Parly probes forests plunder

HARARE - The parliamentary portfolio committee on Environment, Water and Climate has set out to investigate the plunder of commercial timber and protected indigenous forests following a massive public outcry from environmentalists and the timber industry.

Settlers and illegal miners have besieged commercial timber forests in Chimanimani and some gazetted natural forests such as Mapfungautsi in Gokwe and Bembesi, Gwaai and Lake Alice in Matabeleland North.

Committee chairperson Wonder Mashange confirmed the development in an interview this week.

“We are planning to make a field visit to those seriously damaged forests. If there are big names involved in the settling of people and mining activities there, we will name and shame them,” Mashange said.

“After the investigation, we will compile a report which will then be tabled in Parliament for debate. We are particularly concerned with the existing environment laws which we think are not deterrent enough. We want government to establish special courts to try environment crimes.

“The world today is burdened by the effects of climate change and we cannot be seen promoting decimation of these important forests which help protect the environment,” he added.

Environmentalists have since welcomed the development saying it would go a long way in mitigating against the whims of climate change.

“We are happy that Parliament is getting actively involved in this process as they appreciate the disaster that is on the ground. Adding their voice as politicians will probably make people realise that this is a serious national issue that goes beyond political lines. It is about protecting our environment for future generations,” said Environment Africa communications officer Sandra Gobvu.

“I would be particularly glad to see results where people regardless of their social standing are prosecuted for environmental crimes.

“We do appreciate the role that Ema has been doing especially around policing the plunder of indigenous forests but we feel more can be done especially in terms of law enforcement and prosecution,” she said.

At just 200 000 hectares, commercial timber forests occupy 0,5 percent of Zimbabwe’s total land size of 39 million hectares.

The timber industry lost a total of 14 000 hectares of these forests in the last two years alone, as they are being destroyed at a faster rate than they can be replenished, and players in the besieged sector have warned that the country could be forced to import timber if urgent measures are not taken.

Zimbabwe has been able to satisfy local timber demand since 1986 and even produce surplus timber for export to Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.

Zambia, Malawi and Botswana sorely rely on Zimbabwe for timber.

Also, there could be grave climatic consequences because the timber forests have helped combat effects of climate change through their carbon sequestration abilities.

At its peak in the 1990s, the timber industry directly employed around 50 000 people, but now manages just 5 000.

Towns and cities such as Mutare, Chipinge, Nyanga and Chimanimani have their foundations on the timber industry, on which their sustainability also depends.

It is a multi-million dollar industry which, despite being in a quandary, still contributes around four percent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

Players say Zimbabwe had just enough timber to last the next nine years.

Apart from the commercial timber forests, Zimbabwe’s 14 gazetted natural forests which are studded with rich tree species are also under siege.

About 836 478 hectares of land in Zimbabwe is under statutory protection, inclusive of both commercial and natural forests.

The forests are under threat from human settlements, especially after government’s forest-based land reform policy which saw an influx of settlers invading the jungles despite statutory provisions barring such.

The Forestry Act Chapter 19:05 provides that demarcated indigenous forests must ideally continue to be owned and managed by the State for conservation purposes as provided for by the same law.

Sadly, the environmental bulwarks are vanishing due to unplanned settlements.

In addition to decimating tree species, some of which, like teak and mahogany, are of high commercial value, settlers are also poaching large and small game.

As a result, wildlife which has been roaming freely in these protected forests is diminishing due to habitat loss and excessive poaching.

Comments (1)

Politicians are at the forefront in destroying these forests. I remember one minister saying you can keep your trees and I will get the minerals underneath the trees. Would you be in a position to carry out objective investigations when these ministers are controlling your movements. This investigation has also come at the wrong time because ZanuPF will tell you that they need the votes of these illegal settlers in plantations and indigenous forests. Overally this appears a good move although it might have come a little bit late. The Government (Ministry of Environment) is no longer funding the Forstry Commission. This is a sad move. It prefers to fund the police, army yet Forestry Commission is the one which spearheaded the establishment of plantations in the then Southern Rhodesia. Ridht now the Forestry Commisiion cannot fulfil its mandate due to funding.

Mudhomeni - 30 September 2017

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