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  • Informality, global capital, rural development and the environment: Mukula (rosewood) trade between China and Zambia

Informality, global capital, rural development and the environment: Mukula (rosewood) trade between China and Zambia

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Informal economic activities across much of sub-Saharan Africa provide crucial cash income and employment for both rural and urban populations. Governing the informal economy is recognised as a key policy challenge due to its contribution to local livelihoods and its common association with illegality, tax evasion and negative environmental impacts. In addition, because of the increasingly globalised trade in commodities, parts of the informal economy can also be supported by global sources of capital.

This report focuses on the international mukula (or rosewood) trade in Zambia, interrogating the role of global capital (in particular that of Chinese origin) and its impacts on rural livelihoods and the environment. We find that rural villagers are increasingly forging direct links with foreign investors, producing innovative business models that accelerate the rate of small-scale production and extraction of resources.

This ‘globalised’ rural informal economy urgently calls for innovative policies, which maximise the benefits of global capital flowing directly to rural populations, while minimising the negative impacts associated with the environment, revenue losses and resource governance.

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  • The costs and benefits of challenging the patriarchy for women charcoal producers in Zambia

The costs and benefits of challenging the patriarchy for women charcoal producers in Zambia

A smallholder in Nyimba district, Zambia, holds pieces of charcoal. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR
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A smallholder in Nyimba district, Zambia, holds pieces of charcoal. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

Women’s involvement in the traditionally male-dominated charcoal industry is increasing across Zambia.

Following an earlier story in which 27-year-old Mabvuto Zulu shared her experiences producing charcoal in Zuwalinyenga village in eastern Zambia, recent findings from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) have shown that Mabvuto is far from being alone as a woman in charcoal production and trade.

While anyone visiting a charcoal market in Lusaka would be able to witness a good number of women working as traders and retailers, discussions conducted in the charcoal-producing districts of Choma and Monze in southern Zambia reveal that it has also become increasingly common for women to engage in stages of production. This can include everything from packaging charcoal to molding kilns, and even felling and cutting trees.

The increased involvement of women is attributed to an increase in demand (particularly boosted by load shedding arrangements in major cities) as well as a perceived increase in poverty in rural areas. Many women view charcoal production and trade as a viable business opportunity with low entry barriers. Trees growing on what is seen as ‘no-man’s land’, such as national forest reserves, are generally easy to access, and capital requirements for producing charcoal tend to be low.

At the same time, some women feel pushed into charcoal production due to poverty and a lack of viable alternative livelihood options. This is aggravated by fluctuating rainfall patterns, which negatively affect crop yields. Despite the viability of charcoal, most women and men still view farming, not charcoal production, as their primary source of livelihood.

When asked about how income from charcoal is spent, most respondents mention various one-off expenses, such as school fees or agricultural inputs. Others, particularly widowed or divorced women, emphasize the income security that charcoal can provide when crops fail. Charcoal income thus plays an important complementary – rather than competing – role with other income sources.

Watch: The State of Charcoal Production in Zambia

Mabvuto Zulu shows charcoal she produced. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

ON EQUAL FOOTING?

While more women are getting involved in charcoal production and trade, their level of involvement is often differentiated by marital status.

Unmarried, widowed or divorced women are involved throughout the production cycle, while most married women say they generally play a supportive role to their husbands, sticking to activities perceived as ‘more suitable for women’.

These kinds of jobs include packaging and selling charcoal, which are perceived as less physically demanding and easier to combine with childcare and other reproductive responsibilities.

Of the limited number of married women involved in production, many reported their husband’s illness or alcohol abuse as the reason for their engagement. Indeed, our discussions show that if a married woman is involved in charcoal production, others may perceive it as a sign of the husband being unable to provide for the family. This presents an additional potential entry barrier to married women, as women or their husbands may wish to avoid such social stigma.

While some charcoal is sold in local markets, many women opt to bring their products to urban markets, where they can receive higher prices. Both women and men seem to believe that women are more honest and responsible than their male counterparts, hence women are believed to make good traders. Many charcoal producers – both men and women – also prefer to sell their charcoal to female traders.

The physical nature of many activities associated with charcoal production certainly plays a role in shaping ideas of what is and isn’t suitable for women. Many female charcoal producers complain that the work is very strenuous. To manage, some women work in teams of six or more, while others rely on hired labor. While the employment opportunities are appreciated, particularly by younger men, such arrangements of course cut women’s profit margins.

Women’s reliance on male labor also makes them vulnerable to exploitation. Some women complain that the men they hire to help tend to use up the money before the job is done. Others reveal that some charcoal transporters request sexual favors as ‘in-kind payments’ if the women are unable to pay the demanded price for transporting the charcoal to urban markets.

Read also: Wood fuel in the climate pledges of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa

CHANGING NORMS?

Should women’s entry into a traditionally male-dominated field be seen as a sign of changing gender norms? While most women report feeling pushed into charcoal production due to poverty, many are also proud to show that they can do what men do. Many married women also say that their involvement in charcoal production and trade has gained them more equal control over income.

In this sense, our findings seem to mirror the situation in Zambia’s Copperbelt, where growing economic insecurity is encouraging an increasing number of women to move into the mining sector. Findings from a recent study show that while many men historically opposed their wives going out to work, they are now applauding strong women who fend for their families and are doing what was previously seen as beyond their capabilities.

However, while most men report a general acceptance of women’s involvement in charcoal production due to the dire economic circumstances, they are not always happy about it. Some men complain that women who earn income from charcoal have become disrespectful to their husbands, while others bemoan that women now spend less time taking care of their families. Some also suspect that women are engaging in extramarital affairs when they are away from home in Lusaka selling charcoal. Women’s involvement in charcoal production and trade is thus seen as ‘home-wrecking’, and some women are said to have already lost their husbands over it.

A man extracts pieces of charcoal from wood that was buried in dirt and burned for two weeks. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

While charcoal production and trade offers women higher incomes, greater autonomy and a sense of pride, many women are also paying a high social price for upsetting a patriarchal system – this despite the fact that both women and men view women’s increased involvement primarily as an inevitable result of poverty!

To add to the irony, many women note that rampant charcoal production is resulting in a loss of fruit trees and trees good for caterpillar harvesting, both of which are important alternative income sources, particularly for female-headed households, according to another study.

FINDING A WAY FORWARD

So, what do the findings tell us? First, they caution against simplistic interpretations of women’s involvement in charcoal production as a sign of changed gender norms and women’s empowerment. By engaging in traditionally male-dominated activities and earning an independent income, women like Mabvuto are certainly challenging gendered divisions of labor. Hopefully, women’s entry into charcoal production can also contribute to the process of transforming unequal gender norms and power relations in rural Zambia.

However, this process is currently facing a strong patriarchal backlash in the form of exploitation and stigmatization of charcoal-producing women.

Second, and on a related point, policymakers who care about gendered impacts should be aware that policies and regulations that directly or indirectly increase production costs may disproportionately affect female producers, as they rely to a greater degree on hired labor and hence have lower profit margins. Such impacts may be particularly detrimental given that many female producers are widows or divorcees, and therefore the sole breadwinners of their households.

Third, our findings demonstrate a need for more intersectional approaches to unpacking the social dynamics of the charcoal value chain. The opportunities and challenges that women are facing are certainly structured by unequal gender norms and power relations. As we have seen, these are often intertwined with other social factors, such as age and marital status, and vary depending on one’s location along the value chain.

By Markus Ihalainen, Muzione Christina Mwale, Kaala Moombe and Davison Gumbo, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Markus Ihalainen at [email protected].


This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

This research was supported by UK aid from the UK government.

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  • Nutrition and Trees in sub-Saharan Africa: From forest to table

Nutrition and Trees in sub-Saharan Africa: From forest to table

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In the Luwingu district, in northern Zambia, women gather a wide variety of foods from the forest. Emelda, Jennifer and Belita show us all the food they collect from nearby forests: fruits, mushrooms, vegetables and caterpillars. They hope forests are preserved so their children and future generations can continue to eat the same traditional dishes. Wild foods are important sources of key nutrients. Caterpillars are an important source of protein, iron, and zinc. Leafy green vegetables such as ‘pimpa’ and ‘pupwe’ tend to be high in iron and vitamin A.

Between 2013 and 2017, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) conducted a research project called ‘Nutrition and Trees in sub-Saharan Africa’ in five sites across several countries, looking at the contribution that forests and trees in landscapes make to the diets of mothers and their young children. One of these sites was in Luwingu, in northern Zambia. At the end of the project, women from different villages came together to showcase their recipes of traditional foods in a food fair hosted by Zambia’s Ministry of Agriculture and CIFOR.

This video was produced by CIFOR.

This project was funded with UK aid from the UK government. This research is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

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  • Nutrition and trees in sub-Saharan Africa: Jennifer’s secret

Nutrition and trees in sub-Saharan Africa: Jennifer’s secret

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Not even Jennifer’s children know where she hides the chikanda. Why? The small, brownish orchid tubers are highly valued as a cultural delicacy among the Bemba people who live in the Luwingu district of northern Zambia. Overharvesting of chikanda for sale is an important issue in East and southern Africa, but local women have a way to harvest it sustainably. Jennifer explains why chikanda is so important in her culture.

Between 2013 and 2017, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) conducted a research project called ‘Nutrition and Trees in sub-Saharan Africa’ in five sites across several countries, looking at the contribution that forests and trees in landscapes make to the diets of mothers and their young children. One of these sites was in Luwingu, in northern Zambia. At the end of the project, women from different villages came together to showcase their recipes of traditional foods in a food fair hosted by Zambia’s Ministry of Agriculture and CIFOR.

This video was produced by CIFOR.

This project was funded with UK aid from the UK government. This research is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

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  • The State of Charcoal Production in Zambia

The State of Charcoal Production in Zambia

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With 70 percent of households in Zambia relying on charcoal as an inexpensive fuel for cooking and heating, demand is high for the product, which is typically made in inefficient earthen kilns.

Originally published by CIFOR.

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  • Passion first, research later? A case study of Zambia’s mukula tree

Passion first, research later? A case study of Zambia’s mukula tree

Clearing land for farming is one factor, but logging for timber and cutting trees for firewood and charcoal production are also drivers for deforestation in Zambia. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR
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Abandoned mukula (rosewood) logs in the yard of a now-defunct company in Zambia. Photo: Paolo Cerutti/CIFOR

By Paolo Cerutti, Davison Gumbo, Robert Nasi, Xiaoxue Weng, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

Once you have gone through the scientific publication process and your article is published in a peer-reviewed journal, it is often a good idea to write a blog post to increase its visibility and reach more readers across diverse disciplines.

This process is encouraged at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), and indeed – as a policy-oriented research center – a short non-technical document can convey useful information to a broader audience, including government officials and policymakers who are unlikely to read an entire published scientific article. Hopefully, better and more informed policy decisions will also ensue.

Yet, after a recent trip along the Luapula River, which cuts across the beautiful, unique and fragile south African miombo forests, and for a long stretch materializes the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zambia, we came home with a sense of urgency to write this blog. This is not ordinary procedure, as the scientific article about our research there is currently in its embryonic stage. So we beg the pardon of the academic world in advance for our impatience.

A FRAME OF REFERENCE

To explain our sense of urgency, we need to make a short reference to CIFOR and our partners’ research. For more than a decade now, we have roamed the dense humid forests that stretch from Liberia to the DRC, trying to bring a novel and broader look at what is generally considered the “timber sector” in those countries’ political circles.

Clearing land for farming is one factor, but logging for timber and cutting trees for firewood and charcoal production are also drivers for deforestation in Zambia. Photo: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

Long story short, while historically, the focus of forest policies has been on large-scale, export-oriented forest operations (i.e. logging concessions), in recent years, domestic timber markets, which are largely supplied by small-scale operations, have gained prominence. Be it large or small-scale operations, when conducting our research and thinking about potential policy options, two commonalities are often taken for granted.

First, one of our priority audiences are state officials from national and local governments. We incorporate them into our research from its inception; working with them on the ground and sharing problematic issues with them, such as corruption, over and over again until sooner or later, they can rapidly act on forest operations and become part of the solution.

Second, both logging companies and smallholders are linked to a specific jurisdiction (or a forest), connecting them to the related sovereign government that has the power to regulate (and sanction if need be) their behavior.

Or so we thought before visiting the Luapula region.

We were conducting research on the largely illegal harvesting of one of its magnificent tree species, Pterocarpus tinctorius. Locally known as mukula, it is internationally sold under the general name of rosewood. In the 18 months since our research began there, we have witnessed the number of rosewood trees cut skyrocketing by the day, and have felt worried about the looming negative environmental and social consequences.

And this brings us back to our sense of urgency, because in this case (and in many others across Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond), there seems to be neither a single government, nor companies or individuals fitting solely under one jurisdiction that can be targeted with the classic solution of improved national policies.

THE CASE OF THE MUKULA TREE

In this sense, the story of mukula is very telling. From 2012-2013, when mukula was not even listed as a commercial species recognized by the Zambian government, the demand (particularly by the Chinese market) was so high and harvesting so widespread, that a ban on the conveyance and export of mukula was issued. While the ban did not seem to reach the intended results (our preliminary results indicate that harvesting continued unabated, albeit a bit more hidden), it did send a message to traders that the Zambian government was taking serious decisions about it.

As a result, many traders decided to simply move across the border to DRC, Malawi and Mozambique, or to the more distant Gambia, Cote d’Ivoire and elsewhere, to apply the same business model (“cut and run”). Across the border in DRC, the harvesting (of a similar species of trees) became so widespread and environmentally destructive, that even the highest religious authorities in the region issued warnings and requests for help.

In several countries in West Africa, the negative environmental impact became so evident that the local species of rosewood was elevated to Appendix II status in the CITES convention in September 2016.

But not the Zambian mukula. In fact, the government of Zambia lifted the ban in mid-2016. Harvesting and trade became less controlled, demand for mukula rose, and people started chopping trees down wherever they could find them. Only this past January was a new ban issued.

REMAINING QUESTIONS

So, coming back to the urgency of our blog, and to a question: In a sector where business models seem to be more and more disconnected from national borders and local jurisdictions, what innovative set of policies and institutions (or alternative solutions) are needed to tackle current negative social, financial and environmental impacts?

Regional bodies might provide answers, but they don’t seem as effective as they could be- at least for now. What new powers, responsibilities and capacities do they need in order to be more effective in tackling such evidently supra-national problems?

We think these and other similar questions are becoming urgent, and scientific research should contribute some of the answers. If we continue to operate only by the classic approach of national regulations – even if they are improved through the knowledge that our research can bring- by the time these regulations are implemented, the local populations will have lost many livelihoods opportunities. What’s more, the forest and some of its most ecologically-valuable species like the mukula may long be gone.


*This research is conducted in collaboration with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

For more information on this topic, please contact Paolo Cerutti at [email protected].

This research was supported by Department of International Development and Economic and Social Research Council of the U.K.

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  • Shedding light on opportunities and challenges for rural women

Shedding light on opportunities and challenges for rural women

In Nepal, women are participating more in decisions related to changes in the landscapes that they live in. Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT
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imgresOn the occasion of the International Day of Rural Women, Bimbika Sijapati Basnett, a scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) reflects on her research and the situation of rural women in times of climate change and sustainable development.

Rural women across forest and tree landscapes make critical contributions to their households, communities and the landscapes in which they live. But often their contributions are not really recognized because they are confined to informal sectors, concentrated in low-value areas, and are unpaid.

The day of rural women is important because it is an opportunity to draw attention to women’s contributions, celebrate them. And to shed light on the advances that have been made in achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment (Sustainable Development Goal 5), and highlight the work that remains.

Rural landscapes across the countries where we’re working are changing rapidly due to wide range of factors such as

  • expansion of markets,
  • migration and mobility,
  • expansion of agriculture in forested landscapes,
  • introduction of a wide range of interventions in the name of conservation or development.

These changes present both opportunities and challenges for rural women and girls in various contexts in which we locate our research.

A woman unloading charcoal from river boats in Africa. Photo by Jolien Schure for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
A woman unloading charcoal from river boats in Africa. Photo by Jolien Schure for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

For instance, our research on charcoal value chains in Zambia is finding that women are challenging pre-existing gender restrictions to where they can go, what they can sell, and what they can do with their earnings. These women are participating in more lucrative areas that were previously reserved for men; earning more than they did previously. Their contributions are being recognized at the household level and this in turn, is influencing their position and bargaining power at the home.

Our research on women’s participation in forest governance in Uganda, Nicaragua and Nepal, for instance, shows that women are participating more in decisions related to changes in the landscapes that they live in and depend on to earn their livelihood. And this is impacting on how benefits are distributed and whether forest and tree resources are sustainably managed.

A combination of factors are playing a role in these changes for women, for example relaxing of traditionally fixed gender relations at the household and community levels, policy interventions aimed at promoting women, and favorable market conditions for women’s enterprise.

In Nepal, women are participating more in decisions related to changes in the landscapes that they live in. Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT
In Nepal, women are participating more in decisions related to changes in the landscapes that they live in. Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT

But we are also finding that many of these interventions are designed and implemented at levels that are beyond women’s reach. Women often have little voice and influence on negotiations over conversion of land. The risks posed by a changing climate are unknown and still unfolding. And it is questionable whether and how women’s collective and individual capabilities can respond to these risks and adapt to these changes.

As a consequence, existing gender inequalities are being exacerbated, women’s voices are getting further restricted, women’s burden in caring for others is increasing, and their capabilities are diminishing.

Our research is aimed at documenting how these changes are impacting on different categories of women and girls in rural areas, and how different alternatives can be realized by fostering greater gender equality and empowering women. We are leveraging our research findings to inform governments, donors, non-governmental organization and women’s movements on the role they can play in carving transformative pathways.

In this process, we are partnering with a wide range of influential organizations at the local, national and global levels to undertake research on pressing gender issues as they unfold, and to ensure that the findings of our research translate into action and bring about change that advances the goals of gender equality and women’s empowerment.


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