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The Global Climate Fund- the chance for a new start for rural Zambia?

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Chiefs should think twice about selling people’s common land to investors for short- term benefits. Once this land is alienated to state for title it is lost to the local community for good. This land could be the key to long awaited bottom-up local development.

Whilst the Cop 16 Climate summit in Cancun, Mexico should be seen as inadequate in that it did not conclude with a viable, holistic survival strategy for the future of humankind based on rationalised and equitable use of resources to ensure a safe working- temperature range required for our life-supporting eco-systems to thrive, there was some progress in key areas relevant to common lands which make up 94% of Zambia’s total area: the establishment of the Global Climate Fund.

This Global Climate Fund, mooted at COP15 in Copenhagen last year, still falls short of true eco-justice because it does not force polluting industrialized societies that have caused and knowingly continue to cause the most damage to earth’s bio-sphere to pay compensation to innocent victims in poor countries. Nevertheless the substantial commitments ($30 billion rising to $100 billion in 2020) to the Global Climate Fund should provide long-awaited rewards to land owners who play a vital role in managing the environment responsibly.

Previous arrangements such as REDD+ relied on commercialization of carbon trade and thus could only provide opportunities to private land owners with clear titled ownership. Communal societies have been unable in access such funding even when they formalize their group interests into Community Based Natural Resource Management CBNRM structures. The new Fund is not tied to commercial carbon trade and will be managed by a group of global actors including World Bank. There is renewed hope that this fund will suit the communal land custodians in Africa thus presenting an opportunity to preserving the integrity of indigenous culture and economies.

Those societies with a registered legal structure such as community conservancy trusts are in the strongest position to apply for the new funding. Traditional structures such as chiefdoms based on oral records might still have difficulty in making formal applications implying that responsible chiefs will encourage and facilitate the creation of Land and Natural resource management Trusts as holdings for communal assets.  This is surely better than selling off community land to investors and speculators for short-term benefit. In many cases such as hunting and forestry, user rights can be leased out by Trusts without shaving to sell land.

In Namibia where such Community Wildlife Conservancies now dominate all communal land north of the veterinary line, the “tragedy of commons” is giving way to stable natural resource- based local economies with strong indigenous ownership guaranteed. These conservancies have also become ideal vehicles for local development goals and are attracting attention and investment from a wide range of donors and government itself.  Conservancies have become the indigenous equivalent to a corporate structure where every member of the tribe has a stake in its success and a say in its governance.

CBNRM is not a new idea in Zambia beginning with the first Government- Controlled Hunting Scheme in Chief Nsefu’s chiefdom in 1950. The concept was resurrected in the mid 80’s with Luangwa Integrated Rural Development Program (SLAMU today) and ADMADE where incomes from wildlife were shared with local stakeholders to incentivize better management. After reasonable success the concept of co-management was legalized nationally through the creation of Zambia Wildlife Authority Act 1998, Joint Forestry Management Act 1998 and several pilot projects involving local community in fish management. Recently the Ministry of Lands has facilitated the registration of formal Community Trusts pioneered by a few visionary Chiefs including Nyawa, Mpumba, Nyalungwe, Luembe, Mwanachingwala and others.


If rural people do not take the initiative to claim what it rightfully theirs, most of the money will be eaten up by the insatiable government bureaucracy and NGO talking shops like the donor funds of the past 50 years. Will Zambian Chiefs chose to sell off the people’s land for a few 4x4’s and empty promises or empower their communities with the structures to take advantage of the Global Climate Fund? It’s the usual choice of eating the chicken or feeding it and sharing the eggs.

Standing by to assist as ever!

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