Timber Pirates Raid Zambia's Forest Treasures
By Singy Hanyona
LUSAKA, Zambia, January 18, 2002 (ENS) - The lack of political will for sustainability in developing Zambia's forestry resources has led to sabotage of the forest sector, according to a new report by the African Friendship Fund. The grassroots nonprofit organization, works towards promotion of sustainable forest industries and conservation.
A few weeks after the country's elections last December 27, the country's 481 protected forest areas, 181 national forests and 300 local forest reserves are at risk of neglect by the new government.
The danger of this political decision is that focus may be more on tourism that on environmental conservation. Private business interests may overide those of environmental protection, the African Friendship Fund (AFF) predicts.
The new adminstration says the merger of the two ministries is aimed at reducing government spending in a country whose poverty levels among its are skyrocketing. Now an estimated 80 percent of Zambia's 10.3 million people now lives below the poverty level.
AFF Zambia Country Director Saviour Chishimba says unscrupulous foreign investors have come into the country to exploit timber, and have managed to evade paying taxes.
Gambling that the government is sleeping, they come to do business without registering their companies. They enter Zambia as tourists and manipulate local timber merchants with pitsaw licences, said Chishimba.
The forests provide habitat for wildlife which attracts tourists from around the world, and vital products for rural and urban dwellers - fuel wood, timber for construction and food. Marketing of charcoal and timber plays an important role in boosting the rural incomes, with charcoal burners exporting products to as far as the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Despite the Forest Act of 1998, enacted to protect forests, uncontrolled exploitation of forest products, illegal settlements and conversion of forests to farms now strips forested land at the rate of over 250,000 hectares (965 square miles) annually.
AFF cites weak forest regulations in Zambia, saying local people have lost out to foreigners in three forest rich provinces.
They simply bribe Zambia Revenue Authority Officers at border check points and export canted timber, Chishimba alleged.
According to AFF records, a cubic meter of timber costs US$500 and these monies are not deposited into local banks. This is tantamount to money laundering, he said.
Consultations are currently going on between AFF and the Timber Producers Association of Zambia. Together they are looking at the best options for achieving transparency and accountability in the forest sector.
AFF says, "As an environmentally friendly organization, we shall ensure that timber dealers are made to comply with forestry regulations."
The Environmental Council of Zambia is being compelled to ask all timber traders to pay a fee, and plant trees to restore deforested, degraded land.
According to CFA-Zambia, termites are considered the most common cause of failure and that success for eucalyptus plantations depends on finding the right species, a favorable planting season and good timing.
As yet, few Zambian farmers have taken the trouble to find out how eucalyptus is grown with prescribed management regimes.
Like deforestation, many of the other environmental problems besieging Zambia today are induced by such human activities as population growth, urbanization and industrialization, according to the latest State of the Environment Report, published by the Environmental Council of Zambia.