber for building
- Firewood gathering
- Wood for making charcoal
- Wood for curing tobacco
From time to time though, you come across large patches of original forest still standing untouched. These are spirit groves, or cemeteries. The local people believe that if they cut them down, they will be haunted by spirits.
These groves are the remnants of once-extensive tropical evergreen forest (the forest is evergreen, not the individual trees). As a result of protecting these cemeteries, species of trees, plants and wildlife have also been preserved. They are an important part of conservation and can have other cultural values too. In Ghana, 80% of spirit groves act as watersheds for clean drinking water.
Since tobacco appears to have dealt the forests a double whammy (does that translate?), it would be nice to think that from their wealth, they could play a very large part in replacing what they have helped to destroy. I can find no evidence of it, but please correct me if I'm wrong.