Feeble policies and high deforestation in Zambia

11 April, 2011, Danstan Kaunda

Zambia faces a worsening cycle of energy demand and deforestation

According to the UN food agency, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Zambia is among the top 10 countries in the world with the highest annual deforestation rate.

The agency estimates that the country is losing about 8,000 hectares of forest every year.

More of Zambia’s woodland is being cut down for charcoal – this is after the country’s energy watchdog the Energy Regulation Board (ERB) allowed national electricity firm Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation (Zesco) to hike electricity price for domestic consumers by around 40 percent last year.[frax09alpha]

On the other hand, international firms operating and trading in timber in the country are cutting massive woodland for export.

This has resulted in carbon emission, an important factor in global warming, and expose slopes that cause disasters as they are more vulnerable to landslides.

The rising cost of electricity could worsen the effects of climate change in Zambia.
In the recent past, tonnes of trees were cut down and used as wood fuel in the form of firewood or charcoal.

Trees are also cut down for mining activities, furniture production and timber for the construction and mining industry. In many rural areas trees are cut and burnt to ash for agricultural purposes.

Earlier this year, the Zambian government impounded seven trucks allegedly belonging to a Chinese firm for trying to export unprocessed timber.

The enormous cutting down of trees has changed the local rainfall patterns. Just last year, flooding destroyed homes in the capital Lusaka, forcing hundreds of people to camp at a stadium for six months.

And in the Gwembe valley in southern Zambia, crops were swept away by heavy rains, leading to severe food shortages.

Government worker Edith Mwale, 35, who lives in Lusaka’s Chelstone Township, is among those who have had to switch back to using charcoal for cooking and heating.

“Electricity drives almost everything at home, but now we have to suspend so many things including baking and sewing because we cannot afford to buy electricity like we did before,” Mwale notes.

“Cooking on a charcoal brazier is much less efficient than an electric stove, and reduces the household’s ability to produce baked goods to sell for extra income.”

Zambia’s Energy Regulation Board (ERB) allowed Zesco to increase electricity tariffs by 35 percent, and has indicated it will be permitted to raise them again this year.

But Mushiba Nyamazana, ERB acting director, argued that people should pay more for the energy they consume so the next generation can receive a better service.

“It is unfortunate that most consumers are not ready to spend a little more for the benefits of investment into the energy sector,” Nyamazana said.

The cheapest source of energy is charcoal – which is now likely to be produced on a larger scale. Workers who have been laid off from the country’s textile, chemical and mining industries like in the north part of the country’s Copperbelt are heading to rural areas in hope of making money from charcoal burning.

This goes against the Zambian government’s aim of reducing charcoal consumption.

Zambia, like many other African countries, faces worsening power shortages which both government authorities can only avoid by raising more funds for electricity generation through higher tariffs.

Despite the price hike, load shedding – intentional power blackouts in response to high demand – has continued because of inadequate generation by Zesco, with many towns and townships having no electricity for three to four hours a day.

Even those who can still afford electricity are forced to buy charcoal for cooking and heating because of the rationing.

It is common nowadays to find on our roads trucks and lorries laden with charcoal headed for urban markets in Lusaka and the Copperbelt.

Lack of alternative source of energy (electricity, solar) has made charcoal into a lucrative business. Many live off cutting and burning trees, while others live on trading charcoal and wood.

The results and effects are many: soil erosion, mini deserts, reduced rainfall and so on – all climate change effects.

High poverty levels in Zambia also force many people into the easy business of charcoal burning and trading.

Experts say that the effects of climate change are most severe in areas where trees have been cut down.

The Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources, under the Forestry Department, carries out forestation activities but these activities are minimal compared to the extent of deforestation.

Recently, Tourism, Environment and Natural Resource Minister Catherine Namugale confirmed that trucks had been seized with massive loads of timber being exported.

The minister said that law did not allow the export of unprocessed timber.

“I want to confirm that there are seven trucks at Chirundu border that have been impounded because we suspect that they are carrying raw timber and we shall keep the public informed.

“We will also ensure the law takes its course if it is confirmed that the people involved contravened the law,” the Minister said.

“I want to confirm that there are seven trucks at Chirundu border that have been impounded because we suspect that they are carrying raw timber and we shall keep the public informed,” said Zambian Tourism, Environment and Natural Resource Minister Catherine Namugale.

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