Importance of forests understated: Report

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FORESTRY Commission officials in the country have concluded that the omission in national level accounts of forests, their contribution and importance to the economy has resulted in their value being grossly understated. Forests account for 39 million hectares of land in Zimbabwe, most of which are said to have been depleted due to several factors including agriculture, wild fires, woodland collection for tobacco curing, brick firing and illegal harvesting of wood for the curio industry, amongst others. A report prepared by the deputy general manager of the commission, Abednigo Marufu, stated that key challenges facing afforestation stations in Zimbabwe included a low priority given to the forestry sector, rapid depletion of the forest resource, limited information, limited participation of local communities in forest management, funding challenges, electricity outages and the communal land tenure system. The report drafted early this year prescribes that if there was increased visibility of the forest sector by ensuring its total contribution to the national economy, then this could promote afforestation. It also states that promoting research and development into value addition technologies would increase returns to the forest resource management at community level. Developing innovative financing mechanisms that complement Government and other existing funding arrangements was also recommended. The report recommends that increasing the role and contribution of exotic plantations in complementing indigenous forests through the promotion of smallholder outgrower schemes would result in less depletion of the forest resource. Promoting and developing alternative, appropriate and cost-effective energy sources would also reduce overdependence on woodbased fuels. It is also recommended that a comprehensive, quantitative and upto- date database on the status of forests and woodlands would help in the planning and monitoring purposes for the sector. Pieces of legislation which involve communities in shared forest management initiatives in some gazetted forest areas was recommended as one aspect that could be used to improve the participation of people in forest management. The paper calls for the need to empower traditional leaders so that they help people take collective responsibility over communal-owned forest resources through the formation and implementation of appropriate by-laws and practices. Zimbabwe has lost at least 15 percent of its tree cover in the last 15 years. It is estimated that if nothing is done, the country could be a desert within the next 35 years.

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