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Empowering Communities through Community Forestry Management Groups

Forests cover over 42 percent of the total land area in Zambia. They’re dominated by the Savannah Woodlands, which are characterized by four types: Miombo, Kalahari, Mopane, and Munga woodlands. The most substantial is the Miombo Woodland which mostly covers the northern half of the country including Lusaka, the Eastern, Western, and the Copperbelt.

For obvious reasons, when we hear the word forest, the first thought that comes to mind is trees. Forests go beyond just trees, they are regarded as the silent stewards of our planet, and they play a significant role in our lives and the sustainability of our environment, fighting human-induced biodiversity and climate change issues. As we navigate an era marked by increasing environmental challenges, understanding the significant importance of forests becomes a necessity and a crucial step toward ensuring the well-being of our planet.

Forests in Zambia, have both urban and rural use: the paper we write and print on, the furniture we sit on, the tissue we use, and the by-products used to manufacture cosmetics and medicine all come from forests. Similarly, rural households depend on these forests for several uses such as food, firewood, building materials, and many more uses. Unfortunately, it is reported that these forests are disappearing at an alarming rate of 275,000ha per annum. 

Deforestation is also a contributor to the loss of our forests, its drivers have been identified as agricultural expansion, unsustainable charcoal and wood production practices, unmanaged fires, and uncontrolled livestock grazing. Other drivers include insecure rights of ownership over forests and insufficient legal forest use rights for forest communities, which has often created open access and a lack of incentives for sustainable forest management.

Milimo Miyoba, Forestry Department Acting District Officer in Mpongwe, Copperbelt highlighted the importance of imparting a sense of ownership in the minds of community members within the forests. Previously, all forest management issues were solely vested in the government, sidelining the community’s involvement. Recognizing the limitations of this approach, the government amended the Forest Act to incorporate community forest activities, allowing communities to have user rights and manage their designated areas.

“The pivotal change lies in fostering a sense of ownership among community members. When communities perceive the forest as their own, they are more likely to take responsibility for its preservation. Unlike when forests are viewed as the government’s responsibility, community ownership encourages individuals to assess the potential exploitation of resources within their environment,” Miyoba explained.

In a report shared by the Zambia Forestry Department, it was stated that local communities can now gain new rights to control access and use of their surrounding forests. Through the Forest Act of 2015, the Director of Forestry may recognise, with the consent of the Chief of the area, persons living close to or having strong traditional or livelihood ties to a forest area. The Director may enter into an Agreement with the community group to transfer authority to enable control, use, and management of a designated forest area following consultation with the Chief and the local authority.

The Agreement entered covers rights to harvest and trade in forest products, including the collection of medicinal herbs; harvesting of honey, grass, and grazing of animals; collection of forest produce for community-based industries; operating eco-tourism and recreational activities; establishing plantations; harvesting of timber or fuel wood; and many others as set out in the Agreement.

Milimo explained that with user rights, communities play an active role in issuing permits based on a predetermined baseline. This approach ensures that permits are only granted when deemed feasible, contributing to the sustainable use of forest resources. By involving the community in the decision-making process, the forestry management system aims to balance economic benefits with environmental preservation.

Community forestry activities in Mpongwe where Mr. Miyoba is stationed encompass both major and minor products. Major products include timber and charcoal production, while minor products consist of non-wood products like mushrooms and wild fruits. Emphasis is placed on adding value to these products, to assist the community with sustaining their livelihoods while safeguarding the environment.

Milimo further explained that the progression of these activities has slowly begun to gain momentum with two community groups being identified in the Imanda and Machiya areas of Mpongwe. This indicates acceptance by the communities of the concept of community forestry. Despite the positive reception, he adds that adherence to legal provisions has caused delays in implementation, acknowledging the need for a system review to expedite benefits for the community.

To further strengthen community forest initiatives, partnerships with organisations like WeForest, Bicarbon Partners, and private individuals willing to set aside land for community forest areas have been established. These collaborations with the Forestry Department aim to enhance the success and impact of community forestry projects to enhance sustainable development.

Community forest management represents a paradigm shift in natural resource management. By empowering communities with user rights and encouraging a sense of ownership, the initiative strives to ensure sustainable use of resources, economic benefits, and environmental preservation. As legal provisions are revisited and community partnerships strengthened, the potential for positive change in Zambia’s Forest management becomes even more promising.Top of Form


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