As forest losses rise, Zambia plans a timber moratorium

by Danstan Kaunda | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 17 September 2014 13:00 GMT

The sun sets as Zambian fans watch a World Cup qualifier soccer match between Senegal and Zambia in the northern Copperbelt town of Chililabombwe, Zambia, on September 3, 2005. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

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Zambia’s lawmakers are preparing to suspend timber trade, blaming foreigners for a surge in illegal logging

LUSAKA, Zambia (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Zambia’s lawmakers are preparing to put a moratorium on the country’s timber trade, blaming foreigners for a surge in illegal logging and timber exports, experts say.

The moratorium will restrict domestic logging and ban the export of timber from the country, they said.

In June 2013, Wylbur Simuusa, the then-minister for lands, natural resources and environmental protection, cancelled all the government’s timber concessions with foreign nations and local private timber operators, citing allegations of corruption, malpractice and mismanagement in the industry.

The timber concessions were originally intended to promote and stabilise investment in the forestry sector. According to the Zambia Revenue Authority, the country had been earning an average of about $12 million annually from timber exports.

However, the cancelling of the concessions last year has spurred illegal logging for local use as well as for the export market, say officials at the government-funded Forestry Department in Lusaka, the capital.

Zambia’s wood species, such as mukula and nkhula, are highly sought after on the international market due their quality and their suitability for making antique-style furniture. Within Zambia, timber is used for furniture and carvings, and demand for it is high, experts said.

‘WE WILL LOSE ALL THE FOREST’

Speaking in parliament in support of the proposed timber trade ban, Sylvia Masebo, a member of parliament for Chongwe, called the proposed ban “a timely motion because at the moment Zambia is losing almost all its forest. Unless urgent steps are taken, we will lose (all the) forest.”

A bill is being finalised and is due to be submitted to President Michael Sata for ratification before the end of the year, experts said.

The United Nations Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Deforestation (REDD+) estimates that 298,000 hectares (736,000 acres) of forest in Zambia are cut down each year, in line with Zambian government reports which put the rate at 250,000-300,000 hectares.

Local media reports in recent months say law enforcement agencies have intercepted and impounded trucks carrying logs without an authorized forestry license in towns such as Nakonde on the border with Tanzania.

In July a 30-tonne truck laden with mukula timber was impounded. The logs had been illegally harvested from Chisamba district, in the centre of the country. The two men responsible were fined a total of 2,400 Zambian kwacha (about $390).

Chisamba District forestry officer Nicholas Chilo said species of trees such as nkhula and chiwala that take up to 30 years to mature are most at risk of extinction. 

Those species “are illegally being harvested from the area by local individuals,” Chilo said in a telephone interview.

He said he believes that in addition to Zambians, some illegal loggers are foreign. Some officials and politicians in Zambia have blamed foreigners, mostly Chinese, for buying logs from illegal saw mill operations.

CHINA’S APPETITE FOR TIMBER

Timber is China’s third-largest commodity import after oil and minerals, according to the World Agroforestry Centre, a research non-govermental organisation. The organisation says the share of Africa’s total timber exports going to China has risen over the past decade.

According to Zambia’s National Forest Monitoring System (NFMS), part of the country’s REDD+ programme, measuring and reporting how much forest is standing and the size of greenhouse gas emissions due to deforestation and forest degradation is crucial to limiting the effects of climate change in the country.

The NFMS provides near real-time data on deforestation and forest degradation to a national laboratory in Lusaka.

A 2012 report for the REDD+ programme in Zambia said that rail links running from the Southern province to the country’s Copperbelt region are deforestation hotspots in Zambia.

The paper pointed out that agriculture expansion, infrastructure development, wood extraction and fires are the core drivers of deforestation in the country.

The Forestry Department has developed community watch-groups this year to sensitise traditional leaders and the local communities in some deforestation hotspots about the importance of protecting trees and the effects of burning them to create charcoal.

The groups help the communities monitor logging activities for the forest department and other law enforcement agencies.

One additional driver of deforestation is youth unemployment, said Chisamba forestry officer Chilo. In many places without jobs, youths “are still benefiting from illegal logging and timber trading operations,” he said.

The Forestry Department has tried to address the problem by engaging young people in planting trees in their communities for eventual harvesting.

Danstan Kaunda is a Zambian journalist.

(Editing by Laurie Goering; laurie.goering@thomsonreuters.com)

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