THE Zambia National Association of Sawmillers (ZNAS) says the initiative by Government to open up forest plantations across the country will boost foreign exchange in the timber industry if executed.

ZNAS president William Bwalya told the Daily Nation that President Edgar Lungu’s directive to the Ministry of Lands to extend the initiative to other parts of Zambia rather than those in which ZAFFICO had already established plantations was welcome as it would benefit the country in the long-run.

Mr. Bwalya said the Forest Act of 2015 was well intended to revamp the sector and should be supported by all players in the wood industry.

He implored the private sector to take advantage of the expansion initiative that Government had embarked on by ensuring that the opening of plantations across the country did not remain a preserve of public companies alone.

“As ZNAS we feel that the new Forest Act No 4 of August 2015 with regard to development and establishment of plantation forestry in Zambia by local authorities, communities, public and private enterprises is well intentioned and is forward looking.

“However, the emphasis by Government on growing plantation forests should not solely be left to public companies alone as the work is vast and the public corporations may not have enough capacity to handle this mammoth task so that the return on investment takes longer to realize,” Mr. Bwalya said.  He observed that in line with the new Forest Act and in conformity with Government directive of diversification of the economy, ZNAS’ cluster-based approach will have significant socio and economic impact in the areas where the clusters will be located.

“The clusters will create employment for the rural communities as the sawmillers and plantation development will require labour at the respective sites. This will also create a ready market for local farmers because of the concentration of people at the clusters.

“One of the challenges facing rural communities is the high level of poverty due to lack of meaningful job opportunities in rural areas. Development of clusters will assist in poverty alleviation through job creation, the provision of a ready market for local produce as well as skills development,” he said. He said that at present the timber harvested from the ZAFFICO plantations  is transported to sawmills in centres some 60 kilometres away from the plantations which has adverse effects on costs.

“The distance covered, together with the poor state of the roads, results in significantly increased transportation costs to the sawmillers in Ndola, Kitwe, Kalulushi, Mufulira and Chingola to ferry their round wood from the forests.

‘‘Construction of sawmills at the cluster closer to the plantation will result in significantly reduced transportation costs. We shall continue to seek Government support and attention until we transform our sector and meet the desired intentions contained in the latest Forest Act,” he said.

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