Gwembe Valley swept off of Forests

By Chimuka Moono Hanyama

When one visits the Gwembe Valley, they are greeted by the notorious Mopane tree. This tree is known for its long life and hardness.

Mopane tree

Mopane tree

It is food to the nutritious Caterpillar, which is widely eaten in Zambia. The Mopane tree is also known for its resistance to droughts, hence its prevalence in the Valley.

It is able to adapt to the hard conditions of the valley by heavily shedding its leaves during the hottest period from September to November.  However, this and many other tree species is under the threat of extinction.

Mother Nature seems to have cast its spell on the already dwindling forestry reserve in the valley by increasing the droughts.

People who mainly depend on the drought resistant Sorghum variety locally known as Nkuyuma have turned to the forests for their livelihood due to poor and erratic rainfall. Charcoal burning has become the major economic activity of the area.

Large tracts of land, which used to be forestry reserves, have been cleaned off of trees with the full knowledge of the traditional authorities, not for farming but for charcoal. Mutolang’anga Forestry Reserve in Lusitu area and the Chirundu Fossil Forest are some of the victims! The Mopane tree has been the major target, as it is known to produce good and long burning charcoal.

Surely, the statement from President Sata that Zambia looses a lot forestry reserves due to charcoal burning should act as a sharp pin to those who are responsible, to wake up and act! What is the role of the department of Forestry in the Agricultural Depots?

Who regulates issuance of licenses to these charcoal burners, (if at all they have any)? Are there no guidelines on how trees should be cut for charcoal? These charcoal burners are not cutting down the trees, but they are burning them to the root!

It’s not true that there is nothing that can be done about charcoal burning and subsequent depletion of forest reserves in the valley. Those tasked with the responsibility of looking after forests need to attach seriousness to their work, and begin seeing a bigger picture.  Forests are needed for various reasons.  Tourism is one of them, though the famous Chirundu Fossil Forest has not been spared!