ESTHER MSETEKA, Lusaka
A LOT has been said about the mukula tree, but does the public understand what is really happening in the timber sector?
Explaining the current trends in the transaction of mukula will definitely help put the pieces of the puzzle together to show why continued illicit harvesting, trading and smuggling of the commodity has persisted despite the ban.
Last year, Government banned the harvesting, transportation, trading and exportation of mukula tree in accordance with Statutory Instrument (SI) number 94 of 2015.
The public and various stakeholders keep speculating on whether the decree is not strong enough to curb the illicit smuggling of timber related species, or maybe the law enforcement wings are too weak and disorganised such that illicit traders are able to elude their web.
Why are there allegations that there is an underlying power structure of untouchables?
And civil society organisations (CSOs) in a joint statement have urged Zambia Forestry and Forest Industries Corporation Limited (ZAFFICO) to be more transparent and inform the nation on how it conducts the auction for the seized mukula logs.
To this effect, the CSOs have asked ZAFFICO to publish the revenues collected from the sale of the logs to ensure transparency and accountability.
The CSOs involved include Centre for Trade Policy and Development, Civil Society for Poverty Reduction, the Consumer Unity and Trust Society International, and ActionAid.
The organisations are saddened that despite Zambia’s vast natural endowment, the country has failed to take advantage of certain sectors that provide the country with a comparative advantage to improve the quality of people’s life.
They stated that the poor management of not only timber but, also of most economic sectors has continued to be a concern for various stakeholders.
“We are aware that Government announced that ZAFFICO would auction any seized mukula logs. However, the recent incidents have exposed the sad reality that [some people] have continued to harvest and trade in the commodity.
“As a matter of transparency, can ZAFFICO publish its revenue from mukula tree since it has been mandated to dispose of confiscated mukula logs?
“With the value of mukula, it is sad that the local people, who have protected these trees for about 80 years before the plant could reach full maturity, have been left with nothing apart from the consequences of deforestation,” the CSOs noted.
They observed that due to poor controls in the sector, Government has missed out on revenue, while the private sector has been denied income.
The CSOs are therefore, calling on Government to continue putting in place stringent measures to manage the resource “We further urge Government to avoid rhetoric and put in place measures that will benefit this country in terms of revenue for improved public service delivery. The country should not continue to make rules and regulations that are aimed at duping the masses while few people benefit,” they stressed.
The CSOs said the ban of timber should provide an opportunity for Zambia to empower the local business community involved in the production and exportation of the commodity.
They believe this will enable Government to leverage the potential that exists in the sector through the collection of foreign exchange to finance local development projects.
And the Zambia Association of Timber and Forestry Based Industries feels that there is need for Government to engage stakeholders at all levels in policy formulation and implementation processes, if the timber industry is to significantly contribute to economic growth and job creation in the country.
Association secretary general Kalowa Mooto is of the view that if well managed the industry has the potential to create more than five million jobs for the local people.
Mr Mooto has, therefore, called on Government to immediately call for a stakeholder’s indaba to resolve the impasse that has hit the timber fraternity in Zambia.
“Government through the forestry department should appoint honorary officers to help in curbing the illegal activities in the timber industry,” he noted.
Mr Mooto also observed that restrictions in the harvesting, transportation and trading of the mukula is null and void as it is not backed by any SI.
He said currently there is no SI that exists regarding the ban of timber exports. Therefore, the ban is not within the law and can be interpreted as a way of promoting and covering illegal activities by the privileged, while depriving the majority Zambians who are legally entitled to participate in the sector.
“Contrary to what Government through the Forestry Department and the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources have stated regarding mukula and the ban export of all timber species, these statements are in breach of the Forest Act.
“With reference to Article 64 of Forest Act Number 4 of 2015, the minister can only ban of timber exports through an SI in extensive consultation with all stakeholders,” he said.
But ZAFFICO managing director Fighton Sichone explains that the firm will soon update the nation on how the sector has performed so far.
Mr Sichone said Zambia is not the only country that has forbidden the export of timber related products as Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique have also effected the ban while the Democratic Republic of Congo has not put in place any measures to stop the transaction of the commodity.
Mr Sichone said Government engaged ZAFFICO to collect and auction the mukula tree that was illegally cut countrywide.
“Which is better, to let other nations like Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique confiscate our mukula ,auction it and generate income for their countries or we sale those confiscated timber products here for the benefit of our country,” he wondered.
Last week, the Zambia Revenue Authority announced that in 2017, the authority intercepted a total of 62 trucks laden with mukula logs, with an approximate value of over K9.3 million.
The mukula tree has three layers with the heart wood or inner brown part being used for making gun butts, the second one for furniture while the outer part is believed to contain medicinal values.
It is alleged that a 40 foot truck in China is sold between US$30,000 and US$40,000 depending on the costs and demand of the commodity while in Zambia it fetches about US$15,000.
Suffice to say, the insatiable appetite for this endangered timber species in China is really threatening the survival of the mukula tree in Zambia.
Therefore, there is need for the authority, policy-makers and experts in the sector to give proper guidance on how the harvesting, transportation, trading and export of mukula should be handled especially by being more transparency and accountable.