1022-B1

Forest Cover Crisis in the Sub-Tropics: A Case Study from Zambia

Mbindo Keddy[1]


Abstract

Zambia falls within the subtropical region of southern Africa and is rich in flora and fauna.

About 60% of the land is under forest cover and the forest provides a wide range of both wood and non-wood forest products utilized by the local and urban communities. Current unsustainable levels of utilization have led to great losses of forest cover, which rose to as high as 850 000 ha/annum between the years 1990 to 2000. Some initiatives are being put in place to check the long term cover losses and degradation.

This paper provides an analysis of the forces behind the rapid loss of forests in Zambia. It highlights how high demand for fuelwood, poor forest management, increased poverty, weak institutions and unpopular conservation laws are contributing to loss of forest cover in Zambia.

The paper further illustrates how the losses in forest cover have negatively affected both the environment and the human population who are highly dependent on the forests for their food and energy resources.


Introduction

Zambia is a land locked country, lying between latitude 8 and 18 degrees south and longitude 22 and 34 degrees east.

It shares it’s boundary with eight countries namely Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Tanzania in the north, Malawi and Mozambique in the east; Zimbabwe and Botswana in the south; and Angola in the west. Zambia’s total land area is about 752,614 km2 and is admistratively divided into nine provinces namely: Central, Copperbelt, Lusaka, Western, Luapula, Northern, Northwestern and Southern provinces. The climate is sub-tropical, characterised by distinct seasons: the cool dry season, which stretches from May to August, the hot dry season from November to April. Annual rainfall decreases from average of 1000 mm in the northern parts of the county to an average of 600 mm in the south. Zambia’s population in 1998 was estimated at 10.2 million. Due to its tropical location, renowned for it’s abundant biodiversity, the Zambian forest is a biome for a variety of fauna and flora.

Zambia is actually regarded as one of the highly forested countries whose forests cover about 60% of the total land area estimated at 64 million hectares most of which is administered traditionally under customary law (PFAP, 1998).

Forests in Zambia are important in supporting life especially in low-income communities both in urban and rural areas. A variety of wood and non-wood forest products are utilised by industries, rural households and urban households in various parts of the country. However, today the forests in the country have been made vulnerable to both man and natural induced disasters. The rate at which forest cover is being lost has increasingly become high such that if this trend is left unchecked time may trigger the complete loss of biodiversity embodied in the Zambian forests. Perhaps the highest loss of forest cover was from 1990 to 2000 with a significant decline of 851,000 ha forest loss per year (FAO 2001). Deforestation as a result of land use change towards agriculture, illegal settlements and Current unsustainable levels of utilisation to mention but a few have contributed to the loss of forest cover in Zambia and the Southern Africa as a whole. The critical question seeking urgent redress is why forests in Zambia are being destroyed more and more.

Discussion

The major areas that this paper addresses are forest resources in Zambia and the factors negatively affecting them. It further addresses the effects that are associated with the high rate of forest cover losses in Zambia.

Forest Areas

The total area of indigenous forest in Zambia is 44.6 million hectares and covers 60 percent of the total land area, out of which 9.6 percent are, gazetted forests (Shakacite, 2000). There are 481 Protected Forest Areas; 181 National Forests and 300 Local Forest Reserves in Zambia.

Forest Resource Base

Out of the total land area of Zambia, 752,614 km2, woodland and forest cover is about 600,000 km2. Forest resource has however shown a decrease in cover over the years such that current forest area would be in the range of 60% of the total land area (about 450,000 Km2). Data available on forest resource estimate is nonetheless scanty and varies from source to source.

Figure 1: Forest Cover Changes

40 yrs ago

Today

(Source ZFAP, 1996)

Table 1: Estimated wood biomass types and their coverage.

Forest woodland type

Area coverage (ha)

% Total wooded forest area

Evergreen forest

3,930,000

6.4

Deciduous forest

1,000,000

1.6

Wet Miombo

22,200,000

36.2

Dry Miombo

13,130,000

21.4

Kalahari woodland miombo

9,760,000

15.9

Munga woodland

3,730,000

6.1

Mopane

4,750,000

7.9

Termitaria

2,770,000

4.5

Total

61,270,000

100.0

(Source ZFAP, 1996)

Vegetation

According to Storrs (1995) vegetation in Zambia is generally classified into four major categories i.e. closed forests; open forests; termitaria and grassland.

Figure 2: Extent of vegetation type by percent land cover

(Source ZFAP, 1996)

Table 2: Vegetation Type by Area

Vegetation Type

Area, 1000 ha

Proportion %

Closed forest



Parinari

420

0.06

Marquasia

430

0.06

Lake basin

15,560

2.07

Cryptoseplum

15,210

2.0

Baikiae

6,830

0.91

Itigi

1,900

0.25

Montana

40

0.01

Swamp

1,530

0.21

Riparian

810

0.11

Woodland (open forest)



Miombo

311,460

41.41

Kalahari

85,460

11.36

Mopane

38,700

5.15

Munga

32,600

4.34

Termitaria

24,260

3.23

Grassland

206,350

27.44

Open water

10,500

1.40

Total

752,060

100.0

Source GRZ 1998.

Table 3: Population Density by Province

Province

Area sq. km

Population density (per sq. km)

Central

94390

10.8

Copper belt

31330

58.2

Luapula

50540

13.9

Lusaka

21890

69.7

Eastern

69100

18.9

Northern

147830

8.4

Southern

85270

14.9

Western

126400

6.0

North Western

125826

4.4

Forest Growth

Various sources estimate forest growth to be between 0.7m3 and 2-m3/ha/annum. The growth of plant is given at an average rate of 15m3/ha/annum (Sibande, 1996). Trees outside forest stocking are 150m3/ha plantation is included in the forest reserve.

Table 4: Forest growth in 1996 by province

Province

Growth m3/ha/yr

Forest in open areas inc. GMAs million m3

Forest reserves million m3

Trees outside forest m3

National parks m3

Total million m3

Central

1.2

3.7

0.7

0.6

0.2

5.3

Copperbelt

2.3

2.5

1.8

0.0

0.1

4.4

Eastern

1.3

3.2

1.1

0.2

0.1

4.6

Luapula

0.6

1.2

0.3

0.0

0.2

1.7

Lusaka

0.7

0.5

0.0

0.1

0.0

0.7

Northern

0.6

3.6

0.7

0.3

0.3

5.0

North-western

2.3

7.6

5.6

0.8

0.2

14.2

Southern

1.0

2.4

0.7

0.4

0.2

3.7

Western

2.2

8.6

1.3

0.8

0.3

11.0

Total

12.2

33.4

12.2

3.3

1.6

50.6

Source Alarjarvi, 1996.

Current Status of Forests in Zambia

On average annual rate of forest loss in Zambia is between 250,000 ha and 300,000 ha/year (PEZP, 1998). Other studies indicate an annual average loss of up to about 850000 ha. FAO, 2001 indicate that in 1990 total forest cover was 39,755,000 ha and reduced to 31,346,000 ha by the year 2000. Forests in Zambia are being cut or destroyed without a clear knowledge of all the consequences and without a commitment to sustainable use.

Presently, it’s a great concern that forests in many parts of the country are disappearing (shakacite 2000). The many factors behind this force are highlighted.

Major Causes of Forests Cover losses in Zambia

· Increased pressure on forests.

Increased demand for fuel wood in urban areas has increased pressure on the forest. This is evident in cities like the capital Lusaka that has exerted pressure on the Chibombo forest reserves close to the city. Much of the pressure is being accelerated by an increase in population without corresponding increase on material wealth i.e. poverty leading to unsustainable exploitation of forest/land resources for timber, wood fuel and other forest products.

Wood fuel is still the common energy source (supplying about 90% of urban household) used by most households, (Dept of energy, 1998) with increases under cultivation and hence deforestation is at increase.

Figure 3: Percentage of household using different energy sources for cooking

(Total urban/rural)
Source CSO, 1990

Forest loss attributed to wood fuel alone is estimated to be 56000 ha, which is about 28% of ECZ estimated annual figures. In Central, Copperbelt and Luapula provinces annual deforestation arising out of wood harvesting for energy purposes is estimated to be 150,000 ha (PFAP workplan, 1995).

Table 5: Table showing forest standing volume and annual decrease factor(to wood fuel) by province

Province

Standing volume (million m3)

Annual decrease factor (%)

Central

463.438

0.6

Copper belt

286.314

2.0

Eastern

401.619

0.5

Luapula

351.101

0.5

Lusaka

982.946

2.0

North-western

982.946

0.2

Southern

126.602

0.7

Western

304.913

0.2

Total

3,092.078

0.5

Source ECZ, 1994

· Land use Change to Agriculture and Settlements

Poor agriculture/land use practices are the major factors here.

Lack of agriculture inputs (i.e. fertiliser) and losses of fertility has led people to cut more primary forests in order to produce enough food. Loss of jobs during the privatisation era of the 90s caused many people to settle in forest-protected areas illegally leading to encroachments which levels are still high to date.

· Poor Forest Management.

One significant factor here is the frequent occurrence of uncontrolled fires, which reduces forest capacity to regenerate if not properly handled. Climate and flammable biomass of the miombo determines the occurrence of wild fires. Fire danger season lies between the months of August and November when temperatures are highest and humidity is lowest.In central Zambia average wind speed is highest (13-16km/hour) during April-October compared to 8-11 km/hour during other months. It is during this period of dry and windy condition that the risk of fires is greatest. According to Chidumayo (1996), biomass fuel during the dry season is made up of the following.

- Undecomposed dead biomass at the end of the previous rain season.
- Above ground grass biomass produced during the previous rain season.
- Current dry season litter fall.

Figure 4 Cumulative tree leaf litter fall in Miombo (based on Chidumayo, 1993 and Malaises et al. 1975)

Maximum leaf fall occur in August and September and cumulative litter biomass reaches about 2.5-3.0 ha-1 at the end of each season. This implies that the amount of litter biomass burnt depends on the time of burning. More fuel is available at the end than the beginning of the dry season. Chidumayo (1993) monitored the occurrence of fire at four dry miombo sites in central Zambia over a four-year period (1990-1993). Out of the thirteen fires at the sites 15% occurred in august 39% in September and 46% in October (being the hottest month), and the mean fire return period was 1.6 years. Most of these fires are caused by human agencies in their creed to promote new flashes of grasses, collection of honey or preparation for shifting cultivation.

After Chidumayo (1986)

· Weak Institutions

The Forest Department (FD) that is entrusted responsibility over forest resources has inadequate staff and funding to effectively perform their role of natural resource conservation. Forestry inspections to forest areas is therefore almost absent. The local people on the other hand are not also able to protect forest resources and watersheds largely due to lack of sensitisation coupled with increasing levels of poverty in the local communities. The local forest dwellers have instead compromised the resources in their quest to survive. This has rendered them unsustainable.

· Unpopular Conservation laws

The first policy of Zambia was formulated in 1965 as a set of instructions to the Forest Department. This policy renowned for its rigidity gave absolute control over ownership, planning, and management of forests to central government. Provisions for community participation in forest management were lacking. As a consequence of this policing attitude to resource conservation, the local communities became unsustainable and overexploited the forest resources that they now viewed as belonging to the government. Local communities considered the government as an enemy for it took away the ownership rights of the forest resource from the local forest dwellers that strongly believed were the traditional owners of the forests. Realisation of this fact has lead way to the current on going restructuring of the forest resource conservation strategy to a more decentralised structure. Both the forest policy and Act of 1998 and 1999 back this concept respectively though the implementation mechanism is rather vague.

· Natural Disasters

Forests in Zambia suffer mostly from draughts. They in fact save to compensate for loss of livelihood due to draughts thereby pausing even more pressure on them.

Significant losses of forest cover in Zambia

· Increased surface runoffs

Annual increases in runoff rates of 10-18% have been reported, while decreases in evapor-transpiration due to canopy removal has increased base flow and ground water storage in Miombo woodlands (Sharma, 1985 in Chidumayo1994) the increases in runoff has resulted in high soil erosion currently experienced in the country. Chidumayo (1993a) carried out a simpler assessment of the effects of clearing trees on soil moisture regime in adjacent control and experimental plots in dry Miombo of central Zambia the results are shown in the table.

Table 6: Average moisture soil content (%dry weight) in cut plots clear-cut by stamping in 1990 at old growth dry Miombo site in central Zambia.

Mean moisture content (% dry weight)

October 1992

February 1993

Soil depth cm

Uncut plots

Cut plots

Uncut plots

Cut plots

0-10

1.7

0.9

18.3

16.1

11-30

4.4

2.5

17.7

15.2

31-60

10.2

6.2

18.8

16.9

61-150

7.9

7.1

16.4

17.9

Based on Chidumayo (1993a)

Figure 6: Mean stream flow and duration before (1969-1973), and after clearing wet Miombo (1975-1979). Based on Mumeka 1986.

Clearing of trees has led to an increased peak flow while reducing flow duration (Mumeka, 1986). Opening up of the miombo due to loss of cover has promoted the increase in grass production, which has little contribution to the hydrological system. This could be the driving force behind the recent development of draught occurrences for the past two years especially in the low forest covered areas of southern Zambia.

· Loss of biodiversity

Zambia has diversity of animal and plant population protected under an impressive network. Recent surveys have however, shown that wildlife depletion is one of the major series of environmental problems (NEAP, 1994). Decline in certain populations have been attributed to a combination of factors that include increased competition for food (Jackmann and Phiri, 1999). Herbivores are particularly directly affected by the changes in forest cover. Both flora and fauna species are recordably at a diminishing state; there has been a steady depletion in wildlife resources due to disturbances to their grazing ranges and covers resources.

· Low annual rainfall in low forest cover areas

Figure 7 Annual rainfalls for the period 1989 to 2000.

The southern parts of the country with low forest cover are have had a high occurrence of drought especially in the past two years.

· Increased Poverty and Food Insecurity

The southern province today has a more vulnerable local population to poverty and food insecurity as a result of significantly low cover of forest area.

Over 75% of the local communities in the southern province are victims of food insecurity. Though poverty levels are generally and evenly spread throughout the country, the southern end of the country is much more affected, than the rest of the provinces. Northwestern, Copper belt and Northern provinces with relatively high forest area cover have higher food security.

Conclusion

The problem of forest cover loss in Zambia needs an agent and immediate address. With frequent occurrence of drought cases in low forest areas, there are growing fears that if the current trend (rate of forest loss) is left unchecked, the situation is expected to become worse over time. It’s evident that though individual patches of annual clearing are small, they tend to expand and coherse over time. At the current average rate of 851,000 ha/annum, it therefore estimated that in 40 to 50 years form now, the forests cover in the country will tremendously reduce, giving rise to serious local and global human and environmental problems. Since forests play an important role in the livelihood of most Zambians, there is therefore great need for synergetic and coordinated effort from all natural resources sectors, more political will and intervention from relevant independent bodies, to quickly address the problem facing Zambian forests and the Southern African sub-tropical region as a whole.

Bibliograghy

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[1] Email: kdfolks@yahoo.co.uk