AT LEAST 50 000 illegal settlers are living in protected forest areas and on Parks and Wildlife estates, a Forestry Commission official has said.
SENIOR PARLIAMENTARY REPORTER
Forestry Commission acting general manager Chemist Gumbie said illegal mining activities in protected forest areas were destroying forests.
He was speaking when he appeared before the Parliamentary Thematic Committee on Millennium Development Goals last week.
The committee is chaired by deputy president of the Chiefs’ Council Senator Lucas Mtshane.
“Approximately 50 000 illegal settlers are known to be living in protected forest areas and on Parks and Wildlife estates,” Gumbie told the committe.
“Their presence is associated with deforestation as they open land for farming and settlement and as at 2012, these illegal settlers were known to be occupying protected forest areas in Manicaland, Matabeleland North and Midlands provinces, affecting at least 60 000 hectares of forest land.”
About 836 478 hectares of land in Zimbabwe is under statutory protection.
Gumbie said forests were also being diminished by tree-cutting for firewood.
“Mining activities in gazetted forest areas have seriously degraded the forests, particularly where alluvial panning and open-cast mining is involved. Due to effects of climate change, Zimbabwe has also not been spared from alien invasive pests that are damaging forests,” he said.
He told the committee that recent outbreaks of forest insect pests — the bronze bug and the blue gum chalcid — had been damaging eucalyptus trees both in small woodlots and private plantations in almost all the provinces in the country.
Challenges that the ministry faced also included veld fires and statistics from the Environmental Management Agency showed that 14 deaths were recorded and 1 130 993 hectares were reportedly burnt as a result of 1 823 fire incidents countrywide in 2012.