Harare — GOVERNMENT is exploring a forest-based land reform programme with the view of ensuring the full participation of indigenous people in the forestry business.
This development comes after the Government last year evicted more than 60 families that had illegally settled in the timber forests of Nyanga and Chimanimani to make way for proper resettlement.
In an interview yesterday, Environment and Tourism Minister, Cde Francis Nhema said Government was still consulting on the allocation of land for purposes of professional forestry development.
"We would like people who will judiciously manage the forests and ensure the nation remains self-sufficient in its timber requirements," Cde Nhema said.
He said the Government had evicted families who had illegally settled in some places in Manicaland, as it was not in the timber industry's best interest to have people with no background of the proper utilisation of the forests.
Cde Nhema said the Government was committed to sound environmental practices hence the development of policies that promote sustainable environment development in line with set international environmental standards.
"Commercial and gazetted forest land should be protected from illegal settlements and let it be known that we do not support the mushrooming of these illegal settlements anywhere," Cde Nhema said.
He said illegal settlers contribute heavily to timber poaching, forest fires and recently in this area, to illegal gold panning, which has resulted in massive land degradation.
In 2005 alone, he said, plantations lost over 7 000 hectares of timber to forest fires while the demarcated forests had 230 725 hectares destroyed.
"These losses translate into billions of dollars lost in foreign currency.
"It also means the country will experience timber shortages in the next 10 years."
Zimbabwe's forestry industry is a source of hard wood timber, which is sought after the world over, notably in South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Madagascar, America and other European countries.
He said the Government would want to see the country realising immense benefits from its timber resources and be able to sustain livelihoods.
"Many people are now involved in housing, furniture, pulp and paper manufacturing."
He said the timber producers industry and its ancillary collectively employ over 550 000 people -- 400 000 directly and 150 000 through the informal sector. Cde Nhema said it is also important for people to understand that the country is faced with challenges in the energy sector particularly in the procurement and supply of fuel for both industrial and domestic use.
"We have set aside land for commercial cultivation of the jatropha carcus, a species whose seeds can be processed into bio-diesel."
He said his ministry is also advocating for the full participation of tobacco farmers in extensive forest farming as they rely on wood energy for the curing of their tobacco.
Cde Nhema said it is regrettable that tree- planting success by commercial farmers and in communal areas has been low due to frequent droughts of the years 1982, 1992 and the 2000-2004.