By EDWARD MWANGO
ILLEGAL exports of the Zambian Mukula tree is increasingly becoming a source of worry among authorities and other stakeholders in the timber industry.
Unease over the illicit trade of the Mukula tree is increasingly becoming strenuous among authorities in the country as they try by all means to ensure that safety guards to save the endangered timber species are tightened.
However, in spite of government banning harvesting, transportation, trading, exports and local use of the mukula tree species to protect it for future generations, these strides are being frustrated by unscrupulous people who are dishonestly exporting it for short-term monetary achievements.
Experts fear that the abuse of natural resources with absolute disregard for the future generations regarding the indiscriminate cutting of Mukula tree may see Zambia turn into a desert.
This follows huge demand on the international market which has resulted in some Zambian illegal timber traders ganging up with the Chinese business community in indiscriminately cutting down Mukula trees.
A report by Transparency International dubbed “A caution and optimism in Zambia as forest scheme scales up” states that mukula forests, which represent a “gold mine” for Zambia, are so depleted that illegal logging or harvesting operations must search deep into the mountain forests of eastern Zambia to find them.
Illegal logging of various tree species, including the mukula tree, has been identified as one of the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in Zambia.
In an effort to protect the trees and preserve carbon-reducing forests, projects are underway in Zambia in conjunction with the United Nations’ REDD+ programme – Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation – which creates financial incentives for developing countries to preserve their forests.
In Zambia, a number of these projects are being implemented in areas where there is rampant illegal exploitation of the mukula tree, such as in the Eastern Province and also a pilot initiative in Rufunsa District that is meant to serve as a model for the implementation of other community-based REDD+ projects in the country.
It has now become a common feature to hear of trucks laden with the much cherished Mukula logs being impounded by authorities, the latest being recently when Zambia Revenue Authority-ZRA- intercepted 22 trucks laden with mukula logs worth 6.6 Million Kwacha.
“Among them were 3 trucks intercepted in South Africa at Beit Bridge. The ZRA Anti-Smuggling Squad has been working with various security wings of government to make sure the contraband is brought back to Zambia.”
“The Authority has a memorandum of understanding with Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and the South African Revenue Services and we wish to make it very clear that we shall not tolerate any smuggling into Zambia and out of Zambia.” ZRA Corporate Communications Manager, Topsy Sikalinda told journalists after the incident.
ZRA has since forfeited these trucks to the state with immediate effect and the Commissioner General will soon be donating this Mukula Consignment to the state through Zambia Forestry and Industry Corporation –ZAFFICO- which has since been mandated to auction all confiscated Mukula tree logs.
In the meantime Acting Chief Government spokesperson, Stephen Kampyongo said the proceeds have since been deposited in government accounts as stipulated in the financial regulations act and not in any individuals’ accounts as alleged by some sections of society.
Speaking at a recent joint media briefing with the Ministers of Defence and Lands, on the status of timber operations, Mr Kampyongo expressed regret that the trucks were intercepted by cadres on suspicion that they were carrying Mukula logs belonging to senior government officials.
He said the Zambia Forest and Forestry Industry Corporation (ZAFFICO) had since been issued with three export permits by the ministry of Lands for the 21 trucks.
He further clarified that ZAFFICO is mandated to export mukula logs despite the ban on their export still being in effect.
He said the ban, alongside other measures put in place by government has reduced the rampant harvesting, trading and transporting of the Mukula species.
And in September last year forestry officers seized 138 logs of the mukula tree in Kasempa district in North Western Province
The logs were seized, when local forestry officials intercepted a truck ferrying the logs.
Recently, law enforcement officers in the same area intercepted four trucks laden with 500 logs of the mukula tree.
In Muchinga Province three trucks with 350 logs were seized in the same period.
As furore heightens over the Mukula logs or tree, it is cardinal that people understand the origins and use of this much sought precious national trophy.
Locally it is also known as Mbangozi (Nyanja), Mukula (Lunda), Mukwa (Lozi), Mulombe (Lenje) and Mulombwa (Bemba).
The Mukula tree, whose scientific name is Pterocarpus chrysothrix, is believed to be one of the most valuable trees due to the huge properties it has and has a huge demand in China.
It belongs to the same family of indigenous trees like Mukwa and Rosewood and is among the most common trees along the Muchinga belt.
Mukula tree is not only unique to Zambia but the Democratic Republic of Congo-DRC-, Tanzania, Angola, Malawi, and Mozambique.
It takes more than 90 years to mature and is common in all provinces of the country apart from Copperbelt, North Western and Western provinces.
According to experts, the Mukula tree has three layers where the heart wood or inner brown part is used for making gun buts; the second one is used in the timber industry for furniture, while the outer part is used for medicinal purposes.
Cut trees are debarked and squared into logs and the size of the logs will depend on the width of the tree trunk.
It is also used for making dash boards for BENZ or BMWS and floating surface for ships and Speed Boats.
Reports indicate that in China, a tonne of Mukula sells for between 17,000 and 22,000 renminbi per tonne ($2,500 and $3,200 a tonne).
Greenpeace estimates that as much as 15,000 tonnes of the wood are sold each month from just four of the biggest Mukula markets in Zhang Jiagang in eastern China, home to the country’s largest Mukula processing industry.
China’s rosewood furniture market was worth at least 100 billion renminbi ($15 billion) in 2012.
As government steps up joint efforts in curbing illegal trade of the much cherished mukula tree, other stakeholders should join the fight to ensure transparency that would cast out suspicions among some sections of soci