SINCE time immemorial, forests have provided shelter, medicines, energy and significantly contributed to the tourism sector.
Their value and importance is immeasurable.
While humanity has immensely benefited from forests, many have not cared or bothered to ensure that they continue to flourish and support future generations.
The rate at which forests are being decimated is alarming.
Experts contend that it is time that Government and institutions increase support and protection of forests.
With a current deforestation rate estimated to be about 330 000 hectares per annum and a forest base of 16,7 million hectares as at 2008 representing a 42,8 percent of the total land area, it is critical that the country immediately puts effective protection measures in place.
The Forestry Commission with the help of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is in the process of conscientising various stakeholders on the need to adhere to tenets of the non-legally binding instrument on all types of forests popularly known as the Forest Instrument.
The Forest Instrument was agreed upon in 2007 by 192 members to the United Nations (UN) Forum on Forests and provides a framework for action to be taken at country and international levels to achieve sustainable forest management.
The framework has proved effective in China, India, Nigeria, Zambia and Mongolia having been pilot- tested in Ghana.
Speaking during the official opening of the national stakeholders awareness workshop recently held in Harare, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Management Florence Nhekairo said the country was committed to sustainable management of forests chiefly through the national tree planting initiative.
“Government is committed to sustainable management of the country’s forest resources for the benefit of its people hence the setting aside of the first Saturday of December as National Tree Planting Day,” Nhekairo said.
“I hope the country can come up with a road map on the implementation of the forest instrument thus setting the stage for sustainable forest management in Zimbabwe.”
Food and Agriculture Organisation’s representative Rene Czudec said he was impressed by Zimbabwe’s interest to implement the forest instrument which had yielded positive results in Ghana.
“Zimbabwe is the only country to express strong interest in implementing the forest instrument,” he said.
“FAO received funding from the German government in 2008 for a first pilot project aimed at supporting one developing country in the implementing of the instrument.
“Ghana in West Africa became the first pilot country.
“Ghana found the instrument to be a useful overarching policy framework to improve its own national forest programme.
“They have intergrated the priority areas of forest policy into their national planning strategies, have established a system to monitor and evaluate progress.”
Cecil Machena from the Community-Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM) said communities had to be involved in initiatives and take a leading role in protecting forests.
“Communities are an integral part in protecting forest resources as they are the ones that conserve or destroy them,” said Machena.
“There is need to empower them and create a strong sense of ownership that will promote conservation.
“Mbire community, for example, has an active management system of its resources and has a deforestation rate of below two percent per annum.”
President of the Chief’s Council, Chief Fortune Charumbira, however, said, the nation had to be wary of foreign instruments in managing the country’s forests.
“We are driven too much by what others teach us than by what we can author ourselves,” he said.
“We need to come up with home-grown solutions rooted in our communities.
“It is more about ourselves because we are part of the problem.”
The country has laws such as the Forest Act 19:05, Communal Lands Forest Produce Act 19:04, Rural District Council Act 29:13, Urban Council Act 29:15 among others that seek to protect forests.
But pundits contend that a national forest policy and implementing the Forest Instrument is necessary to maximise benefits from forests not just for the current but future generations as well.