Zambia: Money grows on trees, so don’t uproot them (IPS)

| September 2, 2019

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Jennifer Handondo stands with a group of farmers looking at their fields and thinking. But she’s not thinking about the food crops she grows, but rather about trees. Mrs. Handondo is a small-scale farmer in the Choma district of southern Zambia. She promotes trees as a good source of additional income for family farmers.

The divorced mother supports her three children by herself. But uncharacteristically high temperatures and low rainfall resulted in a harvest that was smaller than she expected. So she diversified into selling seedlings of neem, moringa, and other medicinal trees.

Mrs. Handondo says, “For me, trees represent money and a livelihood, but not in the wrong way through charcoal production, but through these seedlings.” She also adds value by producing leaf powders such as Moringa oleifera, which is a proven food and medicinal tree.

Mrs. Handondo earns an average of about $78 US each month from selling tree seedlings and powders. But large orders of moringa powder can bring in $5,400 a month. Large institutions place these big orders, and she relies on the support of other farmers to fill them.

Zambia has good forest coverage. Forests represent about 66% of the total land area and the country boasts 220 tree species. However, this rich biodiversity is at risk of being wiped away due to deforestation, which is reducing forest cover at a rate of about 300,000 hectares per year.

According to the Zambia Environmental Management Agency, deforestation is due to several factors, including the illegal, indiscriminate cutting of trees, the reckless collection of wood for fuel and charcoal, and timber harvesting. Forest is also lost when it is cut down to clear large tracts of agricultural land or for urbanization and new human settlements.

Mrs. Handondo is passionate about trees, and has been participating in tree-planting campaigns and awareness programs since 2016. She is now a change agent and champion for a farmer-managed natural regeneration project run by World Vision Zambia.

Farmer-managed natural regeneration, or FMNR, involves actively re-growing trees and shrubs from felled stumps, from root systems, or from seeds, with the goal of restoring degraded farmland and soil fertility.

Mrs. Handondo adds: “We have a lot of stagnant bushes that are not growing because they are overcrowded, but when we prune through the practice of FMNR, we have seen that these shrubs grow into trees, forming the much-needed forest cover, because nutrient competition is reduced.”

FMNR aims to increase the value and quantity of woody vegetation on farmland. Another key objective is to empower communities with knowledge to reduce deforestation.

Shadrick Phiri is an agriculture and natural resource specialist with World Vision Zambia. He says that FMNR can be led by individual farmers or by communities, and might focus on managing trees in protected forest areas or on grazing lands.

Mr. Phiri says the World Vision project includes 600 farmers who practice FMNR in Zambia’s Southern Province and 2,600 households across the country.

The World Vision project is just one of many efforts to promote reforestation and restore degraded lands in Zambia. World Wildlife Fund for Nature, Bio Carbon Partners, the World Bank, the United Nations, and the Zambia Environmental Management Agency are all leading or supporting their own efforts.

The role of farmers and local communities in reducing deforestation was an important topic of discussion at the Global Landscapes Forum held in Germany in June. The forum highlighted evidence that legally recognizing the authority of local communities over their forests and lands results in reduced deforestation rates. This is why FMNR targets traditional leadership as key partners.

Mr. Phiri adds, “As custodians of vast traditional land where most of [the] deforestation activities take place, we believe their involvement is very important in reversing the damage.”

Tyson Hamamba is a representative of Chief Choongo from Southern Province. At a community meeting earlier this year, he recommended that traditional leaders be given more powers under the Village Act to deal with offenders who cut down trees. Mr. Hamamba said this is the only way to deter rampant charcoal-making and deliberate bush fires, as well as other destructive practices.

This story was adapted from an article published by Interpress News Service and originally titled, “Money Grows on Trees – Don’t Uproot Them.” To read the full article, go to: