zambia forest undp rt

Personal reflections from Elsie Gyekyewaa Attafuah, Senior Regional Technical Advisor, UN-REDD Programme (UNDP), Africa

As we taxi off the runway at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on our way to Lusaka, I sit in my seat reflecting on my journey once again to one of the most beautiful countries south of the Sahara, Zambia. I am on my way to support and attend Zambia’s National High-Level Dialogue on the Strategy to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+).

This process is a journey to join key stakeholders and partners as Zambia deepens her efforts to mobilize support to address some of her most compelling developmental challenges – development, deforestation and forest degradation – and a journey that Zambia has undertaken to navigate challenges and tap into opportunities that REDD+ offers.

This journey brings memories of a blog I did a few years ago, Safaris and Strategies: Zambia’s journey to develop an integrated financing strategy.  As it is still relevant after five years, I have decided to adapt it to Zambia’s present REDD+ journey. It reflects good memories of strategy development processes that I have been involved with in Zambia, and there are clear connections between the two topics. This trip also represents a “home coming” for me. Only two weeks ago, I was working with the team in Zambia from within and as a Technical Advisor to the UN-REDD Programme in the country. Today I am based in Nairobi as the UN-REDD Programme’s Senior Regional Technical Advisor for Africa. It will be good to be back in Zambia.

We fly over Mount Kilimanjaro with its amazing mountain top snow, Mount Meru, Ngorongoro Crater and several rivers. The pilot is excited, telling us about all the niceties and beautiful nature that surrounds us. It sets me in a reflective mood and I reminisce about Africa’s beautiful natural resources, and the need to protect and conserve them; and about all the hard work the government, collaborating UN agencies and key partners have been engaged in to develop this strategy. I also reflect on the importance of Zambia’s REDD+ strategy and how valuable it is to Zambia achieving its Vision 2030 national development goals.

So why a REDD+ strategy? Why the title Safaris and Strategies? Come along with me on a journey towards the development of the national REDD+ Strategy. The journey begins now.

Her beauty and her resources

Zambia has great resources such as land, forests, rivers, plants, animals and biodiversity. It is one of the most beautiful countries on the African continent. The country is richly endowed with a wide range of indigenous energy sources including coal, and renewable energy sources including hydropower. It also has major perennial rivers such as the Zambezi, Kafue, Luangwa, Kabompo, Luapula, and Chambeshi rivers, while the 108-metre-high Victoria Falls is a must see. Inarguably, land resources are critical to the human, economic, social and sustainable development in Zambia. Key sectors of the economy depend on land – notably the agriculture, natural resources, tourism, trade, mining and energy sectors, which are key drivers of economic growth and export revenues in the country. Land provides employment and source of livelihoods for many rural communities.

Her challenge: the resource hemorrhage and its impact

One of the most compelling developmental challenges today, though, is deforestation and forest degradation. Between 250,000 and 300,000 hectares of forest are lost every year in Zambia. Deforestation, biodiversity loss and soil erosion produce negative environmental impacts, often worsening the effects of climate change and droughts, while generating huge economic and social costs that hamper the achievement of national development goals such as Vision 2030.

For these reasons, the REDD+ strategy embraced by the country is designed to build on ongoing national processes and programmes to address deforestation and forest degradation challenges. While, the strategy is not a solution to all the challenges faced by Zambia, it is a valuable means to address these.

I wake up from these reflections as disembark from the plane in Lusaka. I am excited. The road meanders and the driver navigates all the curves and some little potholes on the way to town. Perhaps, the road is a good reminder that charting the journey to the development of a REDD+ strategy has not been straightforward – there have been twists and turns.

Zambia is known for its wildlife and natural scenery for safaris. I plan to take one later to the South Luangwa National Park as I have never been. Not a bad idea after all. But as I reflect on the path to the REDD+ strategy, I see a semblance to safaris. A safari is an adventure, it is place to explore the known and the unknown, there are choices to be made, a mix of things to see, and nature’s beauty to enjoy. But going on safari can be tough and rough. The road can be bumpy but exciting and gratifying. The same can be said for developing a strategy.

Safaris and strategies: a journey of resolve, renewal and results

As we get ready to start the high-level REDD+ strategy meeting, I have no doubt in my mind, that it will be a success, though I am just a bit anxious. The country’s vice-president is scheduled to attend with senior officials and nothing must go wrong. There will be commitments to be renewed – and the resolve needed to work together and to achieve results. The high-level meeting is the crescendo and just the tip of the iceberg.

The actual journey towards the development of the strategy has been a long one. It has called for the ability to:

  • rally around a common vision to systematically address the fundamental drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, a vision built on sound evidence-based analytical work;
  • engender systemic change, transformation and innovation by defining key policies and measures that ensure the efficient and effective utilization and use of forest resources;
  • ensure strong stakeholder engagement and participation in strategy development at the national, provincial and local levels;
  • secure cross sectoral buy-in, commitment and support for the development and implementation of the strategy;
  • mainstream REDD+ into national planning, policy, programming and financing processes and to promote and awareness and advocacy at all levels in the promotion of REDD+;
  • have strong government leadership and direction around which people can rally; and
  • weave a strong team that is inspired and enthusiastic to work together and coordinate efforts around a common objective.

Lessons learned

I have learned several lessons and experiences from the journey so far. It reminds me of political economy – what I call the political economy of REDD+. The issue of REDD+ cannot be devolved from other social, economic and political processes. It is not a stand-alone issue. It is about the relationship and interconnectedness between individuals and society, between markets and the state, between a sector and other sectors, between a person’s vision and building a corporate vision. It requires methods drawn from economics, political science and sociology among others. It is about leadership, communication and perseverance. A charm offensive works, as well as being strong in character to navigate all the complexities in developing a REDD+ strategy. It is about being passionate about a course.

Zambia is ready for a new dawn

I wake up early on the day of the meeting. My eyes pop open and I can not sleep anymore. Waking up at dawn can bring some great feelings – at least – if you look at the symbolism it brings. The dawn signifies a new beginning and freshness. So perhaps it is a new dawn for Zambia as it sets out its vision to address deforestation and forest degradation – a new dawn as we set off towards the implementation of the REDD+ strategy and Zambia’s transition from REDD+ readiness to implementation. Hopefully, it is not just another strategy and it will be given all the attention it deserves – as it is about people, their future and their destiny.