Preservation amid deforestation

The ‘board room’ under the spreading branches of a huge indigenous tree seems a fitting place to discuss carbon credits for planting trees and forests. Nick O’Connor operates Rainland Timbers, a medium sized sawmill enterprise about 15 kilometers outside Kitwe, Zambia. He tells us Zambia is No. 2 in the world for deforestation of trees.

Nick O'Connor (2nd from left) is passionate about promoting the preservation of the existing forests and replanting of trees in Zambia. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Nick O'Connor (2nd from left) is passionate about promoting the preservation of the existing forests and replanting of trees in Zambia. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Most of the trees are chopped down to make charcoal, which is the main source of fuel for cooking. The Copperbelt (where we are) is the worst area in Zambia for deforestation.

O’Connor also says that in 10 years there won’t be any pine trees left in Zambia, which will devastate the timber industry. Driving through the country we’ve seen the large pine forests that were planted about 40 years ago. As they’ve been harvested, there has not been any replanting.

O’Connor is working to help change that. Together with some other members of the private sector, he’s sent a proposal to the Zambian government for the Zambian carbon credit program. The government has some plans in place, but to this point has not involved the private sector. (The African Carbon Credit Exchange is in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia.)

One of the main concerns the group raises is the issue of established forests. The proposed program doesn’t allow for any compensation for native bush or planted trees that were there for many years already.

Load after bike load of charcoal leaves the dwindling forests of Zambia for the town and cities to fuel cooking fires. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Load after bike load of charcoal leaves the dwindling forests of Zambia for the town and cities to fuel cooking fires. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

“The big thing in Zambia is that we’re not paying for the old carbon. It’s nonsense, it’s absolutely nonsense,” O’Connor says. Without a monetary incentive to protect the established forests they will continue to disappear at an alarming rate. When the owner gets paid to keep the trees on his land, he will refuse to let others come to burn charcoal on it. “If we’re not paying the guys with trees, it defeats the whole logic.”

I wrote about that same issue from a western Canadian perspective last summer. We’d seen good crop land being planted to trees for carbon offset programs, while in the same county marginal land was being cleared for pasture or crops. Because the established bush is not part of the carbon credit program, there’s no incentive to keep it.

The other main component of O’Connor’s proposal is to adopt perma culture as a changed form of agriculture. The idea originates in Australia. Regular crops are planted between rows of trees, which can be indigenous, fruit bearing, or for timber.

Perma Culture would be especially beneficial for small scale farmers. They could gain some extra income on their fields by planting rows of trees between their crops. You’ll hear more about this from me. I need to do some more research first.

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