Approximately 459,433 km² of Zambia is classified as forests, amounting to 61% of the total land area, as of 2020 . About one sixth of the rural population depend heavily on forests and non-forest resources for their livelihood and forests contribute approximately 20% to rural household incomes. Both indirect and direct values of forests are estimated to make a GDP contribution of about 4.7% if well managed. However, unsustainable charcoal and fuel wood production and the unsustainable clearance of forest land for agriculture and settlement expansion has resulted in high rates of deforestation and increased greenhouse gas emissions . At the global level, Zambia has been identified as one of the top 10 greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting countries for deforestation and forest degradation .
Based on a land cover change analysis between 2000 and 2014, the official annual deforestation rate was estimated to be 0.6%, a loss of approximately 276,021 ha per annum for the period 2000 to 2014. This rate is presented and endorsed as the official deforestation rate for Zambia. The national average of forest area cleared per household was estimated at 0.73 ha in 2015. Forest clearing for agriculture was highest in Lusaka Province and lowest in Luapula Province, suggesting that provinces with a high income cleared more forest area than provinces with a low income .
Zambia has a large network of national Protected Areas (PAs) covering around 40% of land area with substantial potential for forest protection and sustainable forest management. National Parks (NPs) and Forest Reserves (FRs) cover over 18% of the total land area. Out of the total area classified as FRs, 44% is set aside for production, 30% for both protection and production, and the remaining 26% is solely for protection. All PAs are facing serious threats from a range of human activities – notably clearance for agriculture and settlement, mining, charcoal burning, uncontrolled fires and poaching .
The key drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in Zambia are agricultural expansion (commercial and subsistence), heavy reliance on wood fuel for energy (charcoal and firewood), unsustainable timber extraction (both legal and illegal), forest fires, and infrastructure development (e.g., mining and other large infrastructural developments) .
Zambia’s charcoal business is a main driver of forest degradation, affecting about 190,000 ha annually. The country's extensive forests cover over 80% of Zambians' basic energy needs .
Key policies and governance approach
Zambia’s latest Forest Policy from 2014 and the Forest Act of 2015 offer a conducive legal framework for sustainable forest management that seeks to involve communities and non-state actors. They recognize the country’s forests as central for sustainable development, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and biodiversity conservation .
Zambia’s REDD+ Strategy, 2015 aims to contribute to national reductions in GHG emissions by improving forest and land management and to ensure equitable sharing of both carbon and non-carbon benefits among stakeholders. Objectives include, among others: (i) to effectively manage and protect threatened and unsustainably managed national and local forests so as to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and contribute to ecosystem services across selected landscapes; (ii) promote adoption of good agricultural practices that mitigate carbon emissions; (iii) regulate production of wood fuel (charcoal & firewood) and improved its utilization; (iv) promote wide adoption of appropriate and affordable alternative energy sources; and (v) threatened and sensitive protected areas legislated as "no-go areas” for mining and infrastructure development .
Zambia has also developed a “National Investment Plan to Reduce Deforestation and Forest Degradation”, for the period 2018 to 2022. The aim of the investment plan is to support the conservation, management and restoration of forests through investment in the needs of local communities which include functional local level management structures, ecotourism, general enterprises, food agricultural practices, markets and market linkages. The Plan also aims at addressing energy from biomass through appropriate supply and usage. Generally, the Plan seeks to address underlying drivers of deforestation by providing alternatives in terms of good practices as well as sources of income .
SUCCESSES AND REMAINING CHALLENGES
The low capacity of the Forest Department permeates the forestry and conservation sectors across all levels. Capacities for law enforcement and monitoring are weak even in protected areas, and largely overstretched when including customary land outside Forest Reserves. Measures that support decentralization efforts and build capacity of governmental agencies while at the same time strengthening participation and ownership of forest resources by nonstate actors will support efficient forest governance efforts .
Initiatives and Development Plans
In 2018, the Government of Zambia, with support from the World Bank, launched the $33 million Zambia Integrated Forest Landscape Program to improve sustainable land management, diversify livelihoods options available to rural communities, including climate-smart agriculture and forest-based livelihoods, and reduce deforestation in the country’s Eastern Province. An estimated 215,000 people will benefit directly from this program, of which, at least 30% will be women. Key beneficiaries are rural communities in the Eastern Province’s nine districts, namely Chadiza, Chipata, Katete, Lundazi, Mambwe, Nyimba, Petauke, Sinda, and Vubwi .
- Measures that support decentralization efforts and build capacity of governmental agencies while at the same time strengthening participation and ownership of forest resources by nonstate actors will support efficient forest governance efforts.
- Capacity building of the Forest Department.
- Creating incentives for sustainable forest management will be crucial to tap into the potential of the forest sector and create a conducive environment.
- Removing hurdles to establishing a formal sector for forest users and establishing an enabling environment for investment are both paramount for sustainable forest management. At the same time, increased capacity for law enforcement and monitoring helps to ensure that commercial activities are sustainable and controlled. Finally, the establishment of clear land use rights and broad access to markets are essential to attracting the private sector.
- The ecotourism sector centered on wildlife and safari hunting offers an important formal revenue stream with potential for further development.
- Reducing deforestation and establishing sustainable forest management at a large scale in Zambia requires raising awareness.
- The establishment of appropriate monitoring systems for reducing deforestation and forest degradation need to be put in place. Other measures include provision of incentives for development of alternative energy sources and technology to reduce reliance on biomass energy sources.
 Clearing House Mechanism (2018). Sixth National Report: Zambia. [Online]. Available: https://chm.cbd.int/database/record?documentID=241363.
 The World Bank (2018). [Online]. Available: https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2018/03/02/zambia-takes-the-keys-away-from-drivers-of-deforestation.