SINCE 1990, Zambia has lost more than six per cent of its forest cover due to deforestation influenced by human activities and socio-economic development.
The loss in forest cover between 1990 and 2010 was on an average of 0.32 per cent translating into 166,600 hectares per year, while the total loss over the same period, was above 6.3 per cent translating into 3,332,000 hectares.
According to the United Nations Food Agriculture Organisation, forests in Zambia cover 66.5 per cent translating into about 49,468,000 hectares.
The major reason for deforestation is due to increased human activities for socio-economic development such as land clearing for agricultural, domestic and industrial purposes.
Zambia's forests contain 2,416 million tonnes of carbon in living forest biomass.
Forests are considered important in helping address climate change because scientists have estimated that deforestation and forest degradation account for nearly 20 per cent of annual greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for global warming.
This amount of emissions exceeds the percentage emitted by the entire global transport sector.
Forests have such alarming pollution capacity because when forests are damaged or cleared for agriculture, the burned or decaying wood releases carbon stored in trees in form of carbon dioxide, which is a major heat-trapping greenhouse gas.
On the other hand, recent studies have estimated that nearly five billion of the 32 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted annually through human activity are absorbed by forests.
So losing forests poses a double loss for humanity and the ecosystem that absorbs greenhouse gases and their loss releases more carbon into the environment.
Realising this dangerous situation, Government wants to restore the lost forests through a vigorous national tree planting programme.
President Michael Sata launched the programme last week at Chongwe's Kanakantapa area.
Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba represented the president at the ceremony that was attended by Cabinet ministers, environmentalists and several other stakeholders.
The programme will be achieved through Public Private Partnership policy.
The theme of the programme is: 'Tree planting for poverty alleviation and economic development.'
The tree planting exercise is also known as afforestation.
Afforestation refers to a tree planting programme undertaken either by Government or an institute or individual on Government or own land.
Government will raise about 25,100,000 tree seedlings countrywide during the 2013 to 2014 season.
The Government will establish 2,000 hectares of exotic forest plantations in each province as well as community woodlots.
The Forestry Department under the Ministry of Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection is also being restructured so that it can effectively and efficiently spearhead the implementation of the programme.
However, the major benefits of the tree planning programme include increased employment, creation of an economic capital, increased food and fodder production and avenues for the cottage industry.
Other benefits include regulation of streams, restoring ecological balance of all eco systems, maintaining biological diversity and increasing longevity of dams and reservoirs.
A part of the increased population of the next decades will be absorbed in the fields of employment that will be opened as a result of availability of vast amounts of raw material.
President Sata said the programme is expected to create more than 200,000 jobs.
Employment possibilities would mostly benefit the poor and middle class people.
Creation of an economic capital
The extensive national tree planting programme will not only provide direct employment to the local people, but also create a permanent capital of immense value.
The increased afforestation envisaged in the plan when implemented is likely to double the output of timber.
Increased fodder production
The rising of the forests will increase food production because it would provide grazing facilities and solve the problem of fodder for cattle.
Avenues of cottage industry
The vast amount of raw material that will be available from the increased forests will open up unlimited scope for a number of cottage industries such as furniture, sports goods, match industry, wood carvings and basket making.
Other industries will be pencil making, hand-made paper industry and construction of houses.
Regulation of streams, rivers and underground water
One of the greatest needs of the time is to control and regulate such forces of nature as rain and wind to the best advantage of man.
The role of forests in cushioning the beating rain, intercepting part of the precipitation and conserving and releasing it gradually through the springs, needs no further explanation.
Increasing longevity of dams and reservoirs:
The extensive forests that will be raised near or over the catchment areas of rivers, dams and reservoirs will prevent the erosion of the top soil to a great extent and thereby the silting up of the beds of impounded lakes would be reduced.
By reducing the velocity of rushing rain waters, the wooded lands constitute the best insurance against denudations (to expose rock strata by erosion), devastating floods, disappearance of springs and silting up of the beds of reservoirs, canals and rivers.
Planting trees will restore ecological balance of all eco systems, maintain biological diversity, act as catchments for the soil and water conservation and stabilise soils by increasing interception.
Raised forests will also prevent floods and safeguard the future of the tribal people, bring soil together and prevent soil erosion, act as windbreaks and stabilise the climate and the forest products.
Copperbelt for Better Environment executive director Peter Sinkamba said the scheme is a commendable programme that Government has undertaken considering the high rate of deforestation in the country.
"We hope it will be sustained and it is not a one off activity. Above all, we hope Government will in the upcoming budgets dedicate more resources towards strengthening the instructional, policy and regulatory framework in the forestry sector," Mr Sinkamba said.
Mr Sinkamba said he was aware that Government has not implemented the forestry Act of 1999 to date, a situation which has continued affecting the development of the sector.
But the Patriotic Front Government since taking over power last year, has started reviewing all policies regarding environmental protection and forestry.
Mr Sinkamba however, added that there is need to employ forest rangers (formerly known as Bakapenda mabula).
"So without stewards of forests, and adequate legal and policy framework it is a mockery to plant trees which will not be nurtured and protected. It will be a waste of time," Mr Sinkamba said.
Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW) Zambia campaign officer Edward Lange said there is need to change the mind set of the people in the community to successfully and sustainably implement the programme.
Mr Lange said people on the Copperbelt should be sensitised on the programme to avoid losing out because there were similar projects that failed in the area due to negligence.
He said people needed to appreciate the importance of the tree in life.
Mr Lange said there is also need to invest in the management of the trees before they mature failure to which the programme will be rendered useless.
He said the local communities should be heavily engaged in the successful implementation of the programme.
"This programme should be politicised because it is the ruling that has launched it. It should be supported by all well-meaning Zambians because trees affect the ecosystem which does not know any political party," Mr Lange said.
He said the project if properly managed could create thousands of jobs because of the long chain of production involved.
SARW has several objectives which include consolidating research and advocacy on natural resources.
The other objective is to put a spotlight on the specific dynamics of natural resources in Southern Africa, building a distinctive understanding of the regional geo-political dynamics of resource economics.
Copperbelt environmentalist Ilunga Mutwale said the tree planting scheme is good because it has both both social and environmental benefits.
Mr Mutwale said the social side of the scheme is the economic aspect where more people would be employed while the environmental aspect would restore the ecosystem.
"It is good to see such high political will towards sustainable improvement of the environment, but we also need corresponding social will towards the implementation of the programme failure to which the policy will remain on paper," Mr Mutwale said.
Mr Mutwale said there was need to encourage the planting of indigenous trees as opposed to pine to create a balance.
He said the programme should be extended to the rural areas where trees are being cut at a fast rate and not being replaced.
Mr Mutwale said the increased Afforestation envisaged in the scheme when implemented will double the output of timber thus create more jobs.
James Chirwa, a Ndola resident, has supported the initiative andsuggested that all learning institutions (universities, colleges, schools) be apportioned places where they could plant trees.
"This could be done on a National Tree Planting Day the way community work used to be done during Humanism Week, Youth Day, and imagine if this is done for a period of say five years, we could really replenish our forests," Mr Chirwa said.
Mr Chirwa said those cutting trees should pay an extra levy per tree that would support the tree planting exercise.
Already some stakeholders like Konkola Copper Mine have responded to the noble cause by financing the tree planting exercise on the Copperbelt.
The mining firm financially supported Government to plant 100, 000 trees in Chingola District while traditional leaders provided the land.
It is therefore undisputed that the extensive national tree planting programme would not only provide direct employment to the local people but also create a permanent capital of immense value.