7 June 2006

Zimbabwe: 'Country Faces Timber Shortage'

Harare — Zimbabwe could become a net importer of timber within the next 10 years, industry players have warned.

Although the country still has substantial tracts of land with commercial trees mainly in Matabeleland and Manicaland provinces, the current harvesting levels plus uncontrolled veld fires could see it turning to other countries for its timber requirements.

Pine tree, which produces the bulk of timber products, is grown on a 25-year rotation and the shortage could stretch beyond two decades. An official with the Forestry Commission said there was unwarranted cutting down of commercial trees with no replantations. Manicaland, Zimbabwe's hub of commercial forests, last year lost timber worth $20 trillion to veld fires. According to statistics compiled by the Timber Producers' Federation (TPF), timber covering close to 10 000 ha, constituting 12 percent of the country's pine plantation, went up in smoke just inside four months between July and November last year.

The area affected was equivalent to the volume normally harvested over a three-year period. TPF chairman Mr Richard Kanyekanye said the industry was working on a strategy to adopt sustainable forests management before the situation got out of hand. "At the moment, the situation is still under control and we are working on that. "The new strategy should entail that every industry player should consistently grow trees equivalent to what they harvested," Mr Kanyekanye said. Industry experts also urged Government to come up with a comprehensive policy to safeguard the country's dwindling timber resources.

An official with Hunyani Holdings also expressed similar concerns describing the situation as an "imminent disaster in the industry whose effects are to be felt in the next 30 years". "During this period, the country usually experiences veld fires and these are very prevalent in the forestry areas. "Government in partnership with other stakeholders should put in place firm measures to avoid a similar situation this year," said a forestry expert. He also noted the need to put in place a legal f ramework that prohibits unlicensed honey collectors from operating in commercial forests.

TPF says honey hunters were responsible for causing 14,8 percent of forest fires. At the last count in 2004, Zimbabwe's commercial trees declined from 12 million in 1998 to 6,5 million. The annual growth rate also took a dip to 0,9 percent in 2004 from 3 percent in 2003. The timber industry contributes 3,9 percent to the gross domestic product.

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