Course:CONS200/2021/Community Forests in Zambia: Challenges and Opportunities

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Location of Zambia
Flag of Zambia

Zambia is a country located to the East of Angola and North of Zimbabwe, in southern central Africa. Much of Zambia’s land is covered by forests. This is crucial as forests provide economic, recreational, cultural, and ecological benefits for humans, such as water/air filtration, carbon allocation, national parks and settings of Indigenous land and ceremonies. Many of these forests are being used as areas of climate change mitigation, though they have been met with many challenges due to deforestation. Several forest management actions have been taken in the past, including the Zambia Forest Action Plan (ZFAP) of 1997, Forest Policy of 1998 and Forest Act of 1999[1]. The community forest program was introduced into the Zambia Forests Act of 2015[2], where information on how community forest management (CFM) should be applied.  

Zambia Topography, Climate and Biodiversity

Zambezi River "Diego Delso,, License CC-BY-SA"


In Zambia there are 480 forest reserves attempting to protect the forest that is left[3]. Though much of Zambia is agricultural land, there are a number of mountains and hills, as well as valleys and plateaus. Four main rivers run through Zambia: the Kafue, Luangwa, Chambeshi, and the Zambezi[4]. There are numerous wetlands surrounding the rivers in Zambia, as well. Many of the plateaus are made of copper which feeds the copper mining industry. Much of the forest landscapes are based around the climate and the areas that receive more rain[4].


Zambia is located in sub-saharan Africa which is in the tropical and subtropical biomes. There is a wet season and a dry season. There are moderate temperatures, that mainly stay around 35°C or less[5]. The rainfall occurs for 6 months, at which time farmers are able to start farming, as the dry season makes it difficult to grow crops due to a lack of precipitation[5]. Zambia experiences a number of droughts in the dry season that makes up the other 6 months of the year. Zambia is prone to both flooding and rainfall depending on if it is the rainy season or the dry season[5].


There are a few main woodland areas in Zambia. There is the Miombo woodland which is mainly dominated by maize crops and other grains. The main tree species that grow in the Miombo woodland are Brachystegia, Isoberlinia and Julbernadia[4]. The second main area is the Baikiaea where the Baikiaea plurijuga trees grow, and in this landscape there are dry areas that have many termite mounds as well[4]. There are also evergreen and deciduous forests in Zambia. Dry, moist, and riparian evergreen forests often exist near the rivers that run through Zambia[4]. There are a number of lichens, fungi and other low and high growing plants: some are edible, such as mushrooms and truffles[4].

Community Forests


As defined by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, "any situation that intimately involves local people in forestry activity" can be considered community forestry[6]. In community forestry, forests are managed communally by locals for the purposes of producing income from timber, non-timber forest products, and generally generating higher-quality livelihoods for community members while maintaining and protecting ecosystems and their natural cycles. Community forests offer several opportunities that are potentially highly essential to human survival. However, these opportunities can be lost to certain pre-existing challenges when CFM is implemented, such as wealth inequality, weak policy or government support, and land ownership and tenure issues. Communal forests are also region-specific, with stakeholders such as traditional leaders and other private sectors who are essential for the growth of the system.


Southeastern Asia is a continent that has used community forest techniques for centuries. However in the last few decades, there is a newer form of community forestry that has been presented: a system where community forestry comes from outside the local community like from the government, international agencies, or non-governmental organizations (NGOs)[7]. In Zambia, the government has a partnership with the local communities, where they give consent for community forestry to be applied[3]. The CFM program has objectives that differ based on socioeconomic climate in the region that it is being applied to[7]. In Zambia the CFM plan has been built off of past trials with Joint Forest Management (JFM) and Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM). All of these management styles have a focus on sharing the benefits of natural resources[3].


Some common objectives of CFM are poverty alleviation, “increasing land conservation, reducing fragmentation of managed ecosystems, increasing community stability, reducing fire risk, increasing reforestation rates, and acknowledging resources not currently valued in the traditional economic sense.”[7] The main aim of community forests are to allow local users of the forest to have roles and responsibilities surrounding the management of the forest[3]. CFM will also clarify the sharing of benefits of the forest and the policy surrounding the protection and usage of the forest's resources. In Zambia, specifically, much of the goal is conservation of the forests to mitigate deforestation.

Forestry in Zambia

Land Use

Man harvesting Maize in a field

Agriculture is one of the main uses of the land in Zambia. Much of the history surrounding agriculture comes from Zambia being a settler colony[8]. There are a few different types of land and owners of the land. There is state land, which is owned by the government/state, or customary land, owned and managed by chiefs as former indigenous reserves and trusts.[8] Land use is based on the demand for food and energy and must cater to the growing population of people in Zambia. Agriculture, urban space, and other settlements as well as mining, tourism and other investments are ways that the land in Zambia is used and profited from[8]. Mining, agriculture and tourism are the main economic providers in Zambia and are also related to the common uses of land on a large scale.


Deforestation, globally, is a growing issue; it has been studied that around 7.6 million hectares of forest are lost per year. The problem is no different in Zambia, where it is estimated that there is 167,000 to 300,000 ha of deforestation a year[3], encapsulating an annual 0.63% deforestation rate during the last ten years[9]. That number has stretched to 45% in the Miombo ecoregion—a forest type that is differentiated by its extensive nature and its inhabitants of the Brachystegia, Julbernardia and Isoberlinia tree species[10].The rapid expansion of urbanization is a main factor contributing to deforestation. In the past, many houses used dead wood to fuel fires for cooking and for other household work, but because of urbanization and population growth, charcoal has become a more popular source of fuel for cooking and is contributing to deforestation[11]. Not only is the harvesting of trees to produce charcoal causing deforestation but the expansion of urban spaces also contribute. Another driver of deforestation is the agricultural sector and its expansion. With the population increasing and the growing reliance on agriculture, the demand for food production is causing agriculture to expand across more and more land. A common reason for deforestation is the expansion of corn crops to adjust to high demand[12]. Deforestation inhibits and pushes against Zambia’s Aichi biodiversity targets, which is to reduce biodiversity loss as a result of deforestation by 25%. On top of this, over 44% of income from locals is derived from the Miombo Forest ecosystem and it’s acquired goods and services—a measure that will continue to show the negative impact of deforestation on the livelihood of the people.[13]

Governance and Structure

Historically, Zambia’s forest administration was decentralized to provide citizens with more authority and power in decision-making at the local level. The coordination, implementation and legislation of all forest-management and resources falls in the hands of the Forest Department of the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources.[14] Beyond that, sub-national government levels are structured into the provincial, district, and sub-district administration units. Provincial and district units facilitate and enforce by-laws and the administration of forestry estate, in accordance with the forestry policy. In addition, the district unit collects revenue from forest product transactions, provides extension services, regulates licensing, and manages forest woodlots and plantations[14].

Structurally, Zambia is divided into 10 provinces and 117 districts, each comprising a district council: the main decision making body at that level. At the sub district level, the council is represented by the democratically elected Area Development Committees (ADCs). The ADCs are democratically elected, local governance structures that seek to work together with members in each ward to develop and implement natural resource conservation plans (GZR, 2015).

Working parallel to the ADC’s in each district is a customary administrative structure guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Zambia, where traditional leaders administer customary lands based on local customs. This includes determining the conditions of land use, as well as outside access and rights on said land. The political administration often has little authority over traditional administration and must engage in consultations with traditional institutions before undertaking any activities on customary lands[15].

Although the ADCs are theoretically the official focal point of local collective action for the improvement of the environment and livelihoods on customary lands, these governance structures in reality appear to be dysfunctional and are not viewed as a political administrative unit in some communities[16].

In reality, however, the central government has been seen as unwilling to share power of protected forests with local governments. This is only bolstered by the limited capability for local government to manage the financial, human resource, and technical aspects of open forests. At the base of the problem is conflicting legislation that muddies the process of navigation and management. While the Local Government Act of 1991 gives the district council a mandate to plan and lead the management of customary forests, the Land Act of 1995 places the administration of these lands under customary authority[17].

Zambia and many other tropical regions that have suffered large annual deforestation rates over the years, and one of the consistent causes is muddled governance and management. There are examples of positive initiative, such as Zambia’s national development plan 2017–2021 to improve forest governance as part of its strategies towards achieving sustainable forest use,[18] or the country’s strategies for the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change[19].

The Forests Act, 2015

While implementing procedures and guidelines for community forests, the Forests Act, 2015 provided certain rights and subsequent responsibilities for interested communities in Zambia. Through the act, the rights of nearby households and communities who derive interest and livelihood upon the forests to join a Community Forest Management Group (CFMG) are recognized. A CFMG is allowed to apply for a Community Forest Agreement, and once granted specific forest user rights, they are granted economic rights of all forest products, including the ability to harvest honey, animal products, herbs, timber, and other forest resources. They are granted sole rights for the community represented by the CFMG to use the forest, and rights to enact regulations and sanctions (including operations for eco-tourism) to effectively manage the community forest area[20].

As outlined in the act, this includes responsibilities within the community to select an area of land that is uncontested and in need of management. As such, it must be in accordance with local leaders and be given the appropriate consultation and approval. In addition, it is the responsibility of a CFMG to maintain adequate leadership, management, fiscal responsibility, and impartiality and practicality towards new policy[20].

Current Arrangements

Zambia’s current arrangements utilize differing access and restrictions across varying tenure categories. It is estimated that the majority of Zambia’s forest, around 65.7% lies on customary land through use of individual and communal forests; these forests are where cultural norms such as graveyard forests are implemented[21]. On these lands, the commercial use of forest products without license is restricted[22]. 23.7% of the remaining forests belong to state lands, where national and local forest reserves are managed and implemented by the Forest Department, and National Parks and Game Management areas are administered by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife. Special permits to access these forests are required. The remaining 10.6% constitutes private forests, leased to registered individuals or companies[22].


Policy and Government

An example of when policy hindered the success of a CFM project can be seen in the case of the Katanino JFM area located in Masaiti District, Copperbelt Province, Zambia. Katanino was established as a pilot JFM area under the Provincial Forestry Action Program (PFAP) from 1995 to 2006[23]. It was a joint initiative led by the Zambian Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources in partnership with the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (FINNIDA)[23]. At the time, Zambia’s forestry sector was largely centralized, office-based, and relied on a permit system to regulate and manage forest resources[23]. Zambian forestry’s legal framework was provided by the Forest Act of 1973 and a newer Forest Policy of 1998 that resulted from a review of legislation and policy supported by FINNIDA[23].

The Katanino JFM plan included the proposition of a new Forest Act in 1999 that would facilitate the decentralization of the forestry sector—one of the most significant aims of this JFM[23]. More importantly to this case, the outline of this new Forest Act would include the creation of a forestry commission, ZAFCOM—a designated group of people responsible for bridging the gap between local village management institutions, or simply the local communities, and district-level actors like the forestry department while promoting the value of all forest products[23]. The commission would also be responsible for creating and supporting markets for these forest products, especially focussing on timber[23]. FINNIDA worked in Katanino to set up all the necessary structures and procedures to begin their new JFM pilot program, awaiting the commencement of this proposed act[23].

The problem arose when the act failed to reach parliament and was thus never commenced, allegedly because of an unexpected change of direction by the government[23]. This left FINNIDA with few options with which to salvage their plan for Katanino. In order to support the continuation of its JFM area program, a statutory instrument (SI 52) was implemented, outlining that the JFM could exploit non-major forest products including leaves, mushrooms, flowers, and fruits but excluding both timber and coal, two major forest resources[23]. Here, FINNIDA’s reliance on a potential policy that was not yet in place—on top of relying on a shifty government body—put their program’s plan in danger. When an alternative form of policy was formed to aid their continuation, it excluded two of the most important forest resources needed for the successful profitability of the JFM plan for the community.

The Zambian Forest Department compiled guidelines detailing the procedures required to implement this SI—these guidelines included: the creation of a verification committee responsible for deciding whether or not a community is fit to adopt JFM; the followed establishment of user groups, village resource management committees, and forest management committees—all made by district officers who are part of the verification committee—to collectively design a management plan for the community forest[23]. However, despite these guidelines, the procedures for realising and sharing JFM benefits amongst community members are unclear[23]. These guidelines failed to outline how benefits should be decided, realised, and shared and also failed to stress the necessity of these factors being included in management plans made by these user groups and committees, resulting in plans that focussed solely on forests, heavily excluding other sectors such as the agriculture community[23].

The Katanino JFM plan did not have sufficient political support from Zambia’s government or legislation and, therefore, its success proved heavily limited. Guidelines created for communities to base their management plans off of lacked correct outlining of benefit-sharing, causing equity, inclusion, and distribution conflicts. Clear and supportive policy is a key pillar to the success of community forests. Without this, plans are sure to confront consistent issues that will hinder overall successes.

Pre-Existing Social/Economic Inequality

According to Shreya Dasgupta in her Mongabay Series: Conservation Effectiveness, “community-based forest management can aggravate existing inequalities—both social and economic”, stressing the necessity for a strong socio-economic balance in communities looking to adopt CFM[24]. These pre-existing factors, like wealth and gender inequality, cultural or spiritual differences, and unfair access rights, can cause CFM challenges relating to the distribution of benefits and land rights/tenure, implementation of traditional community values, security of resources and equal representation of all wealth and gender groups in decision-making groups and assemblies. Fair distribution of resources and benefits is crucial for the sustainability of CFM projects, especially once a community no longer receives guidance from a project's external founding organization. Uneven distribution can lead to overall decreased livelihood quality[25]. Wealth and gender inequality in a community can become a significant problem when representatives of wealthier groups or men outnumber the less wealthy and the women in committees and decision-making groups of CFM projects. This social inequality is a hindrance for those who seek opportunity but are perceived as disadvantaged due to social norms[26]. Pelletier et al. argue that “processes and institutional arrangements that govern the implementation of CFM at the local level can easily be dominated by the wealthier or more powerful community members, producing results that reinforce and perpetuate social inequality”[27]. This can result in access and tenure rights being granted to more socially dominant individuals or groups, pushing out less wealthy individuals who may rely on the forest's resources for survival. When deciding restrictions on a community forest's resources, reliance on these resources by poorer households must be taken into account to avoid the increasing of wage gaps in a community and lack of support of poorer households in most need of CFM benefits[24].


Community Engagement

There are many kinds of opportunities produced by community forests in Zambia. CFM induces a sense of empowerment of localism and facilitates organized, collective management of local natural resources[7]. These communities are familiar with the resources that surround their community, meaning that they also have valuable, specific knowledge to contribute to management plans of these resources. CFM programs, such as REDD+, offer opportunities for local communities to take more leading roles in establishing a profitable system for themselves via community forestry while being incentivized to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and degradation rates[28]. The communities also benefit from new training experiences, practices and knowledge offered by the program, effectively educating the locals about conservational land use and a sustainable livelihood while increasing their overall wellbeing and available skill sets[28].


These opportunities include decision-making, resource sharing, education and overall better quality livelihood. CFM opens up an opportunity to include poor and marginalized groups in the decision-making process regarding their local forests; as a result, this allows the community to focus on basic needs, as well as steps to advance as a unit. Along with fair decision-making, different resources gathered by many different individuals can be shared inside of a common pool, where everyone is granted an adequate amount of life necessities such as water, food, fuel and shelter. Education within the forestry sector is also greatly encouraged when participating in a community forest, when involved in operations, everyone gets first-hand experience in forestry work. This will greatly encourage more local participants and overall a great way to generate a good livelihood. Household CFM income also often goes toward putting children of less-wealthy families in school, generating more opportunities following their children's increased educational experience[29].

Increased Income

Obtaining access to forest land and resources not previously legally accessible offers many profitable opportunities, especially for less-wealthy households, often seen as one of the main motivations of community forests[30]. Access to forest goods can help local businesses thrive and provide for their community. CFM often provides multiple related income-generating opportunities such as training programs on forest management skills and strategies, which could result in more jobs[30]. As communities export forest resources like timber, food, and other goods, their increased profits and incomes help to develop financial security for all households involved, which can lead to increased financial independence[29]. CFM income can facilitate further land-purchasing by less wealthy households in order to continue growing their income sources[29].

Reduced Degradation

Among the many driving factors of CFM, reduced forest degradation is one of the most critical pillars for success[27]. Despite deforestation being difficult to measure in CFM-based studies, reduced degradation of forests has been a common result of CFM[27]. Pelletier et al. claimed that "CFM is effective at promoting sustainable landscapes through sustainable management of forests and forest conservation as this was reported in 87.5% of the cases"[27]. Studies showed that CFM contributed significantly to forest carbon stock enhancement and higher vegetation density[27]. Their meta-analysis focussed on the contributions of CFM in "slowing, halting and reverting forest cover loss and therefore its usefulness in terms of carbon benefits by looking to the five types of REDD+ activities"[27]. "The ultimate goal of REDD+ is to reduce emissions or increase removals of GHGs by forests," they claimed[27]. This common CFM goal is among the most important goals considering the increasing dangers of climate change and biodiversity loss affecting the globe today. The protection of forests enhances carbon stock densities, counteracting the continuous CO2 pollution and other GHGs entering our air.

Improved Resource Security

CFM has been shown to significantly improve resource security by reducing corruption and increasing enforcement of land access and use rights[27]. In the studies analyzed by Pelletier et al., improvement in security was the most frequently mentioned benefit[27]. Where illegal exploitation was previously common, CFM could introduce such significant benefits to community members, encouraging them to now protect the resources that would provide for their community and livelihoods[29]. Policies would be enacted, outlining the formation of different types of guard or officer groups; jobs that would otherwise be non-existent without the introduction of CFM[23]. Penalties for illegal exploitation would be more clearly outlined and carried out[3].

Conclusion and Projections

CFM projects have proven their ability to integrate community practices and goals into the maintenance of an ecoregion, providing an example of governance deferring to more on-hand practices. The only inconsistency with many community-based regions such as Zambia is their management and funding, which inhibit effectiveness. As the future becomes the present, the continued integration of community-based conservation techniques will seek to spur governance in the right direction and localize license and authority even further onto the people. Inevitably, changes in governance and increased efficiency of management would wipe away much of this inconsistency, and increase the viability and effectiveness of community-based conservation going forward.


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