There are elephants in the forest

Quietly winding its way through the woodlands in eastern Zambia, the Luangwa River passes through the Mbizi Farm, where it is welcomed and celebrated as the aorta of this region, delivering much needed water to villages, farmers and other communities. Where it reaches the Forest Stewardship Certified® (FSC®) certified Mbizi Farm, it takes a breather from the many demands it endures along its long and arduous journey.

Mbizi Farm has been around for a long time, providing a personalised safari experience to visitors from around the globe. Managed and owned by 2 Swedes, Michael Dejestam and Lennart Packendorffit, it is the first that is FSC certified in Africa – and probably the world – where the wildlife management is fully integrated with the commercial forest management objectives. A match made in FSC heaven.

The 17 000ha estate employs nearly 50 people from the surrounding communities with whom it is truly unified. As expressed by His Royal Highness, Senior Chief Luembe: Mbizi is a true partner in their communities and beyond the employment opportunities provided. It is also a significant contributor to the local economy and provides substantial support to these communities. Local churches, schools and clinics have all benefitted from this relationship, as was confirmed by the FSC audit team during the certification audit conducted in April 2021.

The mixed Mopani woodlands contain many tree species that are of significant importance to local communities for their fuel and other needs. However, many of these species also have significant commercial value and about 2400 m3/year of Mopani, Kiaat, Pod Mahogany and the Mukosa tree are harvested annually and processed at the Mbizi Sawmill for the production of export planks and other timber products. This is a first for the Mopani ecoregion, which covers extensive areas in Eastern Africa. For elephant, buffalo, leopard, lion and many others, this is home.

New machines and technologies have been brought in to ensure low impact selective harvesting of the trees is conducted in terms of forest management plans that allow for the sustainable use of these woodlands and forests. There is hope that the benefits reaped by Mbizi will set a good example and through the Afzelia Group Scheme, many others will follow and share in the substantial benefits accrued from certified estates. Visitors to  Mbizi Farm will have the assurance that the values encapsulated in these spectacular landscapes, will remain for a very long time, if not forever.

Decent housing and work conditions, provide employees with a happy work environment, where they are allowed to thrive and learn many new skills. These are opportunities that are few and far between in rural Zambia.

Driving through this region, one observes landscapes with quite significant human impact. One understands that much of this is caused by communities that are heavily reliant on crops and other products grown and extracted from these landscapes. The livelihoods of people are again trumping the ecosystems and thus it is enheartening to see the Mbizi estate in near pristine condition and remaining so, whilst offering a host of financial benefits to the owners, workers and communities alike. There are also medium-term objectives to extract value from the ecosystem services available here that will greatly enhance the value of this FSC forest management certificate. This again should lead to a bigger uptake of FSC Forest Management Certification in Zambia and the rest of Africa, south of the Sahara.