Leonard Ncube and Mkhululi Ncube, Chronicle Reporters
THE Forestry Commission has suspended the issuance of firewood permits countrywide due to abuse of the system which has resulted in 70 000 hectares of forests being destroyed.
The commission is on a two-weeks nationwide firewood and charcoal blitz after concerns over illegal poaching of wood and timber in various parts of the country.
The blitz is a Government initiative being implemented by the Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality through the Forestry Commission, working in conjunction with the Environmental Management Agency, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement, police and local authorities.
A team led by Forestry Commission director general Mr Abedinico Marufu is spearheading the crackdown.
Yesterday the commission with other Government agencies visited areas in Bulawayo which sell firewood and those who deal with timber where they found and confiscated poached timber and firewood.
At the Forestry Commissioned-owned Allied Timbers along Khami Road, stacks of confiscated firewood, timber and two impounded scotchcarts were on display.
“We have been giving permits for people to move around with firewood. What we have discovered is that the people who were given farms are cheating us. They say they are opening up land to increase their agricultural output but you go there after a season you find nothing, except harvesting firewood, has been done.
“For now, we’ve told our offices countrywide to stop giving out permits so that we can monitor this illegality. There is a lot of cheating from communities with some using expired permits to poach for wood,” he said.
Mr Marufu said there is need for enforcement agencies to be vigilant against firewood and timber poachers so that the problem is solved.
“We want our political leaders, NGOs and all community leaders to assist us in this matter so that we protect our forest and trees. After two weeks we shall meet with various stakeholders who include traditional leaders to review the process,” he said.
Mr Marufu said the biggest challenge was that poachers are cutting down indigenous trees which take almost 200 years to mature and could lead to desertification of some areas.
He said along the Bulawayo Victoria Fall Road there are several people who are selling firewood illegally.
“These people are dealing with our indigenous trees which are very difficult to look after. They take long to mature unlike the exotic trees which take about 10 years. Our indigenous trees can take two hundred years to mature,” he said.
Mr Marufu said the indigenous trees in Matabeleland North Province are also part of the tourism attraction hence the need to protect them.
He said if serious measures are not taken, Matabeleland provinces might end up like Mashonaland Provinces where forests have almost been finished by farmers who use wood for curing tobacco.
“In Mashonaland provinces where tobacco is grown, we have lost over 300 000 hectares of forests. In Matabeleland we have lost between 50 to 70 thousand hectares and we must arrest this situation because Matabeleland North Province is a key tourist attraction for the country,” he said.
Mr Marufu said while selling of firewood for commercial purposes is illegal, in rural areas people are allowed to cut firewood for home use in a controlled way.
Communities in Masenyane, under Lupane and Muzarabani in Mashonaland are some of the hotspots as people cut down the Zambezi teak wood and mopani trees.
Scores of firewood dealers are permanent features along major highways countrywide where huge stacks of firewood are sold to motorists, with urban areas providing a ready market.
On Monday the team was in Lupane where they started by educating villagers about the negative effects of cutting down trees and destroying forests, which are key to protection of the environment, conservation and tourism among other benefits.
While no arrests were made as the blitz was rolled out, loads of firewood were confiscated at Masenyane amid warnings that anyone who will be found selling firewood or charcoal will be arrested.
“We are conducting a national blitz to control illegal selling of firewood. There is a lot of deforestation going on and we are losing forests at a rate of 262 000ha annually.
“This has gone down a bit from 300 000ha because of efforts we have put in place and some of the worst places in the country is Masenyane here in Lupane where there are stacks of firewood cut from Zambezi teak which is one of our best trees in the country.
“We came here to raise awareness for people to stop this practice because it is bad for the country. After the awareness we will be arresting anyone defying this, and this is the message across the country. Let’s stop cutting down trees. We are saying no to cutting trees and if ever there is going to be any sell of firewood there should be a strong reason but otherwise we have suspended all permits until we have normalised everything,” said Mr Marufu.
He said people should know that it is not easy to replace indigenous forests as it takes about 200 years on average for a tree to grow while for Matabeleland North, cutting trees exposes the environment because of the Kalahari and sandy soils.
Ultimately the country is prone to desertification because of the effects of climate change caused by high carbon footprint emanating from clandestine cutting of trees.
Mr Marufu said in Muzarabani truckloads of charcoal had been confiscated from illegal dealers.
“This is a blitz where we intend to send a message countrywide. Here we have impounded all stacks but not arrested anyone, but in Muzarabani there is a lot of charcoal dealing there.
“Our teams went there last week to raise awareness and we have come to a stage where we are arresting because we have raised awareness. Those that don’t cooperate will be arrested,” he said.
The blitz is taking place along major highways countrywide with teams already in Masvingo along the Harare-Beitbridge highway and Chivhu.
There will be similar exercises in Matabeleland South along the Bulawayo-Plumtree and Bulawayo-Gwanda-Beitbridge road, Manicaland and Mashonaland provinces.
Mr Marufu said the blitz will end in urban areas where there is a ready market for all firewood and charcoal illegally produced in rural communities.
Some people reportedly lie that the firewood they sell is from their pieces of land they would have cleared for farming, which Mr Marufu dismissed as untrue.
He said efforts in partnership with non governmental organisations and local authorities are underway to help communities start income generating projects such as bee keeping and nutritional gardens so they stop cutting down trees for sale.
He appealed to police to impound vehicles carrying firewood and charcoal and to arrest perpetrators.
Kusile Rural District Council chief executive Mr Christopher Tshuma who was at the awareness campaign, said most people that sell firewood do so because it generates quick money but they have other means of survival in their [email protected]/@themkhust