Latest News Editor's Choice

News / National

Money grows on trees - don't uproot them

by IPS
09 Aug 2019 at 07:35hrs | Views
Jennifer Handondo, a small-scale farmer of Choma district in southern Zambia, plants food crops such as maize mostly for her family's needs.

Because of uncharacteristically high temperatures and low rainfall during the rainy season in March, the divorced mother who single-handedly supports her three children, has not been able to harvest as much as she usually does. So, she has diversified into selling seedlings of neem, moringa and other medicinal trees.

"For me, trees represent money and a livelihood, but not in the wrong way through charcoal production, but through these seedlings," she said.

As a value add, she recently diversified into selling leaf powders such as Moringa Oleifera—a scientifically proven food and medicinal tree.

While she earns on average about US$78 from selling seedlings and powders each month, she said she earns as much as US$5 400 dollars a month when she has large orders of the Moringa powder. She receives orders for the powder from large local institutions and explained that she usually has to collaborate with other farmers to fulfil these orders.

"My livelihood is based on trees," she said.

Zambia has a forest coverage of 49,9 million hectares, representing 66% of the total land area in this southern African nation and boasting at least 220 different tree species. However, with a deforestation rate of between 250 000 and 300 000 hectares per annum, this rich biodiversity is at risk of being wiped away.

A recent environment outlook report by the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (Zema) showed that the country's high levels of deforestation are not slowing down. The report points to various causes for this, among them illegal indiscriminate cutting of trees and the reckless collection of wood for fuel, charcoal burning, the harvesting of timber, clearing of large tracks of land for agriculture through slash and burn methods, urbanisation and new human settlements.

In addition, the country's renewable energy connectivity figures are not impressive. It is estimated that only about 25% of the population of 17 million is connected to renewable energy sources.

Handondo's story is different though. A grade nine dropout, she has returned to school and graduated in General Agriculture from the Zambia College of Agriculture. She is passionate and active in forest conservation, participating in tree-planting campaigns and awareness programmes since 2016.

So, for her the link to selling seedlings and products from trees as a source of income was an easy one.

She is also a change agent and champion for the World Vision Zambia supported farmer-managed forest regeneration (FMNR) project, which is being implemented in southern Zambia. FMNR is the active regeneration and management of trees and shrubs from felled stumps, sprouting root systems or seeds with the goal of restoring degraded farmland and soil fertility, and increasing the value and/or quantity of woody vegetation on farmland.

"The main objective of FMNR is to empower the community with knowledge to reduce deforestation which has been very rampant in this country," World Vision Zambia agriculture and natural resource specialist, Shadrick Phiri, said.

According to Phiri, the technique is highly appropriate for rural communities and land that has been degraded to a point where the loss of perennial vegetation cover, biodiversity and soil fertility on farmland is diminishing livelihoods and quality of life.

"FMNR can take place either as an on-farm activity practiced by individual farmers, or in forest areas protected and managed by the community," Phiri said, adding that the practice is also relevant to the regeneration of grazing lands.

"We have chosen to use a cheap, but robust system of regenerating our forests naturally. We currently have 600 farmers under the four area development programmes in Southern province currently practising FMNR. The figure currently stands at 2 600 households nationally across the 25 area programmes, where
World Vision is currently working."

Emanuel Chibesakunda of Munich Advisors Group, a business and investment consultancy firm that developed the concept and is implementing the initiative, told IPS that since the launch an important milestone for rural farmers has been the partnerships with like-minded stakeholders.

Musika Development Enterprise, a non-profit company with a mandate to stimulate and support private investment in the Zambian agricultural market with a specific focus on the lower end of these markets, has been one of these partners.

"Musika provided both technical and financial support to PAM to set up a commercial nursery in order to strengthen rural livelihoods through domestication of indigenous fruit and non-fruit trees in Zambia. This proposed intervention will enhance Musika's efforts in testing the 'trees on farms' concept as a business for the smallholder economy that has the potential to generate socio-economic return on investment and enhance environmental sustainability," Reuben Banda, Musika's managing director, said.

At the Global Landscapes Forum held last month in Germany, leaders, experts and indigenous communities deliberated and adopted a rights approach to sustainable landscapes management and conservation.

The forum showcased evidence from around the globe that when the authority of local communities over their forests and lands, as well as their rights, are legally recognised, deforestation rates are often reduced.

In recognition that it is this generation which can and must recover the damaged land, governments, civil society and traditional leadership, are using community-centred approaches to achieve land degradation neutrality.

A unique feature of FMNR in Zambia is the targeting of traditional leadership as an entry point.

At a recently-held community meeting in Zambia, traditional leaders resolved to form community forest committees to enforce FMNR and all related forest management activities in their chiefdoms.

But to achieve this, they requested that the government consider strengthening their authority by giving them powers of enforcement with regards to laws that govern local offences and penalties.

"As traditional leaders, we are of the view that section 19 of the Village Act on offences and penalties be strengthened to give more power to traditional leaders to sternly deal with offenders in our local jurisdiction," a representative of Chief Choongo from Southern province, Tyson Hamamba, said.

Hamamba said this was the only way to deter rampant charcoal making and deliberate bush fires among other destructive practices leading to alarming forest and land degradation.

According to current laws, chiefs cannot issue a penal sanction against offenders. Their only role is to facilitate arrest of offenders by State police and/or other legally authorised law enforcement agencies.

For Handondo, FMNR is important for the future of the country's forests. She credits it as being key to the lush growth of her seedling business.

Source - IPS