The Sunday Mail
“Every failing organisation has a strategic plan. Ever wondered why the National Railways of Zimbabwe has a strategic plan yet its locomotives are not moving,” the president of the Chiefs’ Council Chief Fortune Charumbira chided academics, technocrats and policymakers who gathered recently for the launch of the Zimbabwe National Forest Policy in Harare.
He was candid about the tragedy of policy formulation in Zimbabwe and most other African countries.
Chief Charumbira piqued my interest and sent my mind racing about why policies go wrong at both the formulation and implementation stages.
While I do not believe that policy formulation and implementation in Africa are always a disaster, the discussion at the launch of the National Forest Policy development process tried to highlight areas that need improvement.
“We have plenty of theses at our universities, but our forests keep disappearing at an alarming rate,” observed Chief Charumbira.
“There is a lot of knowledge but why are we still losing the war. We need to ask the right questions at the beginning.
“When you do your usual work you do not involve chiefs and their communities. You only want to involve them when there are problems.”
From his observation, it is apparent why policies are formulated or rolled out regularly but without achieving the desired results.
People are simply not involved.
It’s quite important for target beneficiaries to be involved at the formulation stage in order for them to have an input in what affects their lives.
This will certainly give them a sense of ownership, a sense of belonging and a sense of commitment to the sustainable management of forests.
“It’s very critical to involve traditional leaders and their communities because they are the ones who are involved in the destruction of the forests,” Chief Charumbira said. “Let’s involve local communities so that they are also aware and are informed about the whole process. Let’s do it in a proper way and work with communities throughout the whole process.”
In essence, he is saying the forest policy formulation process should be participatory for it to succeed after it has been stalled for the last 15 years.
The policy should not be for administrative convenience, but should dig deeper and consider the social structure, the culture or the social thought of the affected local communities.
Local communities are increasingly feeling the burden of the consequences of forest destruction.
Community participation in policy formulation remains critical.
Any policy that fails to take into account the interest of local communities will be vehemently resisted even if there are benefits.
Local communities will not care much about the long term or short term benefits, as long as the policy formulation and implementation process is not people-centric, the policies will always be met with ardent resistance.
It’s true that local people may have little or no knowledge of the social thought or social systems which social scientists hold but their participation may enrich both academic and indigenous knowledge systems and enhance community response mechanisms.
Armchair theorising about policy formulation by academics, technocrats, politicians and civil society activists will not save trees from disappearing.
Zimbabwe is losing its plant genetic resources at an alarming rate and forestry experts now estimate that the country now has 48 percent natural forest cover.
The rate of deforestation is estimated at 330 000 hectares per year.
The major drivers of deforestation include clearing for agricultural expansion, population growth, increasing demand for forest products, poverty and high dependency on natural resources for subsistence and income generation to sustain livelihoods.
In addition, forestry experts say accelerating urbanization estimated to be at 3,5 percent per annum is increasing energy demand and will inevitably lead to vast expanses of forest and woodlands to be decimated.
About 63 percent of the country’s population depends on wood for energy. This will certainly compound the deforestation crisis facing the country if nothing is done to promote renewable energy use.
And, the drive to formulate the Zimbabwe National Forest Policy – which got a US$93 000 boost from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation – is a major milestone in the country’s efforts to sustainably manage its forest.
Plant genetic experts say Africa could be losing more than US$15 billion annually from its forest biodiversity resources as medicines, cosmetics, agricultural products and indigenous knowledge surrounding these are being patented illegally by multinational companies without there being evidence of benefits accruing to local communities in countries of origin.
They say deforestation compounded by rising bio piracy cases, weak and fragmented forest management policies is a major reason why most African countries are losing huge benefits from their resources.
Participants to the Zimbabwe National Forest Policy were upbeat that the 12-month policy formulation process which will see key decisions being made to tighten sustainable forest management systems.
However, they raised some concerns.
“This is a very important development for us,” says Barney Mawire, an Environment Africa forest expert. “We have been operating without a roadmap for years and this policy will guide all players and stakeholders. This policy should speak to other policies which have been very problematic to forestry.
“Mining, agriculture and local governance policies have been a headache for forestry and I hope this policy will address the concerns.”
He said it is important for the forest policy not to be antagonistic but seek to complement other policies in a way that will remove obstacles and forge policy harmony.
World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) country director, Dr Enos Shumba says the forest policy was long overdue.
“We needed it like yesterday.”It’s our campus and we need to involve local communities in the formulation process. We want the forest policy to interact and positively influence other sectors rather than having it to be impacted upon.”
He says Zimbabwe needs to develop the policy as a matter of urgency given the rapidly disappearing forests.
“A policy that lacks incentives for local communities may suffer at the formulation and implementation stage because incentives play a big role in the sustainable management of forests,” Dr Shumba adds.
The global economic importance of plant genetic resources is estimated to be between US$500 billion and US$800 billion but very little trickles to local communities in countries of origin.
Local community participation is critical for the survival of forests in Zimbabwe and most other countries in Africa.
And, this forest policy formulation process should help guide the management and utilization of forest resources for the present and future generation and uphold access-benefit-sharing values.
Policy formulation and implementation problems such as corruption, lack of political will and continuity of government policies, inadequate human and material resources should be addressed effectively if this policy is to succeed.
In addition, crucial factors such as communication, dispositions or attitudes, and bureaucracy should also be addressed to speed up the formulation of the forest policy.
For the Zimbabwe National Forest Policy to succeed, attempts must be made to bridge the gap between the intention of a policy and the actual achievement of the policy.
Eventually, this is what will define the success or failure of this policy which will be critical in reversing the catastrophic consequences of deforestation.
“In Africa, we are not short of policy, but its implementation that is the challenge,” says FAO representative, Dr David Phiri. “Policies that work are always designed with implementation in mind.”