31 Aug, 2019

Dr Kachamba inspecting tree seedlings in at Bunda College tree nursery
Forest Engineer is a scientist who applies engineering principles and techniques to the management of forest lands. This includes working to ensure the health and sustainability of wildlands, timberlands and watersheds while allowing for such economic activities as timber harvesting and recreational use. In an interview, Dr Daud Kachamba, a Forest Engineer at LUANAR and Head of Forestry Department explains to our reporter on roles of forest engineering to the society.

1. You are an expert in forest engineering. Who are forest engineers and what do they do?

Forest engineering is a hybrid of engineering forestry, and management. It requires people who can combine skills to solve engineering problems in the natural environment, with a focus on balancing economic, societal, and environmental requirements.

Forest engineers construct and evaluate the operational systems that make the forest industry ‘work’. This can include:

• designing and building new roads
• developing or modifying forestry equipment
• planning harvest operations
• optimising transport logistics
• integrating new technologies
• supervising employees and contractors
• Ensuring safety standards are maintained.

Forest engineering is indeed a very diverse field and it requires mastering different skills to effectively produce the desired products. One needs to understand logistics, Geographical Information Systems, Forest Resource Assessment techniques and others in order to fulfill the duties outlined above.

2. Take us through your educational and professional journey.

I am currently working for the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) as a Senior Lecturer in Forest Engineering. I am also the Head of the Forestry Department. Before joining LUANAR, I briefly worked with the Ministry of Agriculture as a Land Resources Conservation Officer.

I did my Bachelor Degree in Agriculture (Forestry Option) at Bunda College, then under the University of Malawi. I then went to pursue a Master of Science Degree in Forest Engineering at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. I finally did my PhD in Forest Management at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

3. I understand you also have expertise in forest management. What does this involve?

A forest engineer is supposed to be a well-rounded forester. This means that he is expected to
consider the whole value chain in forestry. As such we are trained to assess the forest resources
and recommend to management on several aspects regarding harvesting. These include how
much could be harvested, when should the harvesting be done, how the harvesting should be
done. More importantly we inform management on what should be left for conservation.

4. For those aspiring to become forest engineers, what qualities should they possess?

For those aspiring to become forest engineers, they need to ensure that they are well rounded students since this is a multidisciplinary field.

5. But are there jobs for forest engineers in Malawi?

Currently the most notable employers of forest engineers in Malawi are the timber processing companies in Malawi. However, with the growing demand for timber resources as well as the increasing number of forest plantations forest engineering skills will become increasingly important in the near future. However, on the international level, forest engineers at hot cakes.

6. Which institutions in Malawi and elsewhere train forest engineers?

In Malawi, all students pursuing Bachelor of Science Degree in Forestry at LUANAR and MZUNI
as well as those pursuing a Diploma in Forestry at Malawi College of Forestry and Wildlife at
Chongoni, Dedza cover an introductory course in Forest Engineering. However in Africa,
specialized training in Forest Engineering is offered by the Stellenbosch University in South
Africa as well Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania. Outside Africa, there are numerous
Universities offering this training including Oregon State University in the United States,
University of Canterbury in New Zealand, among others.

7. What advice do you have for those aspiring to become forest engineers?

Hard work and focus surpasses anything in academics. Keep your eyes firmly fixed on the prize. Malawi need more foresters to deal with a lot of environmental issues currently impacting on the livelihoods of many Malawians as well as the economy of the nation.