FIRST Republican President Kenneth Kaunda once observed that Zambia risks losing most of its forests if no immediate solution was found to stop the problem of deforestation.
Powered by cautious administration, forestry is a renewable natural resource with the latent to sustain the economic affairs of the country through stimulation of forestry goods and employment opportunities.
Swedish Organic expert Gunner Rundgren agrees that Zambia has great potential in forestry which can be harnessed for the development of the country and calls for strides crafted to sensitise Zambians on the value of the forests as most people continue to fail to appreciate the resource.
The need to re-enforce various instruments in forestry regulations in a bid to ensure sustainable use of the natural resources cannot be challenged.
Of this, Government is buttressing initiatives to enable the public appreciate the fundamental need to curb the chief drivers of global warming such as deforestation and land degradation by re-planting trees - enforcing laws that attempt to curtail the devastating vice of indiscriminate cutting of trees for both domestic and commercial purposes.
The Government recently suspended all timber licences as a step to protect the depleting forests around the country.
The suspension of timber licences is supported under section 68 (2)F of the Forest Act number 39 of 1973 Cap 199 of the Laws of Zambia, a move that would not apply to exotic timber plantations or timber that is legally extracted, processed and was in timber yards, factories or markets by the time the ban was issued
Little wonder the suspension of timber licences endorses the depressing truism that on the global scale, the deforestation rates stand between 250,000 to 300, 000 hectares per annum with the saw log or timber deficit at 2.5 million cubic metres!
To counter screaming levels of deforestation, over 25 million trees equivalent to 20,000 hectares are slated to be planted during the 2012/2013 tree planting season across the spine of the country, a deliberate initiative meant to address the depleting forests.
Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Minister, Wylbur Simuusa, says the programme will be implemented through the launch of the National Tree Planting Programme (NTPP).
Once rolled out, the NTPP can create over 200,000 jobs with the first phase establishing 11 large scale forest nurseries and community ones -- creating over 6,000 jobs country-wide.
"There is urgent need for a serious concerted effort to address this very serious situation. The Patriotic Front (PF) Government in line with its manifesto has taken a bold step to address the depleting forest resources by funding my ministry with an initial amount of K12 billion." says Minister Simuusa:
Among other tree species to be planted in different parts of the country include, pinus and eucalyptus for timber, poles and resins, faldherbia albida for animal fodder, nitrogen fixing, firewood, moringa oleifera for medicine and oil and fruit trees.
The funding will facilitate the establishment of 11 large-scale tree nurseries in all 10 provinces and one at the Forestry Research Centre in Kitwe.
The funding will enable the raising of 17,500,000 tree seedlings in 11 large-scale forest nurseries across the country by December 15, 2012 a -- engage about 5,000 local people during production.
This will equally assist in developing an out-grower scheme to produce 8 million seedlings country-wide valued at K 1 billion which would involve chiefs, schools, churches and other stakeholders.
At the provincial front, the nursery size would be two to three hectares per district, 1,550 tonnes of soil collected for nursery while 452 workers would be engaged in each province and at the Forest Research Centre.
Central Province will have 700 hectares, Copperbelt 5,000, Eastern 2,700, Luapula 5,000, Lusaka 4,000, Muchinga 10,000, Northern 5,000, North-Western 5,000, Southern 3,000 and Western 5, 000.
Deforestation is rampant in all parts of the country.
In Masaiti District, the vice has forced Senior Chief Chiwala to step up the campaign to empower his subjects on the dangers of the cutting down of trees for both domestic and commercial purposes.
Recently, the senior chief invited news reporters, Ndola Central Police senior officers, Forestry Department officers and his subjects to a meeting at his palace where the issue of commercial charcoal burning was explored to depth.
It took a lot of heated explanation from both the senior chief, who was flanked by tribal leaders, and FD officials to convince the rural dwellers that it was suicidal to disturb the environment through indiscriminate cutting of trees.
The chief urged them to obtain relevant permits that allow them to cut trees and urged them to apply for plot extensions as a way of engaging in farming activities instead of destroying the environment.
He says that effective resource management was a public concern of all stakeholders and that strides to foster positive environmental conservation should be doubled for the benefit of the country, adding that organic farming was one of the long-term solution to curbing deforestation.
Senior Chief Chiwala says there is need to continue sensitising the people on the value of forests and that there was also need to preserve trees so that his chiefdom does not lose land and water resources due to global warming.
During his recent familiarisation tour of Non Ferrous Corporation Africa Mining (NFCAM) in Chambishi, Copperbelt Permanent Secretary Stanford Msichili underscored the importance of environmental conservation. Mr Msichili said that the Patriotic Front administration was keen to further engage communities and other societal players in that direction.
He was informed about progress being scored by NFCAM in addressing environmental degradation in the district.
NFCAM corporate affairs manager Nelson Jilowa said that the mining outfit was upbeat protecting the environment as it conducts mining activities in Chambishi. The company was engaged in tree re-planting exercises.
Kalulushi District Forestry Officer, Isaac Gondwe, informed Mr Msichil that environmental issues were high on the agenda to protect degradation of the earth in the district.
Says Mr Gondwe: "Every year, we distribute over 500 tree seedlings to schools, farmers and members of the public. We are involved in re-generation of trees with stakeholders. We started a programme last year to erect boundaries around the forestry reserves in the district, which stops people from encroaching the protected area.
"As a department, we have so far erected about 13 kms around the reserves and we have successfully established school conservation camps and we are also working with other different partners in society where we share information on effects of deforestation."
He weighs in with the pointer that the highest effects of deforestation include global warming, soil erosion which results in infertility of the soil as well as drying up of streams.
Cutting down trees forces wildlife to abandon their natural terrain - disturbing the ecological system.
But the positive steps being taken by concerned stakeholders in preserving the environment including the suspension of timber licences has been met with opposition.
Jacob Kalunga, a trader at Ndola's Twapia Township, argues that the suspension has grave consequences on people depending on tree cutting business.
Says Kalunga: "Some saw mill companies have decided to reduce working time at the factory because of the suspension as business has started to show signs of slowing down. People may end up losing jobs and this is a challenge to the Government intending to create employment."
Shadreck Jere, a transport operator from Misundu in Ndola, says that his business has been affected because the trips to ferry logs have reduced and may consider parking his trucks because the price of maintenance of the fleet has not corresponded with the returns.
Tenkanya Mofya, a tree cutter in the woods along Mufulira Road, does not welcome the suspension, saying he fears losing his job to cut and load logs.
But Dr Kaunda still calls for revival of tree planting programmes in order to preserve trees and the forest in general.