Mukula: Threatened golden resource

MUKULA trees inside the Rufunsa Conservancy.

IN August 2016, Evans Ngoma began trading in mukula on the black market. He would travel to Muchinga Province, specifically to the areas of Chama and Chinsali where he would collect and transport mukula logs. Most of the logs he collected were in Chama and also in Isoka and part of Mpika.
He decided to go into the trade because he was approached by a Chinese man who gave him the money to collect and shift the logs in preparation for export to China.
Mr Ngoma went down to Chinsali where he was buying the logs from people that had licences to trade in the mukula.
“It was an official business,” Mr Ngoma explains. “We would buy from the people outside Lusaka and deliver the logs in Lusaka. Sometimes we would cross into Chirundu border with no hustle.”
Mr Ngoma says the logs were fetching for quite a substantial amount of money because a truckload which would take between 24 to 30 tonnes had an approximate street value of between USD$30,000 and USD$40,000 once transported to Durban.
His client would give him approximately K100,000, which he would use to negotiate with the mukula traders before organising transport and loading a container.
Sometimes he would be given K500,000 at once and would set off on a mission to purchase the logs. After buying the logs, he would then go to the forestry office for the logs to be marked.
After some months of doing the business in Chinsali, Mr Ngoma moved to Mansa in Luapula Province where he says the area had a vast amount of the tree species.
There he found thick, untampered forest which fascinated him.
“It was just a very normal business, then after the 2016 elections when Government was officially formed, they put in stringent measures and came to the decision that the mukula trade must be stopped,” Mr Ngoma says.
In January this year, the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) announced that it had intercepted a total of 62 trucks laden with mukula logs carrying an approximate value of over K9.3 million.
On a private forest reserve area called the Rufunsa Conservancy measuring 40,126 hectares in size in Rufunsa district, we found the valued mukula tree.
To the ordinary eye, it looks just like any other tree in a thick forest hosting trees of varied species. But the tree has many valuable uses which have driven its demand especially in recent years.
It takes approximately 80 to 90 years for the mukula tree, scientifically called “Pterocarpus erinaceus,” to mature.
The Rufunsa conservancy is located 120 kilometres south-east of Lusaka in Rufunsa district. It is considered one of the last intact areas of forest and provides a 60 kilometre buffer to Lower Zambezi National Park, considered a strategic protected area in Zambia.
A local source in Rufunsa who preferred to remain anonymous shared that many locals were unaware of the commercial value of the tree until Chinese dealers began descending on the area. He said some of the locals in the community began facilitating the trade in mukula by the Chinese.
In China, mukula is used in the making of traditional Chinese furniture as a preferred substitute to traditional rosewood.
Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) scientist, Davison Gumbo contributed to a study called ‘Informality, global capital, rural development and the environment: Mukula (rosewood) trade between China and Zambia.’
The paper published in March 2018, focuses on the political economy of the international mukula (rosewood) trade and interrogates the role of global capital, in particular that of Chinese origin in Zambia, and its impacts on rural livelihoods, the environment and resource governance.
Results of the study show that rural villagers are increasingly forging direct links with foreign investors and producing innovative business models that accelerate the rate of small-scale production and extraction of resources.
This is all the while rooted in the rural economic system characterised by legal vagueness and limited government supervision.
The paper proposes that the Zambian government steps up its efforts in protecting the Zambian forests and its people’s long-term livelihoods by actually implementing the innovative measures included in the Forests Act of 2015 regarding community, joint and private forest management.
The paper also highlights that trade in mukula gained momentum around 2010, and that during the period 2010 to 2013, the mukula neither fell under a specific regulation nor was it listed as a commercial species.
“In June 2013, a general ban on logging of all commercial species was imposed. It was justified as a response to widespread corruption, malpractice and mismanagement in the timber industry; in addition, the Government of the Republic of Zambia desired to protect the Zambian forests against depletion and wanted to take stock of the resource availability for better future planning. At the time of writing, the recommended stock assessment of the timber resources has still not been completed. The general log ban enacted lasted only a few months. It was lifted in October 2013 due to the need to honour the existing concessions that had been signed and the movement of timber that was in transit at the time of the ban.”
In early 2014, the government specifically banned the logging of mukula and later in November 2014, it constituted a ‘Taskforce against Illegal Logging and Trading in Mukula Tree’ which comprised members from institutions such as the Forestry Department, Zambia Police, Drug Enforcement Commission, Anti-Corruption Commission and Zambia Environmental Management Agency or ZEMA).
CIFOR notes that despite the establishment of a task force, the Government was unable to come up with decentralised and effective teams of people working together on the issue of the mukula.
Eventually, the mukula ban was lifted under the auspices of the newly-pronounced National Forestry Policy of 2014, which led to the Forests Act of 2015.
One of the challenges that threaten the existence of Zambia’s forests and tree species such as the mukula is the limited capacity of local forestry departments.
Most are poorly staffed, leaving vast areas of forest in different parts of the country open to illegal activities such as deforestation.
Last year, the Government banned the harvesting, transportation, trading and exportation of the mukula tree in accordance with Statutory Instrument (SI) number 94 of 2015.
The Government also mandated the Zambia Forestry and Forest Industries Corporation Limited (ZAFFICO) to auction any confiscated mukula logs.
Earlier this year, civil society organisations (CSOs) such as the Civil Society for Poverty Reduction (CSPR), ActionAid and the Consumer Unit and Trust Society International expressed concern that it is the local people who are the defenders of Zambia’s forest areas that have been left with nothing apart from the consequences of deforestation.
However, environmental conservationists argue that it is the locals themselves who are engaged in damaging activities such as deforestation because they lack the general appreciation for the environment.
High among the challenges of shifting local attitudes towards the environment and encouraging the protection of tree species such as the mukula is the limited economic options available for members of local communities.
At the beginning of 2016, a ‘mukula timber harvesting and movement ban’ was again issued, then lifted in July 2016, and then reinstated at the beginning of 2017.
Also, in June 2016, a suspension of the issuance, and cancellation of, renewal of forest concession licences was issued. The registered timber merchants with the forestry department, holders of a timber merchant permit and all concession licences issued under the repealed Forest
Act of 1973 were allowed to export timber until their expiry date. The ministry indicated that potential areas for future concession licences would be done in line with regulation 4 (2) of the Forest (Concession Licence) Regulations of 2016, and eventually gave the advice accordingly in August 2016.
Organisations like CIFOR recommend the implementation of the National Forestry Policy and the Forests Act, which contain provisions for Community Forest Management (CFM), Joint Forest Management (JFM) and Private Forest Management (PFM) to supplement the forestry department’s lack of capacity to manage Zambia’s protected forest estate.
The organisation says participation of communities, traditional authorities and NGOs in the management of forests seems the most viable pathway for enhanced capacity to manage, monitor and enforce the principles of sustainable forest management.
It is further proposed that the innovative measures included in the Forests Act of 2015, including community, joint and private forest management, need to be tested and implemented.
Businessmen like Mr Ngoma feel that the Government took a harsh approach when placing the ban on the mukula trade.
“I think the people where we were trading from are more aggrieved with the whole thing of stopping this trade because their livelihood came from that,” Mr Ngoma says. “It was a sweet business and the ban came so abruptly and my appeal is that the Government reconsiders its stance for the people that invested heavily in it.”

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