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In an era where information is a cornerstone of democracy, the role
of the media cannot be overstated. Journalists serve as the watchdogs of society, uncovering truths, exposing injustices, and holding those in power
accountable. However, fulfilling this vital role requires not only passion and dedication but also specialized skills, particularly in investigative journalism.

Recognizing the importance of equipping journalists with the tools they need to excel in this field, the Wildlife Crime Prevention’s (WCP) Environmental Crime Journalism Fellowship, in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development’s Alternatives to Charcoal (USAID –
A2C) program, recently organised a comprehensive training session. This initiative aimed to enhance the capacity of journalists in Zambia to conduct thorough investigations and produce impactful stories that resonate with the public.

The investigative training facilitated by Makanday Centre for Investigative Journalism – Zambia , equipped 20 journalists from across Zambia with skills and insights in shaping narratives,

altering perspectives, and expressing their influence in shaping societal perspectives on conservation issues. The curriculum covered a wide range of topics essential to investigative reporting, including research methodologies, data analysis, interview techniques, ethics in journalism, and digital security. Participants were given hands-on investigation experience, utilising tools and resources tailored to the modern digital landscape.

Three days of skills training and two days of a field trip to Mumbwa to visit one of the USAID A2C sites provided journalists with a conceptualised perspective of one of Zambia’s drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, the charcoal trade. While Zambia boasts of abundant natural resources and biodiversity, it is also grappling with the alarming depletion of its forests. Studies have identified charcoal production as one of the main drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in Zambia .

During the training session, Mr. Lasford Champo, a Senior Forestry Officer in the Forestry Department (FD) provided an overview of the FD, Forestry Act, and the challenges/barriers faced. He further highlighted how Charcoal production is rampant in Protected Forest Areas (PFAs). “98% of charcoal being traded on the markets is illegal,” he said. Mr Champo further stated that one other big challenge after illegal production is charcoal conveyance, the movement of charcoal from one place
to another. ‘‘Almost all trucks conveying charcoal into Lusaka do not have conveyance licenses. This prompts the transporters to move at night when the forest officers are not working thus the risk of being caught is low. It also means government is losing valuable, and much needed, revenue.

To help combat charcoal production on the other hand, USAID in partnership with FD, rolled out a pilot project dubbed Alternative to Charcoal (A2C) which started in 2021 and will run until2026 in Lusaka with a specific interest in curbing charcoal consumption in urban and peri-urban areas particularly focusing on 3As: Affordability, Accessibility and Acceptability of alternatives to charcoal are emphasized such as gas energy. The objective is to ensure that other energy alternatives become available, affordable and useful.

Moreover, critical areas with rampant charcoal production like Mumbwa District, A2C has also partnered with Community Markets for Conservation (COMACO) to promote conservation farming and beekeeping activities to the local people in various areas especially former charcoal producers to help them with alternative sources of livelihoods other than charcoal production. Some of the former charcoal producers who turned farmers talked to in Kamilambo area of Mumbwa District praised USAID A2C and COMACO for the beneficial project.

It provides them with income through the out-grower’s schemes of various crops like soya beans, maize, cowpeas, groundnuts etc. and also food to sustain their families. Mr. George Chipeta, a Project Manager at COMACO South narrated during a consultative meeting in Mumbwa that ‘‘280 local people have been trained under the project.

Former charcoal producers and poachers are included. So far 25 Farmers have received their various inputs such as fertilizers, seeds, water pumps etc. at a cost of K250 000 and
a market has been provided for them.’’ The initiative is very sound, and it attracts local people to do farming and stop indulging in illicit cutting down of trees in the areas. In turn, this is helping to combat charcoal production.

‘‘The project has managed to stop illegal charcoal production which was rampant in the area and now we are involved in organic agriculture and beekeeping businesses which is more beneficial than charcoal production’’ says Senior Headman Chinguma of Kamilambo area.

Mr. Lupiya Renald, a former charcoal producer added that ‘‘because of
the agriculture projects implemented by COMACO, we have stopped the cutting down of trees which has seen our forests being completely depleted and ensure that forest trees are safeguarded. We have now formed Community Forestry Management Groups (CFMG) which police over forests and guard against charcoal production, especially from outsiders.’’

Therefore, this is an indication that such projects when rolled out on a large scale with many NGOs and government coming on board, there could be a possibility that illegal charcoal production can be somewhat, controlled.

As pointed out, charcoal value chains are made up of well-established cartels who are sometimes dangerous to deal with. The producers, the traders, transporters, the sellers, and the users all have the responsibility to ensure that illegal charcoal is stopped. This can only be achieved through the promotion of awareness, law enforcement and regulation, and political will. Given that forestry activities are interlinked with other departments such as the police, the local councils, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, etc. It is

just necessary to find common ground by collaborating and complementing each other. In addition, as charcoal value chains remain heavily cartel-
led, investigative journalists have a responsibility to defy the odds and tell the reality side of charcoal misdeeds. Only when such irregularities are exposed will the public avoid buying illegal charcoal and understand the importance of using alternative sources of energy.

Another key highlight of the training was the emphasis on collaborative approaches to investigative journalism. Journalists were encouraged to work together, leveraging their collective expertise and resources to tackle complex issues that transcend individual newsrooms. By fostering a spirit of cooperation, the training aimed to foster a culture of information sharing and mutual support among journalists, ultimately strengthening the overall quality and impact of investigative reporting in Zambia.


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