Forest Conservation and People’s Livelihoods: Explaining Encroachment on Zambia’s Protected Forest Landscapes - The Case Of Mwekera National Forest, Kitwe, Copperbelt
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Forest Conservation and People’s Livelihoods: Explaining Encroachment on Zambia’s Protected Forest Landscapes - The Case Of Mwekera National Forest, Kitwe, Copperbelt Abstract The conflicts between conservation objectives and the livelihood needs of local communities are intricate and difficult to resolve and yet the success of any conservation effort hinges on their solution. This is particularly true in forest conservation in Third World countries like Zambia, where rural populations depend directly on forest resources, which are in many cases protected. Forest reserves in Zambia have undergone drastic changes over the years due to encroachment by such human activities as agriculture, charcoal burning and even settlements. This has led to the deforestation of most of them including Mwekera National Forest in Kitwe on the Copperbelt province. The Forest Department has attempted to involve the people in the management of these resources in a bid to redress the trend. But the fundamental causes for the encroachment and deforestation are not clear. This study was focused on unearthing the underlying causes of encroachment and the subsequent deforestation of Mwekera National Forest. This was done through a qualitative ethnographic approach employing individual interviews, focused group discussions, observations and pictures of relevant phenomena. The target groups included the forest communities living in and around Mwekera National Forest as well as government forestry officials at both local and national levels. The study was based on nature-culture theory, knowledge systems theory as well as the participatory approach. The study reveals that macro-economic policies such as privatisation of the mines has undermined people’s livelihoods while the inefficient and bureaucratic land delivery system made “vacant” protected forest land an attractive option. The policy contradictions between the forest sector and other sectors such as energy, agriculture and land have not helped matters. Organisational constraints on the Forest Department such as its inadequate human, financial and other resources coupled with the delay in its transformation to a more autonomous Forest Commission have not secured protected forests. Its old centralist management approach has made participation by local people difficult to effect despite being provided for under new forestry policy and law. This has meant that decisions made by officials lack meaningful involvement and support of the local people, thereby seriously hindering effective forest protection. Herein lies one major cause of encroachment.