16 Apr, 2018

Share this Article

Participants at the meeting
Over half the world’s population now lives in towns and cities, a proportion that is predicted to increase to approximately 70% by the middle of the century. Africa is urbanising faster than any other continent and more than 1.2 billion Africans will be living in cities by 2050 .While cities are centres of social and economic development, many challenges exist in how to manage their growth sustainably to ensure human well-being is prioritised.

One key measure which is increasingly recognised as essential in urban living is the provision of high quality, accessible urban greenspaces and urban green infrastructure. Greenspaces are the open vegetated areas in towns and cities and include everything from public parks to private yards, from well-maintained farms to patches of land that no one cares for, as well as rivers, wetlands, lakes and ponds. However, as cities expand, the maintenance or enhancement of the natural environment, and the ecosystem services it supplies, is rarely considered in planning and development processes, leading to a loss of urban greenspaces. As such, the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) in collaboration with the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom are implementing a project “Exchanging Knowledge on the Multiple Benefits of Urban Green Infrastructure” that is being funded by the UK Government’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

According to the Principal Investigator of the project, Associate Professor Martin Dallimer from Leeds, the project aims to support planning and decision-making in Malawi.

“This exciting collaboration between the Sustainability Research Institute at University of Leeds and LUANAR will promote the retention of greenspaces in the cities of Malawi. This is one way of improving sustainability across the country as towns and cities continue to grow,” said Dr Dallimer.

“As part of this project, we will work with local academics and partners across Malawi, but our first focus will be Lilongwe City. To help, we have constituted a Research Support Group composed of officials and experts from public, private and statutory institutions to support and provide the required guidance and advice”.

The Research Support Group includes planners, officials from City Council, developers, researchers, city residents, policy makers as well as officials from non-governmental organisations.

The Co-Principal Investigator, Associate Professor David Mkwambisi from LUANAR, indicated that the intention is that research findings are taken and applied by stakeholders to support sustainable use and management of urban greenspaces.

“As Universities, we have to work with stakeholders in effective ways so that together we can design, implement, monitor and share results and lessons with those who make decisions and who are affected by those decisions,” said Dr Mkwambisi.

The first meeting for the Research Support Group was held in Lilongwe. Participants were presented with preliminary research findings and the Group had an opportunity to discuss and highlight the key benefits and uses of urban greenspaces and the challenges that they face as Lilongwe continues to expand. The participants noted that urban greenspaces in Lilongwe City have been destroyed resulting in loss of biodiversity, increased temperatures and floods that have affected all groups of urban dwellers. The meeting further noted that political interference and poor urban planning were amongst the main causes of loss of urban greenspaces.

In his remarks, Mr. Boniface Chimwaza from Environmental Affairs Department applauded the approach taken by the two universities.

“This approach is good for us since the discussions have also provided the opportunity to interact with other partners who have a key role in environmental sustainability,” She said.

To effectively support the research programme, the participants endorsed the Research Support Group and nominated Environmental Affairs Department as the chair whilst Lilongwe City Council was nominated as Vice Chair.