Timber industry under threat

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ILLEGAL settlements and mining in the Tarka and Cashel forests in Manicaland are threatening the commercial timber industry.
The industry, which contributes at least five percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), has had its forests invaded by illegal miners and settlers who are causing serious land degradation by diverting river courses and polluting water sources.
The commercial timber industry lies on only 200 000 hectares of the country’s 39 million hectares of land.
At its peak, the industry employed more than 10 000 people, while another 20 000 were employed in supporting industries such as furniture manufacturing.
About 5 000 are now in the small-to-medium industry.
The timber industry is mainly located in Manicaland because of conducive climatic conditions such as the cool temperatures, steep slopes and high rainfall.
Speaking to The Patriot, Allied Timbers chief executive officer Dr Daniel Sithole said conflicting laws have resulted in confusion which has severely affected the industry.
“The conflict between the Forest Act and three other Acts namely the Mining Act, Rural District Councils Act and the Rural Resettlement Act has negatively impacted the commercial timber industry,” Dr Sithole said.
“We have people with mining rights within the forests, people getting offer letters to settle within the forests and the industry paying high levies, hence the forest industry is under siege.
“This has seen rivers silting, gulleys being formed and the cutting down of trees for agricultural use.
“The illegal settlers are cutting down trees which must be harvested after 15 to 25 years as they cannot wait this long period.
“The industry pays levies of US$3/ha, amounting to $600 000 a year before trees can be harvested and it is not sustainable.”
The commercial forest plantations are sources of the nation’s major rivers that include Mutare, Pungwe, Honde, Odzi, Tanganda and Changazi.
Trees are crucial for carbon sequestration, the completion of the hydrological cycle and providing the habitat for flora and fauna.
Acting general manager of the Forestry Commission, Abednigo Marufu, said it was not ideal to have settlements within the forests as they interfered with operations.
“The industry has raised a red flag with regards to the illegal settlements and mining activities in the forests,” said Marufu.
“The forest land is not suitable for farming and any settlements within the forest must be done after the de-gazetting of the forests which must be done by President Robert Mugabe through a Statutory Instrument and recommended by the Environment Minister.
“We recommend that alternative land be allocated for such activities to avoid the continued land degradation and destruction of rivers.”
Timber Producers Federation chief executive officer Darlington Duwa said the importance of the timber industry can never be underestimated.
“The illegal settlements and mining activities happening in the Chimanimani, Tarka and Penhalonga areas are causing more damage to the timber industry which is currently going through a bad patch and we do not want to see the forests depleting,” Duwa said.
“The forests must be allowed to grow and flourish because they are a strategic industry critical to growth of the economy.
“The industry is the nerve centre of the Manicaland Province and the country as it contributes close to four percent of the GDP and with huge export earnings of over US$20 million annually.
“With the 20 000 hectares of plantation lost, it is necessary that the mining grants be reversed within the forests.”
Forest Economist with Allied Timbers, Dominic Kwesha, said the industry has no room for expansion hence the need to take precautions.
“The timber industry has no room for expansion given climate change as a threat, so there is need to maximise the harvested timber and improve on the recovery rate which is at 30-40 percent,” he said.
“We also need to engage in massive tree planting to ensure sustainable supply of timber for future generations.”
Besides the illegal settlements and mining activities, veld fires have also ravaged the forests with 4 000 hectares lost last year and 9 000 in the previous year.
Land change use has also negatively affected the area.
The Minister of Environment, Water and Climate, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, is on record calling on politicians to acquaint themselves with the laws of the land and highlight the consequences of not adhering to laws in their constituencies.

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