In a week in which research showed that “forest restoration isn’t just one of our climate change solutions, it is overwhelmingly the top one,” it was appropriate that the Namibian Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF) met to discuss the restoration of indigenous transboundary forest landscapes.
The quote about forest restoration is from Professor Tom Crowther at the Swiss university ETH Zürich, where ground-breaking research using satellite imagery shows that trees can be planted to beneficial effect almost everywhere on earth. Please follow the Environment Watch section at the bottom of the page for more on this.
The Ministry meeting looked at the conservation and restoration of the ‘Caprivi State Forest’, which lies in Zambezi – formerly Caprivi – Region, along the border to Zambia, and is a state forest in name only, because it has never been gazetted.
The forest area was traditionally protected by residents in the area, who used it sustainably for timber, forest products such as thatching grass and medicinal herbs, and for emergency grazing. The forest area used to be larger, and extended south to what is now the main road to Katima Mulilo, but has now been pushed back by human settlement.
Senior Forester Kamuheleo Lisao explained that human encroachment in the forest is the main cause of biodiversity loss, and of fire. People searching for Devils Claw, or hunting illegally, or wishing to clear an area for illegal settlement, start by burning – and fire quickly gets out of control.
Although the Forestry Act regulates illegal activities, it will be difficult to control these if the forest is not gazetted and as long as there is not sufficient manpower, or agreement with local communities about the value of the forest, where there are rare medicinal plants, and which provides vital wildlife corridors between Botswana to the south and Zambia to the north.
Joseph Hailwa, Director of Forestry in the MAWF, stated that the objective is to integrate with the other KAZA countries in forestry management, KAZA being the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area. “The aim,” stated Hailwa, “is to manage one transboundary forest.”
There are already transboundary forums working on several issues: combatting wildlife crime, preventing illegal fishing, and forestry management – especially fire control. Two weeks before the ministry meeting, representatives from Imosho in Zambia met with Kwandu Conservancy in Namibia, the MAWF and IRDNC: the main NGO supporting conservancies in the Zambezi Region.
The local meeting discussed problems of forestry management, noting that Devils Claw is being harvested unsustainably, that timber is being felled at an alarming rate, and that settlement encroachment is a major problem.
But it’s not only local villagers that threaten the forest. A ten thousand hectare tobacco farm has been proposed by Chinese investors, and seems likely to be agreed. Hailwa has been a vocal critic of the scheme since 2014, but as he wryly noted: “In a democracy the majority rules.” Regional government is in favour of the proposed farm because it will provide jobs.
In contrast, the forest provides habitat for wildlife, which encourages tourism, and is a vital part of Namibia’s contribution to global biodiversity.
From 2015-2020, Japanese aid has supported forestry management in the area. The MAWF is now seeking funding from the Green Climate Fund, as part of a KAZA consortium, in which each of the five KAZA countries will receive US$2 million over a five year period for forestry management, with the focus in Namibia on fire prevention and control.
A large part of the funding will be dedicated to replicating and scaling up practices that are proven to be effective, with the key objectives of reducing carbon emissions from fires, and halting biodiversity loss in the forest area. As Director Hailwa stated: “Everything should be guided by the principle of the Sustainable Management of Forest and Wildlife Resources.”
Before looking at the good news, here’s the bad: the Amazon rain forest, one of the planet’s prime area for biodiversity, is being cut down at the rate of one football pitch a minute. Why? To grow soya beans to feed cattle and pigs, so that people can eat meat in increasing quantities.
See the link below to find more articles on the relationship between food production and loss of biodiversity, but what concerns us here is the growth of carbon emissions, which are heating up the earth.
Trees are part of the solution, and as it turns out, they can play a much larger role than hitherto thought. Research from the Swiss university ETH Zürich shows that planting trees could remove 25% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – provided, of course, that we not only plant trees, but we prevent mass deforestation.
Let’s bring that closer to home. Namibia’s MET says that it will crack down on illegal logging, but only after tons of valuable Rosewood trees were cut down and sold to Chinese businessmen. As the article above shows, Namibian forests are under threat from agri-business.
If you are wondering what you can do as an ordinary citizen, here’s a thought: luxury toilet paper and tissues are produced from virgin wood. The cheaper varieties have recycled paper in them. So watch what you buy: look out for products that are produced from recycled materials.
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