Empowering villagers to combat illegal deforestation in Zambia

By: Susan Kirimania, REDD+ Project Coordinator, Transparency International Zambia

Susan Kirimania, REDD+ Project Coordinator, Transparency International Zambia, speaks with the driver of a truck loaded with mukula logs. The banned wood was openly being prepared for transportation in broad daylight.

In the district of Nyimba in Zambia — a rural area east of the capital Lusaka where subsistence farming and hunting are the main sources of livelihood — demand for the beautiful and rare wood of the Mukula tree creates ample opportunity for corruption.

Local villagers used to mostly turn the wood into charcoal to sell in Lusaka, but now international buyers want the timber for use in gunstocks and ornaments.

Trade in the wood is illegal, but with middle men offering good money for Mukula logs, plenty of the tribal chiefs who control 90% of all land in Zambia have been happy to turn a blind eye.

Some, such as one tribal chief that Transparency International spoke to, also accuse the police and government officials of allowing the trade to continue.

Deforestation and the degradation of existing woodlands are the second leading cause of global warming, responsible for about 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In a bid to combat climate change, the UN-backed REDD+ scheme pays and rewards communities to conserve their forests, including the Mukula trees of Zambia.

The communities themselves are meant to be equal partners in REDD+, but in Zambia, Transparency International found that they are often poorly informed about what they are getting into. The agreements signed can run for 30 years, and villagers’ concerns are often not addressed before the window to sign on to the program expires.

Illegal logging will not stop unless there is transparency in projects such as REDD+. Transparency International Zambia has been educating locals in Nyimba and Rufunsa districts about their rights and helping them to assess the project’s benefits.

As a result, some communities have begun engaging with the process more deeply; asking the right questions and making sure their communities are also beneficiaries of the scheme.

Some, like those in the Namanongo Rufunsa District have even refused to sign up. Kabandi, the local headwoman, said: “The partners have been asking us to sign an agreement. Only if we agree to their terms will they help the community and give money. We decided to refuse to sign as there wasn’t enough collaboration.”

Climate change is of course a critical issue, but the processes used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions must be based on transparency and accountability if communities around the world are to become active participants.

Check out the film we created along with Transparency International Zambia “Mukula Mukula”.