Editor's Comment

Solving the deforestation problem

WE HAVE reported in today’s edition that the World Bank has approved a US$200 million Climate Investment Fund to Zambia to support reforestation.

The forestry investment project to be implemented across the country, according to Ministry of Development Planning Permanent Secretary Chola Chabala, is an intervention towards the country’s contribution to climate mitigation and adaptation measures.
Mr Chabala observed that deforestation, which affects many parts of the country, is impairing sustainable livelihood of the people.
He also reported that beyond the support the country is receiving from the international community, Government has taken a number of steps in implementing the tree planting programme.
Mr Chabala said in Kawambwa, over 25 hectares of trees have been planted with a target of 4,000 hectares in the long term. There is another programme in Shiwang’andu. Also, 298,000 hectares of land have been sourced for the same project.
Indeed, this is welcome news.
Deforestation is considered one of the priority environmental problems in the country. In fact, woodland conversion to agriculture and wood harvesting for charcoal production seems to be the main causes of forest loss.
But that is where the problem is; charcoal production.
According to the 2010 Central Statistical Office (CSO) statistics, 51 percent of urban households use charcoal for cooking and six percent use firewood while 14 percent of rural households use charcoal and 84 percent use firewood.
In other words, charcoal and firewood still remain the main fuels for majority of township people who comprise more than half of the urban population.
Yet, we are all up against those who cut trees in order to make charcoal.
But certainly, the selected Social Economic Indicators for 2010 by the CSO do not lie; majority of our people rely on charcoal and firewood as fuel.
So, perhaps the question we should be asking is how are we going to replace that?
For a start, we should recognise that charcoal burning is an industry, a major one for that matter. Many hundreds of people make a living out of it. First, there are the woodcutters who cut the trees and turn them into firewood. Secondly, we have the charcoal burners who make the kilns and turn the firewood into charcoal. Thirdly, the transporters who carry the charcoal to town either in rickety trucks or on bicycles; we all see these either in the early hours of the morning or at night. And fourthly, we have the vendors who sell the charcoal.
So, if you were to just ban charcoal burning, what are you going to do with all these people? You cannot just throw them on the streets.
Somebody asked whether charcoal is agriculture. Well, it is up for discussion. But it is certainly forestry.
Therefore, to save trees and indeed the industry, we should be looking at turning charcoal burning into peasant agriculture.
In any case, without charcoal, the majority of our people will not be able to cook or keep warm during the cold season.
Yes, deforestation hurts, especially in view of its impact on the climate.
But we must also be able to find alternatives.
And planting trees is one of them. Or as we put it, peasant agriculture, one which will grow its own trees.
And in planting these trees, we should not be looking at industrial plantations. We just need fast growing trees. We, therefore, need to source fast growing species and make nurseries in every part of the country. The trees can then be distributed to peasants across the country.
Maybe, we will even be able to ‘grow’ jobs on trees.

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