Trees are a vital component in the ecosystem: not only do they provide oxygen, store carbon, stabilize the soil, and shelter wildlife, they also provide materials for tools, shelter, and ultimately food for both animals and animals. for human beings.
In fact, according to World Bank statistics, around 1.3 billion people around the world depend on forests for their livelihoods, or one fifth of the world's population.
This includes income from the sale of trees and tree-related products, as well as the value of the fruit, fodder, medicines, and other direct or indirect products they consume.
In monetary terms, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates an annual net benefit from restoring 150 million hectares of land at approximately $ 85 billion annually. In addition, it would sequester huge amounts of greenhouse gases.
However, it is recognized around the world that forest restoration requires an integrated approach that appreciates and understands forests throughout their entire value chain.
Therefore, it is crucial to understand that forest landscape restoration efforts are much more than just protecting forests, they are a true force for economic growth and poverty reduction.
In this context, innovative initiatives such as the “Great Green Wall” of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (CNLUD, or UNCCD) or the REDD + strategy of the United Nations Organization for carbon trading, to which is added the annual planting of trees by national governments.
The common goal of all these efforts is to restore the world's degraded landscapes and, in the process, transform millions of lives.
For Zambia, the forest sector contributes significantly to the household income of forest-dependent communities, especially in rural areas. At the national level, according to recent data from the Integrated Land Use Assessment project, the forestry sector contributes 5.5 percent to gross domestic product (GDP).
But for a country with 44 million hectares of forests, covering 58.7 percent of the total area, a 5.5 percent contribution to GDP is not good enough. And an alarming annual deforestation rate of 276,021 hectares confirms the challenge, which demands immediate attention.
“Population growth and economic pressure have increased the demands for economic and social development, forcing people only to take advantage of the environment, rather than grow from it,” says Richard Jeffery, a conservation expert.
Jeffery believes that the “Plant a Million” (PAM) initiative could reverse this trend as it is promoting a profit-making model.
What is PAM?
The PAM initiative aims to plant at least two billion trees by 2021. According to Emmanuel Chibesakunda, PAM initiator, sponsor and project leader, the prospect is to accelerate and expand a tree-based economy for socio-economic change in Zambia and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
"PAM is a joint public-private tree planting initiative that promotes a tree-based economy and sustainable development through the participation of the local school and the community," Chibesakunda told IPS.
"This initiative aims to develop the future of Zambia with all skills and knowledge, by promoting leadership and innovation, social responsibility, leadership skills and helping children connect with the world," he added.
Therefore, the expert added, the project has adopted a deliberate strategy to entrust the future to future leaders, children, hence the emphasis on public schools and community involvement.
According to this strategy, he said, education and attitude change are key results of the project:
“We want to move away from the focus on the number of trees planted, as the wrong factor of success. The key is how many trees survive the first two decisive years, and the value they add to the community. Our approach is the change of attitude, and it has to start with the future leaders, the children ”, he remarked.
Children as key actors
There is a common saying in one of the local Zambian languages, Bemba, which reads: “imiti ikula empanga”, loosely translated as “today's seedlings are tomorrow's forests”. In short, the values that are passed on to today's children will determine their future vision of the world.
Roy Lombe, an educator, believes that today's seedlings should be well-fed through a practical approach.
"Our generation has mistreated the forests for their negligent attitude, so we don't want to fall into the same trap," he says. "Once they learn the value of a young tree, they will not turn away from it when they become adults," he said.
Maureen Chibenga, a 16-year-old sophomore at Lake Road PTA, confirms this nutrition analogy.
"When the project team came to our school, I had no doubt that I was a champion, as my interest in trees dates back to my family values: agriculture," Chibenga told IPS.
"My grandfather has a farm, my father has a farm, so I saw this as an opportunity to grow my knowledge of trees and their value to humanity," he added.
Subilo Banda, 15, also in the eleventh grade at the same school, says his motivation is to correct past mistakes.
“I think our generation is open-minded. The mistakes of the old generation have taught us what we know. That's why I think it's a very good idea to start with us in terms of mindset change, "he said.
The student added that there is a better chance for his generation to adopt a “green” lifestyle because of this experience and early education.
As an incentive, the schools involved will earn an income.
Chilando Chella, principal of Lake Road PTA, is looking forward to the opportunity to earn extra money. “Our goal is to grow 50,000 seedlings this year, of which we hope to earn thousands of kwacha. And we plan to reinvest this money in training, since we know that not all of our students will end up in the formal sector, "he reported.
So far, the project has already been extended to 12 schools with 15,000 students in the Lusaka district, who are growing 500,000 tree seedlings.
Another 132 schools are waiting to be included in the program in the next eight months, with the vice president's goal of reaching 720 schools in the 10 provinces in the next two years, involving approximately one million children.
As the project was announced by the Republican Vice President in February 2018 during National Tree Planting Day, almost all the ministries are already incorporated.
Among them, the Ministries of National Development Planning (general coordination), General Education and Higher Education (schools, colleges and universities) and the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, which has the portfolio of the forestry sector, are strategic.
Nkandu Luo, Minister of Higher Education, is convinced that her institution is the foundation on which Zambia's development is based. She is also convinced that the project complements and is compatible with the value system promoted by the government and advocated in the country's Constitution.
“Honesty and hard work are some of the key values that our constitution is promoting, and I think this project is timely in this regard. We must teach our young people the value of hard work, honesty and the ability to earn based on their own contributions, and not expecting to win where it has not been planted, "he said.
"Therefore, the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs will use this project to promote the value system as proposed in our constitution," he added.
Meanwhile, for the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, it is essential not to look at plantations but at individuals, considering the high rate of deforestation registered in the country.
"I'm not afraid to mention, and let me put it on the record, that as long as we don't provide alternative energy solutions for our people, trees will continue to be cut down," lamented Jean Kapata, minister of that office.
"But I am pleased to report that we have started looking at several alternative options, one of which is bamboo for charcoal, which we believe will change things if it is well implemented," he added.
For Kapata, the government is considering expanding the plantations of some fast-growing bamboo species that can be harvested from four years and can last up to fifty years.
However, attitude change requires information. And Dora Siliya, Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, advocates for a narrative change regarding climate change and development discourse.
“We have looked at the problem of climate change in the wrong way, just thinking about how to mitigate, adapt and conserve, we have not thought about what wealth and jobs can be created from this agenda ... so it is time we take a different approach like communicators, on how to spread these issues for a change of mentality, and this ministry is advancing on that front, "he said.
Because of its breadth, PAM is an ambitious project that could change Zambia's forest landscape forever. However, with the various initiatives undertaken in the past, which have apparently not achieved the desired results, one must always be cautious.
Finnish Ambassador to Zambia, Timo Olkkonen, provides guidance to PAM initiators:
"Finland has contributed directly and indirectly to Zambia's efforts to have sustainably managed forests in the past 50 years of development cooperation between the two countries," he said.
“However, some of the projects and programs have not been very successful; therefore, it is imperative that they understand the reasons why some of the initiatives of the past have not yielded many results, there are key lessons to be learned, ”added the fin representative.
As the project awaits its official launch by President Edgar Chagwa Lungu later this month, the children already involved are eager to be key players.
“I would not blame the charcoal makers because it is a source of livelihood for some of them, but let them learn to plant more than they cut!” Says 15-year-old Mutwiva Upeme, an eleventh-grader at Escuela Chunga. "Thanks for getting involved, we are the future!"
By Friday Phiri
Translation: Francesca Buffo