Farmers and forest conservation in Malawi: the disconnect between attitudes, intentions and behaviour

Malawi’s unique flora and fauna are threatened by high levels of deforestation and forest degradation. In addition to the many ecosystem services provided by the country’s forests, most of the rural population of this poor country are highly dependent on forests for provision of food, firewood, medicine, building materials and income. This study examined farmers’ attitudes and behaviour in relation to cutting down forest trees in two rural districts in Malawi using the theory of planned behaviour as a conceptual framework. A survey was administered to 200 household heads in Mzimba and Chiradzulu districts. With strongly negative attitudes, subjective norms and perceived behavioural control, farmers were aware of the negative consequences associated with cutting down forest trees, the lack of social support and obstacles encountered when cutting down forest trees. The intention to cut down forest trees was generally low. However, farmers were highly dependent on forest resources, especially in the north, which is caused by high levels of poverty and a lack of alternative income opportunities. We conclude that poverty alleviation and livelihood diversification are crucial for addressing the overexploitation of forest trees in Malawi.