Dynamics of the charcoal and indigenous timber trade in Zambia: A scoping study in Eastern, Northern and Northwestern provinces

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This paper addresses the increasing concern over the contribution of charcoal production and commercial timber extraction to deforestation and forest degradation in Zambia. This scoping study notes that rural communities in Zambia are fully involved in forest management and do obtain direct incentives from these forests, a critical condition for realising sustainable forest management. With traditional systems for forest management under siege and resources allocation and control for both charcoal and commercial timber transferred to the state, the general failure of the heavily centralised top-down approach to arrest losses of forest resources in Zambia is imperilling the livelihoods of scores of rural households. Charcoal production is licensed by the Forest Department with limited inputs from local authorities especially in terms of monitoring. Arrangements for extraction of commercial timber fall under the same arrangement but differ with charcoal in that applicants have to travel to Lusaka. The contribution of charcoal to forest loss and environmental degradation is almost a given, but the study notes that this activity, now widely practised across the country, has several hidden social and economic benefits for rural households. It is likely to continue in the future but strong policies and legal frameworks which provide power and authority to local-level institutions are likely to address the problems associated with these activities. Rural communities and their associated local-level institutions should take an active part in the management of the key forest resources and should benefit as outlined in law. It is proposed that approaches be formulated that should not only be holistic but must also provide for institutional collaboration (local-to-local and local-to-national linkages) to manage the resources available.

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