GREEN Economy and Environment Minister Collins Nzovu says government will recommend for the re-gazetting of forests which were degazetted and shared among politically exposed persons in previous regimes without due consideration of environmental sustainability.

And Nzovu says government will extend the ban on mukula harvest and continue the ongoing audit of all timber permits.

Giving a ministerial statement in Parliament, Thursday, Nzovu said Forest 27 and other forests degazetted illegally would be repossessed.

“The tale of illegalities in the forest sector will take us 365 degrees to elaborate and understand. Indeed the illegalities were entrenched and we need to work together that these illegalities are stopped completely. The degazettion of forests went too far and Forest 27 like many other forests in the country have been lost,” he said.

“Our recommendations for forests which were degazetted illegally and unnecessarily are that these be regazetted. Forest 27, the Minister of Lands and Minister of Tourism are actively pursuing this matter. We have recommended that many of the forests which were shared by politically exposed people, some of whom are in this House, will be repossessed.”

And Nzovu said government was concerned with high levels of illegalities in forests, resulting in the loss of 33 percent of forest cover countrywide.

“The government has observed, with great concern, high levels of illegalities in relation to the country’s forestry resource, including the following; the mushrooming of settlements in protected forest areas, including watershed areas resulting in the loss of 33 percent of forest cover across the country. The uncontrolled harvesting, trade and export of indigenous valuable timber species such as mukula, the increased and illegal cutting down of trees for charcoal production and quarrying, sand mining and mining of manganese. As a result of these illegal activities, almost all the 470 forest reserves, including water catchment areas, have been encroached. This unfortunate situation needs to be halted if our country is to develop and become the middle-income nation that we aspire it to be,” he said.

“Encroachment on forest reserves and conducting various illegal activities without a permit or license issued by the ministry of green economy and environment is illegal and offenders will be prosecuted. The “new dawn” government was voted into office to deliver development and this can only happen if we do things within the confines of the law. I want to categorically state that no development can happen in the midst of lawlessness. Government will completely ban the occupation of forests by citizens and stop all illegal mining activities.”

Meanwhile, Nzovu said government would extend the ban on mukula harvest and continue the ongoing audit of all timber permits.

“The ministry will soon take definitive measures to mitigate the loss of and protect the forest reserves. Therefore, without having to resort to issuance of eviction notices, I urge all entities or individuals that have encroached the forests to move out immediately. While it may be noted that such directives have been given before by previous governments and yielded nothing, I want to assure this House that this is a national issue and all must take heed to abide by the law because the “new dawn’ government means business. In executing this noble cause, the ministry will collaborate with other government agencies including ministries of defence, homeland security and tourism to ensure that the rule of law is adhered to,” Nzovu said.

“We will extend the ban on mukula timber harvesting, and continue the ongoing audit of all timber permits. We will review the national forestry policy of 2014 and amendments to the forests act no. 4 of 2015 in order to provide for stiffer penalties to deter would-be offenders. Government will carry out a thorough phased-out assessment of valuable indigenous timber species, starting with the mukula stocks in the country to determine quantities, establish the true value and determine the potential of a thriving timber industry with emphasis on value addition, job and wealth creation.”

Nzovu said government would develop an inclusive policy as opposed to enriching a few as was witnessed in the previous regime.

“Therefore, preserving our forests can be viewed as another avenue to generate the much-needed revenue for the growth of our economy. Forests provide at least 1.4 million jobs, supporting 60 percent of rural Zambian households who are heavily dependent on the use of natural resources to supplement or sustain their livelihoods. Further, forest resources contribute to approximately 20 percent of rural household incomes including the market value of subsistence production. The “new dawn” government, Madam Speaker, is aware of the fact that previous governments have not paid much attention to the forestry sector,” said Nzovu.

“The country is losing about 270,000 hectares of forest cover per year. This is attributed to various factors that include unsustainable timber harvesting practices, unsustainable agriculture practices, late forest fires, and infrastructure development. Deforestation, on account of the indiscriminate cutting down of trees contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, resulting in extreme weather conditions that is evidenced by the frequency of droughts, floods and unpredictable rainy seasons. These conditions threaten the health and stability of ecosystems, ultimately slowing down economic growth for the country. It is quite evident that these effects of climate change have not spared Zambia.”