ALEX NJOVU, Lusaka
ZAMBIA has adequate researched data to develop initiatives for coming up with strategies and visions to lead the forest and wood sector to sustainable development.
But it is like the folders containing such valuable information are locked up in archives, and there is nothing to show that these works have been done.
Sustainable development is growth that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
African countries like Zambia can truly address various challenges affecting them such as poverty only if they embrace sustainable development in its true sense.
Sustainable development is therefore, the only â€˜vehicleâ€™ that Zambia needs to push its growth agenda forward.
Most African countries, especially those in the sub-Saharan region, have failed to meet the much-publicised Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) because they were unrealistic as poverty and diseases have continued to wreak havoc in various communities.
This is the time to invest a lot of resources and time in sustainable development programmes if African nations are serious about fighting various vices that have negatively affected both their economic and the social development processes.
The forest sector in Zambia is viable and can be more productive if various stakeholders worked together to develop the industry.
The sector alone, has the potential to create thousands of jobs for the citizens.
That is why some stakeholders feel there is need to make use of the data that has been collected over the years to enhance sustainable development in various sectors of the economy, including the forest industry.
â€œSome important data collected is from programmes such as First Integrated Land Use Assessment, Second Land Use Assessment, UN-REDD+ [UN Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation] and the Agro-ecological Zoning.
â€œThese assessments were to build up forest-related land and use resource inventories and support for national planning capacity, contributing to formulating of sector development policies,â€ says William Bwalya, the general secretary of the Zambia National Association of Sawmillers.
â€œThe UN-REDD+ programme studied the various forestry and land use management options to assess their potential and suitability for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation,â€ Mr Bwalya adds.
The Agro-ecological Zoning studies defined zones on the basis of combinations of soil, land form and climatic requirements of trees and the management systems under which the trees grow.
Each zone has a similar combination of constraints and potentials for land use, and serves as a focus for targeting of recommendations designed to improve the existing land use situation, either through increasing production or by limiting land degradation.
Mr Bwalya says the second land use assessment and the forest products opportunity study further contributed to the framework of the wood industry planning in Zambia.
The information from this assessment is to feed into the Zambia forest action plan, integrated land use assessment two and the UN-REDD+ programme, according to Mr Bwalya.
â€œIn short, the country has data needed in taking the forest and wood products industry to sustainable development. We must take advantage of the data some of which reviews forest classification, zoning and land use to understand production forest potential as a basis for industrial processing and sustainable development.
â€œFor example, the integrated land use assessment two focused on timber from agro-ecological zones, forest types and classes as well as provinces in the integrated land use assessment.
â€œAs an association, we do not see why with all this information, the sector cannot be sustainably managed. Our technocrats must assist our political leaders to understand the works they have done over the years,â€ he says.
The sector, Mr Bwalya says, remains threatened by wholesale charcoal burning, overgrazing, opening up for new mines, farming and human settlement.
Mr Bwalya is concerned that the forest sector has not opened up to private investment in plantation forestry due to the countryâ€™s reliance on an outdated Forest Act, which has not adequately tackled land tenure security.
And for the sector to reach a sustainability level, planners need to take advantage of climate change mitigation programmes which have become a basis for transformative development in Africa.
This means that the sector should sustainably manage its forests and come up with climate change mitigation measures or a policy framework.
â€œFor example, the UN-REDD+ mechanism is designed to offer governments the possibility of benefiting financially from maintaining their forests and help developing countries move from dialogue to actions aimed at reducing deforestation and forest degradation.
â€œThe UN-REDD+ financing mechanism is at different stages of advancement in different countries and regions. The REDD+ could lead to the transfer of billions of dollars from industrialised countries to tropical countries by generating sales of emissions reduction credit,â€ Mr Bwalya points out.
He says the first step in talking about sustainable development in the sector should be to get the basics done.
â€œWe should go back to sector policy frameworks, then we make everybody know and talk â€˜sustainabilityâ€™. Right now it is more of a question of political will and commitment to do it and to accept that the forest and wood products sector needs reform,â€ he observes.
According to Mr Bwalya, the government on its part should build conditions for both public and private sectors to invest in trees, starting with a few local institutions such as the National Pension Scheme Authority and the Workersâ€™ Compensation Fund Control Board.
â€œThe vision is in the data but we have to work out the strategies for development such as setting up of industrial parks by the locals in communities,â€ he says.
Mr Bwalya says currently, Zambia with help of the Finish government and some UN agencies such as the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, International Labour Organisation, Food and Agriculture Organisation as well as the United Nations Environment Programme, is implementing a five-year programme (2013 -2017) called the Zambia Green Jobs Programme to improve the construction sector value chain.
The green jobs programme is based on the context of sustainable development and contributes to eradicating poverty, sustaining economic growth, enhancing social inclusion, improving human welfare, and creating opportunities for employment.
This is being done while maintaining the healthy functioning of the ecosystems, efficiency and optimisation of resource use while respecting environmental and ecological parameters.
ALEX NJOVU, Lusaka