Business

Forest plantation development

ABRAHAM MAKANO, Lusaka
IN ZAMBIA, there is potential for the private sector to establish forest plantations, but their participation to develop commercial plantations has not been easy as the sector faces many challenges that are not unique to the public enterprises.

It is assumed that the private sector is the large commercial corporation that raises capital from the private market and without government shareholding, as opposed to public enterprise.

Although the smallholder plantation land owners fall under the private sector, for the purpose of differentiating the two, and because of their scale of operation, the latter is taken as a different category, requiring special attention.
The key issue that the government will grapple with during the Seventh National Development Plan (7NDP) is how to motivate the private sector to establishing forest plantation, given that the Zambia Forestry and Forest Industries Corporation (ZAFFICO) may not be able to meet the goals.
Some of the challenges that inhibit the private sector to participate in this area are:
(a) Lack of funding. Forest plantation development demands huge capital outlay, especially in the initial stages and yields are only expected at the end of the rotation period of 20-25 years for pine and 8-12 years for eucalyptus. Most financiers may be willing to fund forest projects that will yield revenue between 3 and 5 years, but may be reluctant to fund a project with the gestation period of more than 20 years.
(b) Lack of incentives. The forest developer in Zambia cannot rely on the incentive for investors as stipulated by the Zambia Development Agency ZDA;
(c) Lack of land tenure. Forest plantation owners require access to land and tree tenure. In the absence of land, there cannot be any forests;
(d) Lack of incentives for long term investment;
(e) Lack of technical information about plantation management;
(f) L a c k o f m a r k e t information about requirement for plantation timber;
(g) Lack of seeds
The role of the forestry department
At the time that the industrial plantations were being developed in the 1960s, the plantation development was later extended to districts throughout the country. The policy of the forestry department (FD)then was to “providing forest produce for people’s homes, farms and local industries in the district where indigenous forests were not able to local needs and to establish and manage these plantations”.
A latest inventory suggests that the department has about 25,000 hectares of pine ad eucalyptus plantations dotted around the country.
Most of these district and regional plantation have reached maturity age and are now being harvested. Replanting and new field establishment have been hampered by lack of funds and inadequate technical and professional staff due to recruitment freeze.
The advantages of the FD plantations are that soil type and tree species are known, the land is readily available for enhancement.
The typical role of the department under this plan would be to strengthen plantation management extension services, research in silvicultural practices and forest diseases, establish yield tables, research in new tree species, forest protection, promote agro-forestry among small-scale farmers provide seeds and technical information to the private sector and other players.
Stimulating smallholder plantations development
The vision of the 7NDP is to create green jobs and to increase the participation of the private sector in forestry development.
While the private sector may come in with large scale operations, this section of the article is presented to promote an alternative to large scale plantations, which are smallholder plantations.
Promoting small holder plantation due to land/tree tenure difficulties, population growth, demand for timber, low cost of plantation establishment, contribution to poverty reduction and asset building by individuals and environmental concerns are some of the drivers that constitute huge opportunities for local communities in Zambia.
The existence of markets for timber, support from institutions like the forestry department that may provide forest extension services, and the availability of land to local communities provides an option to the large-scale plantations.
Smallholder plantation is defined as an individually-owned plantation of between one and 25 hectares grown for commercial purposes with or without any intercropping. This is mainly grown at village level.
Despite the effort by the FD in 1990s to promote woodlots/ smallholder plantations, this has not taken root, apart from few commercial farmers in Chisamba and Choma.
Land under private plantations in Zambia does not exceed a total of 1,000ha. There is need to stimulate smallholder to establish plantation in response to the 7NDP.
Advantages of smallholder plantations include: Little or no demand for fiscal support; farmers can intercrop, and thus increase productivity on the land; most small-scale farmers have ancestral land where they can grow tree crops without title; tree crops provide extra income in the long run for the farmer; it can help build assets and wealth for the farmer; it does not damage the environment like large scale plantations since the farmer would already have land; large-scale processors can out-source tree growing to small scale farmers; good strategy to reduce rural poverty; and easy to plant in previously forested open spaces.
Disadvantages of small scale farmers include: lack of technical skill in plantation management; need for critical mass to make it cost effective for processors; and tree quality may be comprised if farmers use poor techniques and seeds.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The provision of developing forest plantations in the country is a noble vision. However, this should not be the monopoly of ZAFFICO. The private sector must be supported to contribute to increase wood supply in the country, while at the same time the smallholder owners should be encouraged.
In spite of the challenges listed, there are some remedies that the government can institute for the private sector to thrive.
Some of these are: operationalise the Forest Development Fund as per Forest Act of 2015; in the same way as the government is supporting ZAFFICO by setting aside land, this must be extended to the private sector; the forestry department must be more pro-active in supplying site-specific seeds and research in tree species; the forestry department should develop technical literature on how best to grow forest plantations; and the Forestry department must strengthen forest plantation extension services.
Other remedies are: the Forestry department must explore public-private partnership (PPP) for the district plantations that so that it can concentrate on managing the natural resources and regulate the industry.
To do this, the private partnership Act must be reviewed as it does not cater for forest plantation partnerships; build capacity of local communities and private investors in understanding private plantation investments and management; facilitate access to funding for private plantations: lobby government for incentives; and promote plantation forestry as a value chain anchor & business for enabling green building.
The rest of the remedies are: collaborate with the government f o r a c h i e v i n g e n a b l i n g environment and environmental custodianship; and promote smallholder plantations as a poverty reduction strategy as stand-alone or as out-growers for large scale plantation developers.
The writer is a Zambian forester and consultant in forestry sector in Zambia and the SADC.

 

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