Carbon research in Zambia forests to help build REDD+ strategy

by Yulia Hadi | CIFOR (Center for International Forestry Research)
Wednesday, 17 July 2013 08:50 GMT

The “Nyimba Forest Project” will help local governments, scientists and local communities to build a more comprehensive picture of how Zambia’s forests are used and managed in order to better tailor REDD+. Photo courtesy of CIFOR/Jeff Walker.

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Figuring out how much carbon Zambia's forests store could help create policy that works, experts say

A new research project launched by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) aims to determine the amount of carbon stored in Zambia’s forests in order to assist policymakers and forest practitoners in developing a national strategy to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).

Changing rainfall patterns, diminishing water supply, poor soil quality and disappearing tree species are all having a big impact on livelihoods in Zambia’s Nyimba District, according to representatives from six local villages, who say that a lengthy 5-km walk to find the once commonplace mopane tree – prized for its edible caterpillars — is now standard.

What is behind these dramatic changes? To what extent are they caused by increasing pressure on natural resources, and how much are theyor affected by customary laws, which differ from village to village?

Scientists from CIFOR are attempting to find answers to these and similar questions by working with village-based researchers in the region to understand the use and management of forest resources.

Known as the “Nyimba Forest Project”, the $3.1million project, funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of the US Global Climate Change Initiative, will help local governments, scientists and local communities to build a more comprehensive picture of how Zambia’s forests are used and managed in order to better tailor REDD+ – a global mechanism where developed countries pay forest-rich countries for the carbon stored in trees- to support local and national interests.

The two-year project will carry out in-depth surveys and analyses to collect forest inventory data and develop new methods  for monitoring carbon stock changes.

The project also aims to work with local communities to monitor forest resources and better understand the impact of forest use and decision making on forest management.

“More than sixty percent or almost 50 million hectares of land area in Zambia is covered by forests. However, with a high rate of deforestation and large rural population depending on forests for their livelihoods, we need viable information on the state of our forests, how to manage them, record changes in carbon and forest stocks as well as greenhouse gas emissions, “ said Wilbur Simuusa, Zambia’s minister for lands, natural resources, and environmental protection.

“The Zambian government is grateful to USAID for funding this project and we are pleased that CIFOR is leading the research as they have a deep knowledge of our country and are leaders in the international forestry arena,” Simuusa said.

“We are committed to building an effective monitoring, reporting, and verification system for our forests to implement REDD+. The findings from the Nyimba Forest Project will provide us with the required information to develop a national REDD+ strategy which is aligned with local needs and international standards.”

According to a recent study by UN REDD, Zambia is currently losing 300,000 hectares of forest a year to  agriculture and charcoal production. The unsustainable harvesting of forest products, which supports 24 percent of local population, is also putting pressure on forest resources.

“Zambia has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world and deforestation is a major driver of global climate change,” said Ryan Washburn, USAID/Zambia deputy mission director.

“The US government is committed to work in partnership with Zambia to strengthen its national deforestation and forest degradation strategy that will help preserve the country’s forests, biological diversity, and livelihoods.”

A key component of the research will build national and district level capacity to accurately carry out carbon monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV). The aim is to enable practitioners to perform better carbon accounting and to eventually establish reference levels at both sub-national and national levels.

Workshops and training for local government, universities, community leaders, and the local forestry department, will be carried out to test new methods for forest monitoring at district and village level.

“We hope that this research will piece together the current state of Zambia’s forests, proving accurate science from which to develop a more comprehensive REDD strategy that takes into account national interests whilst at the same time preserving forests and supporting local people’s livelihoods,” said Davison Gumbo, a CIFOR scientist and project leader.

“If this project is succesful at the district level, we will then make a  number of recommendations to the government of Zambia through the UN-REDD program in the country, which, hopefully, will be incorporated into the design of a national REDD system”.

For Julian Fox, UN-REDD MRV facilitator for Zambia, the Nyimba Forest Project is a timely and unique process.

“Up till the launching of this project, the UN-REDD efforts in Zambia have been at the first phase which entails working at the national level with government institutions and non-government orgnaisations (NGOs) to build  national strategy, and to improve  capacities on MRV through workshops, trainings, and seminars”.

“The Nyimba Forest Project is a logical extension of the national work entailing actual field implementation and involving  local communities. We are pleased that USAID, CIFOR, the Zambian government, through its Forestry Department,  and the Nyimba community are embarking on this project, which is a first-of-its-kind in the country. We look forward to its findings which, will form an integral part of Zambia’s national REDD+ strategy," Fox concluded.

“While the outcomes of this project will definitely have a great impact on the way Zambia manages its forest , they could provide a blueprint for other countries that are also developing climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies,” said Peter Kanowski, CIFOR’s deputy director-general who was present at the launch.

For more information on the issues discussed in this article, please contact Davison Gumbo at