The Wildlife and Environment Conservation Society of Zambia (WECSZ) is seriously concerned with the continued indiscriminate cutting of the mukula tree in the country and unauthorised export of natural timber resources.
In recent weeks, several of cases of illegal cutting and export of unprocessed logs of the red wood, pterocarpus chrysothrix, commonly known as mukula, have been reported.
The society has lauded the Ministry of Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection in setting up a “task force” to deal with the crisis.
Society President Joseph Chikolwa said he was alarmed with the rate at which timber was being lost and its severe impact on environment, loss of biodiversity, adverse effect on climate change, poverty creation and loss to national economy.
Mr. Chikolwa was speaking at a press briefing held in Lusaka today.
He observed that although several arrests have been made and the culprits prosecuted and convicted by the court, the sentences meted out were ‘lighter’.
He said the sentences do not appear to deter others from committing the offense as people have continued plundering and depleting the valuable timber species.
Mr. Chikolwa further said other natural tree species Afzelia quanzensis commonly known as Pod Mahogany, Khaya anthotheca (Red Mahogany), Baikiaea plurijuga (Zambezi Teak), Guibourtia coleosperma (Rose Wood) and Pterocarpus angolensis (Mukwa) were at risk.
“It appears that the illegal timber trade is too lucrative for current penalties to be an effective deterrent and the fines imposed and the sentences given seem not commensurate with the seriousness of the crime of this illegal trade,” he said.
He added that “our other concern is that confiscated timber is auctioned at will by local authorities in an adhoc fashion with little regard for the value of the timber, or the loss and impact of the damage caused”.
And society committee member Navayaha Money said despite the prevailing legislation prohibiting the export of raw logs, timber continues to find its way to the neighbouring Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa where there is big market.
Mr. Money observed that there were inadequate personnel available even at border posts that are monitoring the illegal trade and allegedly find it difficult to enforce provisions of the law prohibiting the export of timber.
He disclosed that the society was abhorred at the ‘light hearted’ attitude taken by the concerned authorities to implement the law.
He stated that full grown trees take around 80 years to reach maturity and regretted the current extraction rates which he termed unsustainable.
He said Zambia was one of the few countries in the region with extractable mukula tree and other hard wood timber species.
He said a national symposium was aimed at raising awareness on the need to avoid the illegal cutting of the mukula trees.