26 May 2005

Zimbabwe: Cyclones Put Timber Industry Under Threat

Harare — ZIMBABWE'S timber industry is under threat amid projections that the country could face shortages in the next 15 years as a result of the tropical cyclones of 2000 and 2002

High cyclone-induced rainfall caused severe destruction of forests, particularly in the Eastern Highlands.

This was compounded by delays in the planting of commercial forests and uncontrolled forest and veld fires.

"We experienced delays in the planting of commercial forests in our major plantations after the land reform programme," said an official with one forestry company.

The reforms saw indiscriminate cutting down of trees without replacement by the former landowners who tried to scuttle the programme.

Timber experts said urgent measures should be put in place to ensure that future supplies of timber are ready when needed.

"We need to put in place some measures to ensure the sustainable rehabilitation of our commercial forests," said an official with Forestry Company of Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe's estimated number of commercial trees declined from 12 million in 1998 to 6,5 million in 2004. The annual growth rate declined to 0,9 percent in 2004 from 3 percent in 2000. Despite the industry's 3,9 percent contribution to the Gross Domestic Product, authorities have been doing little to support the sector.

Forestry experts say the Government should intervene to come up with measures that ensure the industry contributes immensely to the country's economy especially during this turnaround process.

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor, Dr Gideon Gono noted with grave concern the unwarranted and rampant harvesting of the plantations.

Addressing delegates during a breakfast meeting on monetary policy review last week, the governor said the central bank would put in place some measures to curb uncontrolled destruction of plantations.

"Plantations are being harvested in their infancy and the timber is being smuggled out of the country. These include fruit, timber and coffee plantations.

"We are going to work tirelessly to ensure sanity prevails in this industry and other sectors of the economy," said Dr Gono.

The timber industry and its downstream industries contribute 8 percent of the total value of manufactured products.

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