Windhoek — FOREST fires and uncontrolled cutting of woods are two of the main problems facing forest-protection efforts in Namibia.
About four million hectares of forest and veld are burnt annually, mostly as a result of fires started deliberately to improve grazing and to clear hunting grounds.
The rate of deforestation is not known with any certainty, but is believed to be very high.
These problems are caused by high population pressure in the communal areas, inadequate participation of stakeholders in forestry activities and policy failures in other sectors.
Yesterday, a National Forest Programme Facility (NFPF) programme was launched in Windhoek, aimed at promoting the sustainable use of the country's forests.
The three-year programme will raise awareness and increase participation in the national forest programme as well as improve knowledge management.
Problems facing the forest sector in Namibia have been grouped under three main headings.
These are: production, protection and participation.
Forest products in Namibia are harvested almost exclusively from natural resources.
At the same time, production is constrained by harsh climatic conditions, a lack of knowledge about appropriate techniques and poor inventory data.
Furthermore, despite the scarcity of wood, there is no culture of private-sector tree planting.
Until recently, stakeholders from outside the forestry sector had very little involvement in the development of the sector.
Launching the programme, Agriculture, Water and Forestry Permanent Secretary Kahijoro Kahuure said given that forestry is a land user that is intimately linked with agriculture, environment and wildlife management in Namibia, it was crucial that stronger linkages should be made between people working in each of these sectors.
Because many rural Namibians are poor, it is important that they have a greater say in how forest resources are managed and share the benefits of properly managed forest resources, he said.
The Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF) is the implementing agency of the programme on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture, while the US$300 0000 for the programme came from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Benedict Libanda, the Programme Manager from the NNF, said there are four main activities to covered in the first year.
The first component was the launching of the programme.
The second component will be awareness raising and increasing participation in the programme, while the third component will look at improving forest management and utilisation while the four component will focus on improving knowledge management.
Esther Kamwi of the Directorate of Forestry in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry said a workshop on awareness raising has already been scheduled for March while a Steering Committee to drive the programme was also about to be established.
Namibia is one of 139 countries that have received money from donor countries to be used in supporting its National Forest Programme.
FAO Representative in Namibia Moeketsi Mokati said the money for the facility came from a trust fund established by the European Union, Finland, France, United Kingdom, United States, Sweden and Ireland.
GTZ and Japan provided in-kind support.
Mokati said the programme seeks to reinforce exemplary programmes such as Community-Based Natural Resource Management and Community Forests, which have produced many good results.
"It seeks to strengthen past Government and other partners' efforts by placing in their hands a flexible tool that can be used to close gaps which are identified by the communities themselves, national forest officials and NGOs," emphasised Mokati.