Although Zambia is still 67% covered by forest, concern continues to be expressed at the high rate of deforestation and calls have been made for swift action to address the situation. Since 1990 forest cover has fallen from 52.8m to 49.4m hectares in 2010. There are dwindling timber resources, especially in State and the traditional community managed forests where huge investments are required to replace timber at the rate at which it is being exploited. At present 61% of the forests are community-owned, 24% by the State and 15% by private companies and individuals.
With sensible investment in the local timber industry, a considerable contribution can be made to the development of the Zambian economy. A multi-billion Kwacha furniture factory has been recently opened in Ndola, and the timber industry had great potential to contribute to the country's GDP, if properly and sustainably managed. Illegal timber dealers have contributed greatly to the dwindling of timber resources, and they keep Zambia in the position of a producer of raw materials whose resources have value added outwith the country. Much of the illegally cut timber is hard wood and smuggled out in its raw state. Unfortunately it is only a small greedy elite that benefit at the expense of the communities in which the trees grow. A more stringent monitoring system is needed to stop these illegal activities and keep things in check.
Forestry and all the associated activities, from honey, to nuts, fruits, charcoal and firewood are vital to Zambia's socio-economic development and if managed properly and could create a substantial number of jobs especially for the rural population and this would help to reduce the high poverty levels found there. The UCZ, itself, runs a honey project. It would be ironic if Zambia, country blessed with so much forest cover, in the future, becomes an importer of timber. Malawi’s deforestation and the Caledonian Forest are examples of what can happen over a very short period of time.
The World Bank has just approved a US$50 million credit to improve the productivity of livestock production for targeted female and male smallholder producers in rural Zambia. This is another example of the shift to diversify the economy, from too heavy a reliance on copper mining in industry and maize production in agriculture. It seeks to move a number of successful subsistence farmers to a more semi-commercial status. The project aims to benefit 390,000 female and male smallholder producers in the targeted areas who rear cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and poultry. It is estimated that one million livestock farmers could indirectly benefit from improved control of animal diseases and increased animal numbers. This effort to increase the role of small livestock farming and to diversify agriculture production should help to raise Zambia's GDP, and also raise the standard of living in rural areas and lead to the creation of more permanent and sustainable jobs.
The Mwandi UCZ Agricultural Project and the Mwandi Community Fish Farm were featured last Saturday on the ZNBC Evening News, releasing fingerlings back into the Zambezi to help replenish fish stocks for local subsistence fishermen.
Here the river is rising but the associated flooding in the bush has not reached its usual levels. It has been an average year in our area so far. However, we are being told Southern Africa should brace itself for more heavy rains and floods until the end of this rainy season. Meteorologists warn that tropical cyclones could shake the eastern coast of Southern Africa during March and April.
Despite a late start to our rainy season, much of Southern Africa received heavy rains in late December, which led to some localised flooding. The blame for this placed at the door of La Nina. This is opposite to El Ninõ, which is caused by a warming of waters in the western Pacific which brings drought to southern Africa. Madagascar, Mozambique, South Africa and Angola have all had floods in the past month.
The number of people directly affected by the heavy rain, high winds and flooding caused by two major storms is estimated at 119,000.The gates at Cahora Bassa Dam on the Zambezi are already opened with people living along the lower Zambezi basin and in the Buzi, Save and Pungue basins being sent to higher ground. The Kariba Dam opened its spillway gates of in early January to release pressure on the dam wall. Across the water from us, Namibia has set contingency plans in motion in the Caprivi Region, which is prone to annual floods.
Now finally storms of the political kind: The Mongu Commission, mentioned in earlier postings, recommended this week that the Government should re-instate the 1964 Barotseland Agreement and that it should be part of the new Constitution, but President Sata appears reluctant for the Government to do this.
The Commission also found that the continued denial by the police to allow public meetings violated the rights of assembly and free expression by people in Western Province. Paragraph 7 of the Agreement had also been clearly breached. This concerned the Zambian Government’s financial responsibility to treat Barotseland fairly and equitably in relation to other parts of the Republic. Failure to deal with this had led to high poverty levels and frustrations.
As a result many people were demanding that Western Province should secede from the rest of Zambia because of their growing frustrations at underdevelopment. The committee recommended that dialogue be used in dealing with the agitation to secede, something the previous administration did not do. The Zambian Government should involve the traditional leadership and other key stakeholders to promote national unity. The report would be widely published in the media so that Zambians understood its contents.