I live in a small tourist town that is the gateway to South Luangwa National Park, one of Zambia’s most prized and visited tourism destinations. Today it’s a ghost town. The world is facing an unprecedented crisis, and Zambia feels it deeply. As of 30 March there are 35 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Zambia, and there are calls for the President to announce a state of emergency. The copper price (which sustains our economy) has dropped 30% since January, tourism has collapsed, most businesses are in a state of panic, inflation has spiked, and unemployment is rising. I’m scared to even think what could happen if the infection rate becomes exponential in a country with such under developed public health capacity.
At BCP, our bottom line is threatened, yet our role and our vision remain more important than ever.
Climate finance, which BCP channels into communities, is critical. With the collapse of photographic and hunting revenue streams, combined with the Luangwa River flooding farms and a reduced tax base for government, the climate finance channelled by the Lower Zambezi REDD+ Project (LZRP) and the Luangwa Community Forests Project (LCFP) are central to peoples’ livelihoods in our partner communities. In 2020, the benefits we commit to communities will be over $3 million. These funds will primarily go to agriculture support, health, water, and educational infrastructure.
Despite the crisis, our work and our support continues, and there are some additional measures we are taking:
- Our board has approved a USD $50,000 grant to support tourism related community jobs. This is to help businesses in the chiefdoms where we have partnered to provide subsistence packages to community employees. Our contribution is part of a wider private sector coalition effort to support government.
- Where we can, we also fund micro-support packages, for instance we donated soap to every single household (1,200 in total) in the LZRP to help with sanitization. Our policy of buying Zambian products where possible takes on more meaning as we do our best to support local businesses stay afloat.
- For our co-workers, fondly dubbed BCPeople, we have assured them that our goal is to keep everyone employed throughout the year. We have also invested in soap, wet wipes, sanitizer and face masks for all six of our offices, and for each vehicle in our fleet. Staff who are mobile are equipped with sanitizer and masks. Staff using public transport are collected directly from home. Our offices now run strict sanitization every two hours of hands and door handles.
We have also increased pay for the lowest paid members of BCP staff to 18% higher than the statutory minimum. We are introducing a health subsidy to help buy healthy food for all staff in our six offices. We have offered staff remote work options, and empowered staff to take all their annual leave even if not accrued. In March, a bonus pool from 2019 was paid out. We have introduced a USD 2,800 Emergency Loan Fund to help staff who face emergencies. In January, BCP staff, most of whom live in remote areas with limited employment possibilities, received an average increment of 10% across the board. All staff and their families have access to a company medical fund. To take the sting out of cooking fuel costs, a subsidy has also been provided to BCP staff to buy Eco-Charcoal at reduced costs.
While we hear of people at risk of losing employment, we are creating up to 80 additional jobs. In 2020, we hope to have 202 people employed, which indirectly benefits 1,212 people who depend on our salaried staff.
We have formed an Emergency Response Team and put the company on ‘red alert’ where we monitor the situation by the hour, not by the day. We are ready to shut down any office within 30 minutes to self-isolate if an outbreak is reported in a nearby neighbourhood.
While this crisis is unprecedented in our lifetimes, our work is so important at community level that we need to keep climate funds flowing in order for rural communities to access basic staples and services during these difficult times. We are fortunate to have such strong and supportive partners who, in spite of their own economic challenges, are staying true to their carbon reduction commitments. We plan to keep investing and growing and sharing our message of hope and optimism. I am reminded of navigating a small aircraft through a storm front between Mfuwe to Lusaka. When the turbulence, rain and lightning got rough, I reverted to my training and focused on 2 instruments to keep the wings level wings level and to stay out of the center of the storm. Eventually we landed trouble free. I am optimistic COVID will be the same. And imagine, weathering the storm based on a model that supports climate change mitigation and conservation efforts – that message keeps me optimistic.
We will continue to review the situation and to act in the best interest of our people.
Here’s how YOU can help! Click on the link below to purchase offsets from our Luangwa Community Forests Project (LCFP) to help support our communities. Click the “Buy Offsets” tab in the top right hand corner of the page. For every 10 tons of carbon offsets purchased, we retire an additional 1 ton, making your purchase ‘climate positive’!
Written by BCP’s CEO, Dr. Hassan Sachedina