Zambia’s alarming deforestation levels

Charcoal - Photo credit- CIFOR:Jeff Walker

ZAMBIA’S deafening call to conserve its forests and natural resources has been compromised by the fact that the majority poor literally depend on trees for their living.
It is not an exaggeration of fact that conservation of forests in Zambia, like anywhere else, is crucial in enhancing a great environment key for sustainable development.
However, it is equally true that the need to conserve the forests and the environment in general has gone into conflict with people’s desire to get immediate benefit and sustain their living today.
The cutting down of trees to open up fields in rural areas and the burning of charcoal have escalated deforestation. Suffice to say though that such actions have equally provided a safe net for those involved in charcoal burning.
“This is what I do for a living and I have sent my children to school by selling charcoal,” said Albert Tembo, a charcoal burner of Chongwe district who has been in the business for more than 10 years now.
“I know that the trees are depleting because the area where we are cutting trees, the numbers have gone down such that even animals have
run away.”


Mr Tembo is apparently one of hundreds of people that have contributed in placing Zambia among the highly deforested countries.
Various studies and surveys have revealed that Zambia’s deforestation rate is alarmingly high.
For instance, the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), says Zambia’s deforestation rate currently stands at between 250,000 to 300,000 hectares of land per year.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) figures place the country among the top 10 in the world with the highest annual deforestation rate at about 8,000 hectares of forest
being wiped out every year.
It is against this gloomy background that Zambia Parliamentary Conservation Caucus (ZPCC), a non-partisan voluntary parliamentary organisation, was formed in 2012 to look into issues of conservation.
The ZPCC is composed of parliamentarians from both the opposition and ruling parties and is aimed at sharing knowledge on conservation and natural resources management.
Members believe that conservation is a fundamental component of sustainable development, poverty alleviation, conflict prevention,
good governance and regional security so as to promote sound long term policies of sustainable land, forest, water and biodiversity.
The ZPCC which is co-chaired by Home Affairs Deputy Minister Stephen Kampyongo and ADD Luena MP Gertrude Imenda last week held a conference
under the theme ‘conservation priorities and partnership: a way forward’.
One of the sessions during the conference centred on priorities on forest management.
Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Minister Mwansa Kapeya could not hide his fear for the worst situation in Zambia.
“Without concrete measures put in place to ensure sustainable forest management and subsequent forest conservation, the country risks becoming a desert as a result of the high rates of deforestation,” Mr Kapeya said.

Mukula tree timber
Mukula tree timber

Paradoxically, clearing of land for farming is one contributing factor, but logging for timber and cutting trees for firewood and charcoal are the main causes of deforestation in Zambia.
Concerns and suggestions on best practices were raised during the conference which also attracted cooperating partners and civil society organisations in the country.
Rosa Kent a representative from the USAID said there was need to explore alternative source of energy instead of concentrating on charcoal and firewood.
“I would like to urge MPs to consider promoting the use of gas for cooking which is being used in other countries because at the moment everyone depends on charcoal,” she said.
While charcoal burning has admittedly become a lucrative business for the lower class, international firms operating and trading in timber are cutting massive wood for export.
For instance, the precious Mukula tree which has a maturing period of 90 years has been in the news as unscrupulous individuals have gone on rampage harvesting it without any attempt to replace.
Kasempa MP Kabinga Pande noted that people behind the illegal cutting of the precious trees were from urban areas and not the local people.
“In most cases, the local people are aware about the importance of these trees and they don’t cut,” Mr Pande said. “But it is the people from towns that are behind this indiscriminate cutting.”
Mr Pande also noted that the current method of charcoal burning was wasteful in that just a small amount of the tree was salvaged as charcoal with the rest being discarded.
As well as charcoal burning and illegal sell of trees, agriculture has equally sparked misfortunes for hectares of land that has been depleted of thousands of trees to pave way for fields.
Chipangali MP Vincent Mwale said many people were cutting down trees indiscriminately to open up tobacco fields with little guidance and education the environment.
“The current growing of tobacco has no control,” Mr Mwale said. “Many people are cutting trees with no regards to the environment, and we need a scheme that will be able to protect our trees and environment.”

Charcoal - Photo credit- CIFOR:Jeff Walker
Charcoal – Photo credit- CIFOR:Jeff Walker

Few will dispute the fact that the cost of electricity has boosted charcoal burning business. Many people cannot afford to pay for electricity and the use of charcoal and firewood is the only choice.
Besides, unreliable electricity supply, for instance power outages by Zesco, has meant that residents in urban areas seek charcoal as the primary source of energy even when they are connected.
Therefore, the government should look into ways of reducing or stabilising the cost of electricity in order to protect the environment.
Additionally, the conservation of forests is currently done through the 1972 Forestry Act and the 1999 policy. Unfortunately, both documents appear to have outlived their usefulness considering the emerging challenges in the sector.
While it is understood that the government is in the process of taking a Bill to parliament that will address the current trend, there is a serious concern that the process has been long overdue.
It is therefore hoped that the Bill will be tabled in Parliament within the necessary timeframe in order to address emerging trends in deforestation.
The fact that ZPCC is composed of parliamentarians from both sides, Zambians will be looking forward keenly to see that necessary support is given once it is tabled in Parliament.
Many countries have explored alternative sources of energy including solar and gas stoves. This is important for Zambia as it could help in cushioning the reliance on charcoal and firewood in rural areas.
It will also be helpful to conduct intensive sensitisation on the dangers of deforestation in every community with clear emphasis on fears of desertification.

Times of Zambia