Located in the North West Province of Zambia, the Great Kafue National Park and West Lunga Ecosystem Complex was once home to an abundance of ancient rosewood trees and a host of other endemic and endangered species.
Now aerial views reveal slabs of fallen trees peppering black holes in the green forest canopy. Fenced clearings open to piles of orange rosewood, stacked on the grounds of a sawmill. Forest clearing is slowly destroying an ancient ecosystem that once teemed with biodiversity, from elephants to lions. Today, a few more antelope roam the area.
On the edge of the park, in the settlement of Ntambu, is the residence of His Royal Highness Chief Ntambu, leader of the local Lunda people.
“The value of the forest is immense,” explains the chief. “Yet there are several very concerning threats to the ecosystem that must be addressed with community-led solutions.”
Nearly half of the surrounding population lives in extreme poverty. With few jobs, communities depend on the forest for food, fuel and income. This combination of demands drives deforestation, largely through clearing forests for agriculture or poaching for food and income. The West Lunga landscape is now the third most deforested in the country.
A new project, supported in part by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), aims to change that. With funding from the Global Environment Facility, teams are working to expand protected areas and help local communities manage forests more sustainably.
“The harsh realities of poverty for communities living in this region create a vicious cycle where immediate food and fuel needs exacerbate the very conditions that contribute to poverty in the first place,” said Johan Robinson, portfolio manager for UNEP. “This project will allow local communities to benefit from the natural resources in their care while preserving biodiversity: a win-win for everyone.
Zambia is far from the only country struggling with deforestation and land degradation. Humanity has altered 75% of the Earth’s surface, and a 2020 UNEP report found that we have lost an area of forest the size of India (420 million hectares) to conversion land in the last 30 years alone.
On a beautiful morning in Ntambu, wildlife monitor John Muzenzi and his team of scouts cross long stretches of savannah grass towards a waterhole. They started tracking wildlife early and laid down large slabs of salt licks and animal feed while looking for signs of poaching and other illegal activity.
This is the Ntambu Community Game Reserve, a community owned and managed project supported by the West Lunga Conservation Project (WLCP), which aims to provide communities around the park with meat and affordable jobs and legal, as well as the potential for future revenue opportunities. tourism.
There are now over 170 antelopes in the 1,000 hectare fenced reserve. At school events and football matches, Muzenzi and his team educate communities to stop illegal activities because, according to Muzenzi, conservation: “must start with the community, because the community is where the poachers come from. “.
In recent years, through a partnership with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), ranger and scout patrols have increased from 40 per year to more than 40 per month, removing more than 200 weapons poachers and clearing over 17,000 snares of the wider West Lunga landscape.
The patrols are part of a larger effort to encourage local residents to give up poaching and logging, Chief Ntambu said.
“Social problems do not disappear in the blink of an eye. Without properly involving the community, alienating it from [illegal] activities will not help us at all. We have obtained opportunities in fish farming, honey making, nursing and gardening so that our people contribute positively to the welfare of this community.
A sweeter future
Under the UNEP-supported project, existing initiatives such as the Ntambu Community Game Reserve will be expanded to support the community and protect the park and its surrounding community-owned forests.
Managed by The Nature Conservancy and implemented jointly with the Department of Forestry, working closely with UNEP and partners including the Trident Foundation, WCLP and World Wide Fund for Nature, the project aims to help communities protect, sustainably manage and benefit equitably from the natural resources for which they are responsible over the long term.
The long-term success of this project relies on two key factors: first, a solid base of policy work that empowers communities to better manage forest resources. This includes revisions to the Forestry Act and the Community Forest Management Regulation Act, which have facilitated the creation of community groups that manage communal lands and some protected forests.
Second, the project integrates innovative business models into community initiatives, designed to secure long-term economic incentives to conserve and sustainably manage forest resources.
Revenue generation opportunities
Globally, the economic opportunities offered by the restoration of degraded lands are enormous, amounting to between US$4.3 trillion and US$20.2 trillion per year through the provision of ecosystem services from land. only restored lands.
The UNEP Becoming #GenerationRestoration report noted that with half of the world’s gross domestic product dependent on nature, every dollar spent on restoration creates up to US$30 in economic benefits.
Although there is a growing opportunity to generate revenue from international forest carbon markets, the forest also has the potential to generate other more traditional sustainable revenue opportunities, such as honey production.
The honey industry in Zambia is growing exponentially, with the North West Province having the potential to host around 500,000 beehives – enough to produce 25,000 tonnes of honey per year. Currently, less than 1% of this capacity is satisfied.
The project will build on an existing partnership with private company Nature’s Nectar, working with local beekeepers to replace traditional hives, which strip bark from trees, with more sustainable Kenyan top-bar hives made from pine sustainable. More than 5,000 geolocated hives, provided by the Trident Foundation, allow beekeepers to track honey production and increase individual income by approximately $280 per year.
“At first, we never saw the importance of bees,” said Florida Belu, a beekeeper working with Nature’s Nectar near the park. “Before, we thought that bees were useless and that beekeeping was only for men.”
“But today, women are also involved. This means that the money will be used to pay our children’s school fees. Belu now supplements her income with cassava, which earns her just US$14 per crop, with honey, which earns her nearly four times that amount.
Back in the green surroundings of his residence, Chief Ntambu beams when he explains the community initiatives that are beginning to take root in the lands of his people. He has one wish, he says: “We hope that when we go to join our ancestors, we will leave Ntambu better than we found him.
Distributed by APO Group for the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
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