by Elias Shilangwa
LUSAKA, April 25 (Xinhua) -- Zambian authorities have been trying to save an endangered timber species, the Mukula, but it seems their efforts are yet to yield any tangible results.
Barely a week passes without stories of trucks laden with logs en route to being exported outside the country being intercepted.
The Mukula tree is on high demand outside the country, which has fueled illegal trade. The tree has earned the nickname "gold" among local people.
The Mukula, whose scientific name is Pterocarpus chrysothrix, is one of the most valuable trees because of its huge properties.
The tree has three layers where the heart wood or inner brown part is used for making gun butts, the second one for the making of furniture while the outer part is believed to contain medicinal values.
Early this month, the country's tax agency revealed that over 250 trucks laden with Mukula logs were marooned at various border points after being impounded.
This followed a statutory instrument barring the transiting of the logs through Zambia signed by President Edgar Lungu.
According to Kingsley Chanda, Commissioner General of the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA), his officers will continue impounding trucks carrying Mukula logs.
"As ZRA, we have decided to hold up all the trucks until investigations are concluded," Chanda told reporters recently after reports emerged that some of the confiscated logs were purported to have been imported from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Another statutory instrument will soon be signed which will completely make it illegal to use the Zambian soil to transit the endangered tree species, according to the Minister of Lands Jean Kapata.
"Once the statutory instrument is signed, it will mean that Zambia is not going to allow any transit of the Mukula logs on its soil," she said when she presented her ministry's quarterly report to the Zambian president.
There were also reports that the government was considering calling on the army to help in halting the illegal trade in the Mukula logs after increased concerns that the tree is now threatened with extinction.
But despite the measures announced so far, the illegal harvest of the Mukula tree has continued unabated. Stakeholders have since called on the government to come up with more stringent measures.
According to the Center for Trade and Policy Development (CTPD), the government should consider other options such as encouraging the setting up of timber processing factories. Legalizing and encouraging the setting up of processing plants is believed to enable the government to collect enough revenue from tree species, creating value addition.
Isaac Mwaipopo, the organization's acting executive director said closing borders as a measure to deter the illegal trade in Mukula logs was unsustainable. Instead, the country should seize the opportunities presented in the demand of the timber species to earn foreign exchange by legalizing the business.
For the Timber Producers Association of Zambia (TPAZ), tackling the problem of illegal export of the Mukula logs should not be left to the government alone but requires concerted efforts from all stakeholders.
TPAZ president Charles Masange, however, expressed concern that the government has not been taking seriously suggestions and submissions from stakeholders in the wood sector.
According to him, engaging the army was not the solution but that the government should employ more forestry officers as well as reduce the duty required for legal exports of timber products.
His views have been supported by the Zambia National Association of Sawmillers which believes that the problem of illegal harvest and export of the Mukula logs is far bigger than meets the eye which government alone cannot tackle.
William Bwalya, the association's president said the government should come up with proper regulations on the exploitation of the country's forest resources because currently people were harvesting the Mukula tree without due regard to the law. He lamented the illegal harvest taking place in both state and customary land.
Official data show that the country has a high rate of deforestation of between 250,000 to 300,000 hectares per year.
Despite the country being one of the most forested countries in Africa, with over 60 percent of the country covered in woodlands, there are growing fears that the rampant cutting of timber species, such as Mukula, will worsen the situation if nothing is done to stop the trend. Enditem