ZAMBIA risks depleting its forest cover in 15 years if the current rate of deforestation is not controlled, a USAID official warned yesterday.
And the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) says it is important that forests are conserved because they are essential for food security.
Dr Anna Toness, the economic growth team leader at the US Agency for International Development (USAID), said the rate at which Zambia was losing its forest cover was worrying.
"The country is estimated to be losing at least 300,000 hectares of forest each year, Dr Toness said at a CIFOR organised media briefing in Lusaka.
Driven by agriculture expansion, charcoal production, Dr Toness agreed with CIFOR southern regional scientist Dr Davison Gumbo that Zambia's forests were currently under siege.
She said the current rate of deforestation puts Zambia in the top 10 countries in the world for producing emissions from deforestation.
She, however, said the implementation of global initiatives such as the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) could assist protect Zambia's forest cover.
The REDD+ is an initiative that is attempting to create a system to pay countries to conserve their forests.
The basic concept is that if the world needs trees, those countriesthat have trees and are making efforts to keep them, should be rewarded by companies, organisations or governments that are contributing to global warming emissions.
Zambia is one of the 16 countries in the world that is currently subscribed to the REDD+ concept and is currently implementing the Nyimba Forest project in a bid to generate scientific evidence through impact-oriented studies that will help in the formulation of a National REDD+ Strategy (NRS) for Zambia.
Earlier, Dr Gumbo warned that awareness at community level on the changes in forest use would be essential for the protection of forests.
And visiting CIFOR research director, Dr Louis Verchol emphasised the need to protect forest covers.
He said the forests provide almost a quarter of household earnings for people living in or near forests.
"They produce diverse foods that are essential sources of micronutrients and that serve as a safety net in times of crisis," he said, adding that forests also provide bush meat which is essential source of proteins.