FOR most people in rural and urban areas forest resource plays a critical role in their lives and livelihoods. Forest produce such as timber, poles, grass, firewood, charcoal, honey, mushrooms, caterpillars, munkoyo, chikanda and wild fruits are beneficial to many communities.
As the population of Zambia grows, demand for timber, agriculture land, and unchecked charcoal production inversely the forest resource begins to diminish. The Forestry Department (FD) estimates that the country is losing between 250,000 hectares and 300,000 hectares per year due to the factors that have been catalogued above.
It’s now time, if not too late, to rethink forest management and forest plantation development in order to meet the rising demand for timber by increasing the supply of timber for construction, furniture making and to some extent energy.
The increase in the sources of timber can be done through many ways, one of which is to diversify the sources of supply by inviting more players in the market. You may well note that in the 1980s and 1990s, Zambia was a net exporter of plantation timber.
Due to low supply and increased demand for construction timber, the country is now importing timber from the neighbouring countries, some of which is juvenile timber not fit for construction.
The thrust of the seventh National Development Plan (7NDP) is to place under the Zambia Forestry and Forest Industries Corporation (ZAFFICO) Limited, the responsibility to plant 50,000 hectares in each province during the life of the plan in the country’s10 provinces.
This article discusses forest plantation development under four scenarios;
(1) The role of ZAFFICO; (2) Participation of the private sector; (3) The role of Forestry Department; and (4) Stimulating the smallholder land owners in growing commercial trees. Although development of the beekeeping industry is a strategic intervention in the plan, this will not be discussed as the sub-sector deserves separate and adequate attention.
Like in the Sixth National Development Plan (6NDP), the government has also given prominence to the development and advancement of the forestry sector in Zambia in the 7NDP. The major thrust of the 6NDP was the value addition and job creation.
As regards to forestry, equal emphasis was placed in forest management, reforestation, afforestation and sustainable land management. Consistence with the 6NDP is the promotion and expansion of exotic plantation, establishment of woodlots and tree nurseries. The 6NDP envisaged that the private sector will play key roles under partnerships such as public private partnership (PPPs).
From the onset, it is important to understand the history of industrial plantations development in Zambia.
In 1962, the government began to establish exotic plantations, especially on the Coppebelt for the purpose of supplying timber to the mining and construction industries as a way of preserving the natural forests which were being depleted at a very fast rate.
Under the Forestry Department was the Industrial Populations Division (IPD), a forerunner to the ZAFFICO Limited, which was responsible for spearheading plantation establishment.
The success and vision of the early foresters led to the government to apply and receive US$3 million in 1969. This loan was used by the IPD to establish industrial plantations whose products were sawn timber, electricity, telephone and fencing poles. The main areas where these plantations were established was Ndola, Chati, and Ichimpe.
By 1981, about 50,000 hecters had been planted with pine and eucalyptus, and sawmills constructed in Ndola, Kafubu, and Kalibu with financial and technical assistance from the World Bank and the Finnish government.
This achievement led to the commercialisation of the IPD and its transformation from a division under the Forestry Department to ZAFFICO limited.
Below are advantages and disadvantages of large-scale industrial plantations.
Advantages of industrial plantations: easily creates massive green jobs; readily available raw materials will easily attract wood-based industries; expedites industrialisation; promotes industry skills development; contributes to poverty reduction; improves social services (schools, healthcare) in the areas of operations.
Disadvantages of industrial plantation development: Plantation development requires huge investment, and for big country like Zambia, the more the players in the sector, the better for the country; disturbs the ecosystem through land clearing. Removing trees to plant other trees is not acceptable practice; lack of land tenure by the private sector; requires huge investment. Wealth will be concentrated in corporations instead of individuals; managing this vast land across the country will prove a tall order.
The role of ZAFFICO in forest plantation development under the 7NDP
While the previous 6NDP was sector-based, the 7NDP is an integrated (multi-sectoral) development approach under the theme, “Accelerating development efforts towards the Vision 2030 without leaving anyone behind”. This means that activities which were done under each sector in a silo manner will now be approached using all sectors in a co-ordinated way.
Under this approach, co-ordination and harmonisation will be key in implementing the development agenda.
The strategic objectives of the government as regards to the forestry development in the next five years are:
a) Secure 50,000 hectares of land in each province for forest plantations to be established by ZAFFICO;
b) Promote and facilitate investments through public-private partnerships in environment, forestry and other natural resources;
c) Support value addition to wood and non-wood forest products;
d) Facilitate creation of community beekeeping production clusters; and
e) Promote and undertake applied research on forests, forest products and the environment.
It is expected that by end of 2021, the following will be the outcomes: ZAFFICO would have acquired and planted 50,000 hectares in each province of forest plantation or 500,000 hectares nationally.
Tree nurseries to supply seedling to tree growers would have been established; jobs created; increase the number of private sector participants in the forestry sector; and increased forest production and productivity through research and development.
In respect to the 7NDP, the strategic objectives/interventions, are too ambitious to be achieved in the next five years, but would be good building blocks in achieving the 2030 vision.
The writer is a Zambian forester and consultant in forestry sector.