Land use, deforestation and reforestation in the Zambian Copperbelt



Temporal and spatial changes in land use, vegetation cover, deforestation and reforestation in the Zambian Copperbelt were studied using a combination of aerial photograph analysis, literature review and inquiries among relevant government institutions.

The study showed that between 1937 and 1984 loss of natural woodlands in the Copperbelt of Zambia (total area of Copperbelt: 9,615 km2) amounted to 41 per cent woodland area (8,419 km2). The major causes of this deforestation are woodfuel collection (for firewood and charcoal), cultivation and replacement of natural woodland with forest plantations. These accounted for 38 per cent, 37 per cent and 15 per cent of the total deforestation, respectively. Before 1962 the copper mining industry used large quantities of firewood to generate electricity and this resulted in the loss of 150,413 ha of woodland between 1937 and 1961. When the mining industry switched to hydroelectricity, urban households became the major users of woodfuel. The urban population in the Copperbelt increased from 0.412 million in 1960 to 1.400 million in 1984 and its consumption of woodfuel led to the deforestation of at least 89,436 ha between 1962 and 1984.

Deforested areas are left to regenerate naturally. However, due to poor management about 34 per cent of the area deforested before 1962 has failed to regenerate. Although 50,200 ha have been reforested with exotic trees, only 5,020 ha of this is on land previously deforested. Thus only about 10 per cent of reforestation efforts have contributed to the rehabilitation of damaged land. Ninety per cent of the reforestation has actually replaced standing indigenous woodland.

Uncontrolled bushfires have destroyed forest plantations and have also caused the failure of woodland regeneration in deforested areas. These observations indicate that if forest resources in the Copperbelt of Zambia are to be properly managed it will be necessary:

  • 1to effectively regulate land use changes and;
  • 2to control bushfires.