Zambia is abundantly endowed with natural resources and biological diversity . The country is home to an estimated 3,543 species of wild flowering plants, 242 mammals, 757 birds, 74 amphibians, 156 reptiles and 490 fish species . The main mechanism for conserving biodiversity in Zambia has been the creation of protected areas. Zambia has established over 480 forest reserves, 20 national parks and 40 Game Management Areas, among others. The protected area network is estimated to cover 286,161 km² or 37.8% of the country's total land area. In Zambia, forests, agro-ecosystems and wetlands are the most important ecosystems to the national economy and rural livelihoods .
Wetlands, including rivers, lakes, swamps and dambos, are an important source of livelihood for the majority of rural populations in Zambia . They cover 3.6 million hectares (4.8%) of the country's total land area  and include eight Ramsar sites (with a combined total area of 40,305 km²) . The fisheries subsector contributes about 3.2% to the GDP, with 300,000 persons directly or indirectly obtaining part of their income from this sector. Fish account for 29% of the animal protein supply in Zambian diets. More than 200 Crustacean species exist in various ecosystems in Zambia, of which more than half are endemics. The highest fish species richness is found in Lake Tanganyika, estimated to have over 200 species of fish, of which over 70% are endemic to the lake .
Forests are known as a valuable natural and economic resource for supporting natural systems and improving peoples’ livelihoods. Zambia’s forests are also important repositories of biodiversity and provide a wide range of goods for livelihoods (especially for the rural poor) . A study published in 2014 concluded, using 2010 figures, that direct and indirect forest values (excluding the market value of carbon) directly contributed about 4.7% or USD 932.5 million to the GDP. However, when the multiplier effects of forestry and tourism-related activities on other sectors are considered, the overall contribution of forests to the GDP was estimated to be at least 6.3% or USD 1,252 million. The same study estimated that overall income derived from non-wood forest products is around USD 135.8 million per year .
Zambia’s agro-ecological systems are categorized into three agro-ecological regions (AERs), differentiated mainly by amount of rainfall received per annum. Small-scale farmers are responsible for producing 80% of output (their contribution to livestock production is around 30%). A small number of commercial or large-scale farmers are involved in commercial crop production in wheat, soya bean and sugar cane, and in livestock production. In spite of agro-biodiversity being a vital resource for the country, it has not been given adequate attention in terms of management and utilization compared to forestry, wild animals and the fisheries. As a result, agro-ecological systems are facing several threats .
Zambia has a network of 42 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) covering a combined area of 105,382.5 km², approximately 14% of Zambia’s total land surface area. Of which, around 82% receive some sort of protection. However, over the past 15 years, a decline of around 35% has been recorded in site occupancy in the most Important Bird Areas. Additionally, 11 bird species are listed as endangered .
Despite the importance of Zambia’s biodiversity, biodiversity loss in the country has reached unprecedented levels mainly due to anthropogenic activities in pursuit of economic gains .
Forest reserves are significantly threatened by encroachment through cultivation and settlement. In the North-Western Province, this process is driven mostly by mining, while Northern Zambia has lost much of its primary cover to shifting cultivation. In the east, central and southern parts of Zambia, conversion of forest land to permanent crop agriculture is the main driver of loss. Additionally, bush fires, overexploitation of timber trees, and invasive alien plant species also contribute to deforestation and degradation.
Threats to national parks, game management areas and mammals include human encroachment and illegal wildlife use, such as the poaching of large mammals for the bushmeat market. Other threats include habitat degradation caused by conversion for cropping, livestock grazing, charcoal production, among others. Furthermore, mining activities in certain protected areas have had negative effects on wildlife species and their habitats. Although mining licenses can be granted as long as an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is carried out and approved by the Zambia Environmental Management Agency, some small-scale mines are carrying out activities without licenses.
The main threats to birds include habitat loss, hunting pressure, bird food shortage, droughts, floods and temperature variation.
Threats to aquatic systems and fish include habitat modification due to the damming of rivers, among other causes. They are also threatened by invasive alien species (water hyacinth, Kariba weed, carpet weed) and poor aquaculture practices .
Key policies and governance approach
Zambia has over the years developed a number of national policies, legislations, plans and acceded to several regional agreements/protocols and international conventions – all supportive of biodiversity conservation and sustainable natural resources and environmental management . Included is the Environmental Management Act (2011) which is the parent environmental legislation with strict requirements for EIA and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for any large-scale development project; the Wildlife Act (2015); the Fisheries Act (2011); the National Forest Policy (2014); and the Forest Act (2015), among others. Additionally, the National Policy on Wetlands was adopted in 2018 to promote the protection and conservation of wetlands .
Although the Mines and Minerals Development Act was adopted in 2012, it fails to recognize the important role of biodiversity conservation and allows for mineral development in protected areas .
Zambia’s Second National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP-2) is the main instrument for the management of biodiversity in Zambia. NBSAP-2 will cover the period 2015- 2025, with the vision “By 2025, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy environment and delivering benefits essential for all Zambians and the Zambian economy”. It comprises five Strategic Goals, 18 Targets and 45 Strategic Interventions. Strategic goals are as follows: (i) Address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society; (ii) Reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use; (iii) Improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity; (iv) Enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services; and (v) Enhance implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building . The Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN), for which Zambia is a pilot country, will help strengthen the financing framework for the revised NBSAP .
SUCCESSES AND REMAINING CHALLENGES
Implementation of Zambia’s 1999 National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP1) faced a number of challenges, notably an inadequate monitoring framework to assess changes in the baselines and an absence of a clear financing framework . A review of achievements towards the set targets under the 1999 NBSAP revealed very modest direct results , .
A key lesson learnt from implementing the first NBSAP (1999) was the need for long-term investment in a well-coordinated and mainstreamed biodiversity monitoring system . Implicit in this concern is the need to develop capacity in biodiversity monitoring and analysis through training of personnel and the establishment of biodiversity observatories in representative ecosystems/habitats in the country. The country may require external support in addressing this data challenge .
Another concern for the management of biodiversity in Zambia is climate change. Because Zambia is already experiencing droughts and floods, it is imperative that the country implements interventions, including Ecosystem Based Adaptation (EbA) and appropriate mitigation actions to address this challenge .
- A key lesson learnt from implementing the first NBSAP (1999) was the need for long-term investment in a well-coordinated and mainstreamed biodiversity monitoring system.
- Develop capacity in biodiversity monitoring and analysis through training of personnel and the establishment of biodiversity observatories in representative ecosystems/habitats in the country.
- The Ministry of Lands & Natural Resources needs to improve its coordination of the implementation of the NBSAP-2 by tracking all the activities across the 11 ministries involved in the implementation of the plan.
- It is imperative that the country implements interventions, including Ecosystem Based Adaptation (EbA) and appropriate mitigation actions to address this challenge. For Zambia, this includes better management of the country’s forests.
- Funding to key institutions that monitor and enforce biodiversity legislations should increase to ensure that they carry out their mandate without staff and monitoring equipment constraints.
- Encourage community participation in biodiversity conservation.
 Clearing House Mechanism (2018). Sixth National Report: Zambia. [Online]. Available: https://chm.cbd.int/database/record?documentID=241363.