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Borrowing from our children

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Borrowing from our children

Subsidising consumption from mines and loans as is currently happening is a short-sighted and irresponsible. One day Zambia’s underground wealth will run dry and people will be entirely dependent on productive land-use once more. At the rate Zambia’s renewable resources, trees forest wildlife and soil that support them are being plundered, future generations will have nothing left to survive on. All profits from mining should be invested into restoring the land and its natural resources and preparing the population for that day through education, infrastructure and technology.

Why is Michael Sata’s recognition of the Barotse Agreement the most important issue of the 2011 elections?

Until independence the wealth of western province was dependent on a well managed ecosystem. Only dead wood was allowed to be used freely; live trees for building or canoes required authorisation by an induna of the Barotse Royal Establishment. The next available mature tree might be far from the river or village requiring greater effort but the culture of stewardship ran deep and rules were strict. Fish and wildlife were taxed and their off-take controlled to ensure sustainability. Life was good and a wealthy empire expanded beyond the Luangwa they say.

Today one can drive for weeks around the western province only seeing kalulu (hares). Of course Liuwa is exceptional but is this not the Litunga’s private hunting ground? The once thriving fishing export industry has shrunk to subsistence levels. Armed with permits from distant officials in Lusaka, loggers have plundered both sides of the Zambezi of hardwoods. The resulting breaks in the forest canopy have allowed long grass to invade and with no animals to graze it down, fires rage ever hotter and widespread, inviting the Kalahari Desert.  Barotseland, like most of rural Zambia has become a classic victim of poor resource management. Families have been devastated by the economic collapse; young people migrate elsewhere in search of livelihoods, leaving behind an aging, disenfranchised population and children whose future looks bleak. The “fya boma” (it belongs to government) attitude caused by over-centralisation of authority is surely the main culprit.

Restoring the spirit of the Barotse Agreement nationwide must begin with government restoring a genuine sense of ownership and responsibility to local communities. Community Based Natural Resource Management CBNRM has been piloted across the region over the past 25 years mainly in wildlife with the best success achieved in Namibia where it received full support from government.

Community Conservancies act as democratic corporate holdings for common assets and now cover much of Namibia’s north. The results have been dramatic improvements in wildlife populations and habitat which has in turn offered hope for thousands of destitute families who are now able to develop solid foundations for tourism, agriculture, timber and a host of other related economies. Hunting once again provides important “nyama” and recovering forests provide the rich resources for food and medicine.

Building strong local institutions to manage the commons is actually relatively easy if the rich tradition of stewardship in our indigenous cultures is harnessed positively. The rewards are exponential. The demand for eco-services from industrialised countries is increasing with climate change and by 2020 the Global Climate Fund should have $100 billion per year for mitigation projects. This is as high as current aid levels and likely to be more productive since eco- services are more performance based. With vision, hard work and faith in each other, a cooperative partnership between trusted tradition and scientific modernity will flourish and millions of Zambians can get back to earning a good living from nature and providing invaluable eco-services and organic products to the world.

Rolf Shenton

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