• construction pole harvesting;
  • fish processing;
  • fuelwood use;
  • sustainability

1. Tropical dry woodlands are thought to be declining as a result of human activity. Aerial photograph analysis showed measurable conversion of closed canopy miombo* to sparse woodland in Lake Malawi National Park, Malawi, from 1982 to 1990. This multi-disciplinary study investigates the possible contributions to these impacts by local use of domestic fuelwood, construction poles and fuelwood for commercial fish smoking.

2. Domestic fuelwood use was measured in 30 households over an 11-month period. Domestic fuelwood is collected by women and is headloaded to the village. It comprises a large biomass of mainly dead wood and small branches over a wide species range. Mean total annual domestic fuelwood consumption by the total enclave population was less than half the mean annual production of fallen dead wood in the Park, estimated from three quadrats harvested monthly over an 11-month period.

3. Construction poles are mostly small, have extended durability and come from a broad species range. Fencing poles frequently take root to form live hedges. Eucalyptus trees are commonly grown for poles. Construction pole use appears sustainable and shows signs of substitution.

4. The 305 commercial fish smoking stations in the enclaves used less fuelwood annually than domestic fuelwood users. However, the men who undertake this activity target large branches and logs from a narrow species range, involving destructive felling of canopy species. 95% of men collecting fuel for fish smoking use cutting tools and three-quarters transport the wood by boat or bicycle.

5. The scale, size classes and species involved in commercial fish smoking suggest that this activity drives the observed degradation of closed canopy to sparse woodland. Traditional local fishing focused on small species sun-dried for preservation. Commercial fish smoking was introduced relatively recently by immigrants, along with gill netting that harvests larger fish requiring smoking for preservation. Demand for fish by ever-increasing urban populations underpins the continuing growth of the fish smoking industry.

6. Disaggregation of different wood use practices allows informed management policy for the Park. Currently, management targets and penalizes domestic fuelwood collectors. While seeking to reduce demand and provide alternative fuelwood sources, law enforcement and forestry extension should be reorientated to address the extraction of fuelwood for fish smoking.