By CHALIAFYA Katungula
Forests support incredible biodiversity and natural resources, these are the homes of many indigenous peoples, and provide livelihoods for millions of people. Unfortunately, our forests are disappearing rapidly. Forests have been destroyed by exploitation for timber, for agriculture, mining and urban growth. Much of this destruction is caused by illegal logging, trees are being cut down and their timber processed used in the country or exported, without legal processes being followed. Though there is a legitimate timber industry it is this illegal logging that is most damaging.
From a professional forestry perspective, we normally say don’t exploit a resource for which you have no inventory to determine stocking in a potential concession area, we do not know how much Mukula is in the forest, how then do we go ahead and continue harvesting the same? You can only manage if you know the numbers of what you are dealing with thus if you have no basic information then you basically cannot attain management of any particular resource.
The issue of unsustainable logging and Mukula trading makes sad reading in this country because we know that the Government is and has been under pressure from timber traders in pushing for the ban on Mukula to be lifted. They usually amplify the revenues which the Government loses by keeping the ban on while disregarding the conservation aspect.
Well as professionals our stance is based on the conservation balance sheet and thus the logging or trading of this resource should be discontinued until we undertake a comprehensive inventory of the resources in the forests. Can the merchants tell us how many trees of Mukula they have replanted or replaced in their course of business in let’s say the last ten years? If you want to trade in Mukula, grow your own!! In fact the timber traders should take advantage of the provision in the Forestry Act No. 4 of 2015 to set up private forests or stands of Mukula. We stand with the Government and would like to urge the authorities to maintain the ban on Mukula harvesting and trade.
Specifically, we support the stance taken by the honourable Minister of Lands and Natural Resources in January 2021 where she assured the nation that the ban on Mukula will not be lifted and encouraged traders to explore other lesser known species. However, on 12 th March 2021, an advertisement was released by the Zambia Forest and Forest Industries Cooperation (ZAFFICO) announcing that it has been mandated by Government to purchase legally harvested Mukula logs from licensed concession holders and holders of felling permits. Further, the Corporation stated that it has been mandated to sale the said logs to entities legally engaged in value addition to the Mukula logs within the country as well as exporting to international markets.
However, ZAFFICO is offside!! There is inconsistency and deviation from what the right honourable Minister of Lands and natural resources pronounced earlier on in January this year. We strongly feel the ban was in good faith but the action by ZAFFICO will not help our conservation efforts or the conflict that this trade brings. ZAFFICO should thus halt the current purchase of Mukula which they have embarked on countrywide, we have no capacity to prevent what they term legally harvested Mukula from comingling with illegally harvested Mukula.
Questions that need to be addressed with regard to the issue of Mukula are as follows;- Have we filled the forestry department establishment in terns of personnel to monitor logging or this trade? Has funding to aid operations of the department improved so as to address the challenge that this issue brings? This trade does not just cause environmental damage, but deprives our Country of millions in lost revenue, causes loss of livelihoods to forest dwelling communities, and leads to other criminal activities. It also undermines the rule of law, giving people less faith and willingness to support Government which fails them in curbing such activities
It has come to our attention as concerned forestry professionals that some unscrupulous people and authorities have continued to illegally export Mukula despite the ban. The aforementioned have taken advantage and abuse the transit deal between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia to export Mukula logs using the Nakonde border and other exist points.
All along Mukula from Luapula province and other parts of the country has been exiting the country using this scheme despite the ban. The harvesting of Mukula had and has continued being done in SECRECY and logs harvested locally were being comingled with those in transitfrom Congo DR. The fact of the matter is that there is possible corruption and a fraudulent scheme where documentation is generated showing that a certain number of trucks will pass through Zambia for example 45 trucks but in actual fact the number of trucks loaded from Congo DR may be 30 or 35 leaving the remainder to be comingled with Mukula that has been illegally harvested from Zambia. Clearly, such manoeuvres and schemes involve a few individuals and in most cases, ones that are highly connected.
Indeed, Corruption seems to be the main driver of illegal logging. You must note that raw or processed timber is not easily hidden, that sawmills and chainsaws need fuel and electricity, that the timber has to be transported by roads and across borders in ships. The illegal timber industry can thus only operate with the connivance of a large number of people. Without corruption to lubricate the way, illegal timber would not flow.
Going forward, we feel that pronouncing a ban on Mukula without backing of a comprehensive statutory instrument is not enough. There should always be a legal apparatus, guidelines and strategies developed to holistically address this challenge so as to reinforce the ban on Mukula. We note that the ban that had been put in place in the past and in 2017 to be specific had some loopholes, while the Forestry Department had suspended the issuance of concession licences; the aspect of concession license renewal was neglected and never addressed. This meant that the ban had merely targeted new entrants while the old concession license holders had leeway to renew their licenses upon expiry and continue operations.
We admit that in the past, forestry challenges particularly on Mukula have primarily bordered between the Government, Forestry Department and the Timber traders. The aspect of private foresters or those that are engaged in other areas has been absent. It is for this reason that we have taken an initiative to organise ourselves as forestry professionals to advocate and come up with pragmatic professional solutions and participate in the control and prevention of unsustainable timber exploitation and forestry practices. We shall thus support Government to come up with strategies on how to control and better regulate timber logging!!
We stand on the side of the conservation and believe that we should preserve this endangered species for future generations and for biodiversity purposes. We shall visit our honourable Minister of Lands and Natural Resources so that our perspective can be appreciated in public interest. In the meantime, we earnestly appeal to the Government of the Republic of Zambia to halt the purchase of Mukula until they put in place measures and modalities to support sustainable natural resource management and in this particular matter Mukula
The Author is an Advocate General for Forestry Advocacy For Communication Transparency, Accountability And Research -F(A+C+T+A+R)