The country’s timber industry has lost over $2 billion in potential revenue in the last two decades as a result of deforestation by illegal settlers.
At least 3 000 jobs linked directly to the industry have also been lost.
The destruction of timber plantations has been attributed to cyclones, fires traceable to illegal settlers and areas ceded or abandoned by forest companies to illegal and legal settlers.
Speaking at the Timber Producers’ Federation of Zimbabwe annual general meeting last week, Environment and Natural Resources Management minister Francis Nhema said there was genuine concern in the government and in the timber industry about unauthorised settlements in both state and private forests.
“The loss to the industry of 30 000 hectares (about the size of Border Timbers Limited) represents a shocking loss of annual revenue of $118 million per year over 25 years plus a loss of at least
3 000 jobs directly. This is not right,” said Nhema.
“Latest figures show that at least 3 500 people are illegally settled in the forests with most found in the Chimanimani area.”
Nhema said in 2009 the government adopted a forest-based land reform policy which recognises that plantations could not be subdivided into A1 settlements as this is neither viable nor consistent with sustainable forest management.
He said there was an understanding that plantation forest land must remain for forest use only.
“Last year I was pained by unsuccessful attempts by unauthorised settlers in Allied Timbers’ Martin Estate to grow maize on steep plantations. The government does not subscribe to this.
“I urge fellow politicians not to tamper with this fragile resource for Manicaland. Forests are a strategic economic resource that double up in securing a good environment. Incursions or resettlements of settlers into forest areas is illegal and should not be done. My ministry will distribute this policy document to all districts and provincial land committees to guide them.”
Nhema said forests should remain intact in line with their management objectives although subject to indigenisation regulations.
He said the ministry would set up community trusts, employee share ownership schemes (managerial and non-managerial) and outgrower schemes to ensure the masses benefit.