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Curse of the mukula tree

I only realised the importance of value addition when I bought a wooden bathtub, seemingly made out of our mukula trees.
The bathtub was imported from China. I could not but marvel at how our Chinese friends have mastered expertise in value addition.
A few days ago, I took a trip into the hinterland to satisfy my curiosity that the plundering of this rare species of trees has been brought to an abrupt end.
To my surprise, it is business as usual, as more and more trees are cut to satisfy the demand of mostly Chinese businesses in collusion with some Zambians.
Reduced roadblocks on our major highways have not come to the rescue of this shady business.
A Catholic nun, who opted for anonymity and has been in our country ever since I was born, lamented that some young men have lost their lives in pursuit of the new money-maker – mukula timber.
“We have unreported cases of several young energetic men who have fallen off trucks laden with Mukula and others who barely eke a living ferrying logs from the fringes of Luano valley,” she said.
The nun said Government must quickly legitimise controlled logging of Mukula to enable a win–win situation.
“Why should our country allow big shots to export raw mukula while the local people, who scale steep mountains to harvest it, are pursued like common criminals?” she said.
December 2014 and January 2015 has seen Government raise K7 million from the auction of seized illegally harvested mukula. This is according to the Ministry of Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection; which envisage raising an extra K10 million before end of February. Since there is a countrywide export ban on mukula, many people have started asking tough questions. Are auction beneficiaries buying for value addition or for raw export?
Some contend that these buyers are playing it safe by being speculative and will ultimately export the mukula in its raw form. Hope our investigative wings are not playing second fiddle to these erudite smugglers.
Some Chipata, Nyimba, Rufunsa and Kaoma residents spoken to expressed sadness at the trend of respecting circumspect exporters at the expense of mukula harvesters. None wanted to be on record; “We call upon our government to allow our cooperatives to freely harvest the mukula for value addition by big companies in Lusaka; even if it means giving us some quotas.”
Christine Mambwe from newly-created Rufunsa district, a haven of mukula, was more apt:
“Our cooperative has been denied basic licences but we know that many come to harvest our mukula and smuggle it to the industrial area in Lusaka’s barricaded warehouses. Is it a sin for us the locals to deal with a gem which is right in our backyard?”
I undertook a trip to Chirundu and discovered, to my amazement, that mukula is being exported using myriad sophisticated and paperless ways.
Tales abound on how mukula is ostensibly exported as cotton or even cement. Nakonde, Mwami, Lusunta and Chanida border points in Northern and Eastern provinces are not so lucky.
Smugglers who export raw mukula to neighbouring Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique opt to use illicit exits, colloquially known as zalewa.
Why has there been this mad rush for mukula all of a sudden? Apart from being used in making high quality exportable products like the bathtub I bought. Mukula is also said to have medicinal properties.
Others contend that gun butts, especially for the famous AK-47 rifles, are also in the equation. If the latter is true, I would rather our country invested in machines that molded the gun handles at source, rigorously following specifications.
This can bode well and would reap us some foreign exchange from whichever countries are intent on manufacturing guns.
The author is a social and political commentator