NO country in modern times has substantially reduced poverty without a massive increase in its use of energy, says the Zambia Institute of Environmental Management.

ZIEM environmental resource mobilisation specialist Charles Mulenga said currently, millions of Zambians are confronted with challenges, including access to cheaper and reliable energy.

He said agriculture and energy use were the major drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in Zambia.

Mulenga said tackling each of these issues required the introduction of improved agricultural practices and appropriate renewable energy technologies.

He said this would be realised in part by removing the bottlenecks in Reduced Emersion on Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) preparedness, which would enable the utilisation of associated international funds.

"The REDD+ programme could help advance understanding on the interface between agriculture and energy use across different forest landscapes and to introduce contextualised solutions in order to bring about reduced emissions, forest protection and improved livelihoods," he said.

"However, currently Zambia has challenges on four key components: REDD+ knowledge development; building stakeholder capacity on REDD+ issues; contextualised solutions of REDD+ programme in Zambia; and REDD+ partnerships for impact magnitude. To overcome these challenges the Zambia REDD+ team need to develop strong working relations with knowledge partners and develop knowledge products as well establishing platforms and partnerships to disseminate and impart this knowledge to the Zambian communities."

Mulenga said in the agriculture sector, the REDD+ programme could focus efforts on those commodities that were having the greatest impact on forested areas, such as palm oil, jatropha, coffee and cotton; both through working on sustainable smallholder models and engaging with industries to improve and monitor their impact on the forest.

He said forests had been traditional sources of fuel and were used to meet the daily energy needs of most people in both urban and rural communities of Zambia.
Mulenga said according to the Zambia Forestry Action Plan (ZFAP), 81 per cent of the Zambian population depends on biomass energy through charcoal and firewood.

He said the use of charcoal and fuel wood in Zambia was exhausting the natural resource and degrading productive land, with forest availability declining against the demand of a growing population.

"Zambian energy development has largely focused on large-scale infrastructure and the urban population, whilst energy poverty has rarely been the entry point for policy development. The REDD+ programme in Zambia, if well established, could enhance pro poor public private partnership in development energy infrastructure for the rural communities. As a result, domestic small-scale renewable energy supply for cooking, heating and small and medium enterprises (SMEs), especially targeting rural and peri-urban areas, would receive attention and support," Mulenga said.

He said REDD+ would contribute greatly to the availability of sustainable, clean and reliable sources of energy, which is an essential driver for development.

Mulenga said in developing countries, REDD+ provides the opportunity to leapfrog energy poverty by realising use of renewable energy where there is no access to conventional power supplies.