Namibia: Govt Accepts Blunder On Timber Harvest

Agriculture minister Alpheus !Naruseb says he does not know how much timber can be harvested sustainably in Namibia.

He made these remarks last week in the National Assembly in response to earlier questions by Popular Democratic Movement member Nico Smit.

The minister also revealed that all timber harvested before 26 November 2018 was cut down without environmental clearance certificates.

He conceded that the government blundered by allowing timber harvests based on the management plan only, which is based on the Forest Act, without consulting the Environmental Management Act, which requires an environmental clearance certificate to be issued before logging takes place.

"When it was established that there was a need to have clearance certificates as per provisions of the Environmental Management Act of 2007, all the timber logging operations were immediately suspended," Naruseb said.

He added that there was confusion between the ministries of agriculture and of environment on which should be handed first - the environmental clearance certificate, or the forestry permit.

The lack of clarity led to farmers in the concerned regions harvesting timber without environmental clearance certificates.

The ministries only realised the blunder last year, and the ministry of agriculture suspended logging on 26 November 2018.

!Naruseb also said the government was not certain about the number of trees that could be cut down for commercial exploitation.

"The tree density varies from one farm to another, thus making it difficult to state with certainty the number of trees that could be harvested in the country," he said in his response.

He elaborated that the assessment on individual farms or community forests could not conclusively provide the number of trees which can be harvested sustainably.

"However, by the end of the ongoing resources assessment process, the ministry should be in a position to give a clear picture in terms of numbers," !Naruseb assured.

He said the decision to allow a tree to be harvested mostly depends on the size (diameter) of the tree, and its prevalence in the area.

Most of the trees being harvested in the Kavango and Zambezi regions, including the prized rosewood, take between 125 and 132 years to mature.

!Naruseb said although the ministry has implemented tree planting and forest conversation programmes, the lack of water in many parts of the country is an impediment to implementation.

He also told the NA that monitoring activities are limited by inadequate resources in terms of personnel and transport.

The minister disclosed that the government will soon declare forests in the Kavango West, Zambezi and Otjozondjupa regions state forests.

Smit called for the Directorate of Forestry to return to the environment ministry, since the agriculture ministry had failed to implement the Forestry Act, but !Naruseb said this can only be reversed when the president decides so, as he is the one mandated by the Constitution.

He gave an assurance that his ministry will not issue logging permits without verifying that there are adequate trees for harvesting in a particular area.

!Naruseb said the ministry will continue to strike a balance between conservation and the sustainable usage of forests for the benefit of citizens.

Last year's timber harvest suspension was not welcomed by some farmers, who accused the ministry of depriving them of a livelihood.

The move led to illegal logging, as truckloads of timber were still spotted heading to the coast, forcing the ministry to involve the police to fight the practice earlier this year.

The Namibian this year reported that the ministry of agriculture was flooded with applications to cut down more than 200 000 trees in five years, while more than 68 000 have already been felled.

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